In Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, the Ottawa Senators have three of the best forwards in the NHL.
You could make the case they rival Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa in terms of front-line talent.
But there has long been a question about the Senators’ leadership – or lack thereof.
Personally, I think Alfredsson is a fine leader who tries to set a good example by being a consistent foot soldier game in and game out. And he has never been afraid to state his opinion to the media.
But let’s be honest, the Senators were a team in disarray this season and it is abundantly clear Alfredsson needs some help in the leadership department.
Enter Jason Smith.
In signing the veteran defenseman to a two-year contract, GM Bryan Murray has guaranteed his dressing room will have a voice of authority and if my guessing is correct, a guy who won’t put up with any crap. For that, Smith is worth the total of $5.2 million he’ll receive in compensation.
Smith’s best playing days are behind him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective fourth or fifth defenseman. This season with the Flyers, he scored one goal and 10 points and was minus-4, averaging 17:56 minutes of playing time per game. Offense was never his forte, anyway. He has never scored more than seven goals or 20 points in a season.
He is, however, an excellent shot-blocker and is still a physical force who isn’t afraid to drop his gloves if the opportunity presents itself. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the Flyers with six bouts this season.
Mike Richards, who in all likelihood will replace Smith as the Flyers’ captain next season (or at least he should!), told The Hockey News during the season Smith was the best leader he has ever played with.
Smith won’t (and shouldn’t) usurp Alfredsson as the Senators’ captain, but will become one of the most influential alternate captains in the league.
Murray acknowledges there are limitations to Smith’s game, a consistent first-pass out of the zone among them, but what he brings to the table in terms of leadership will more than make up for it.
And he added Smith will be a good influence on his team’s young defenders, showing them what it takes to be a successful pro.
“He’s the ultimate leadership type of player,” Murray said. “A good battler and a good shot-blocker. He doesn’t bring a points-game to our team, but that isn’t why we got him. It’s for his leadership and his sound defensive play. He got (to the NHL) by being a battler and he learned how to play the game right.”
As for the rest of Sens’ defense, even though Wade Redden and Mike Commodore have departed, it should still be in decent shape with Andrej Meszaros, Christoph Schubert, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and young Brian Lee.
If Smith can give Ottawa 15 to 17 minutes of consistent play a night and be the leader he was in Philadelphia and Edmonton (where he was also the captain), then Murray has himself an excellent acquisition.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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