NHL Predators deal Smithson to Florida

Vernon's Jerred Smithson is now property of the NHL Florida Panthers.

Vernon's Jerred Smithson has been traded by the Nashville Predators to the Florida Panthers.

Vernon's Jerred Smithson has been traded by the Nashville Predators to the Florida Panthers.

Jerred Smithson was in a hurry Friday night. Rush to the Nashville Predators’ dressing room. Pack up his equipment bag, grab some clothes and toiletries from home. Head to the airport for a flight to Carolina, where he will join his new NHL team, the Florida Panthers, for a Saturday night game.

Smithson was kind of numb, but getting used to the first trade of his hockey career as he answered his cell 30 minutes before his flight to Hurricane territory.

“It’s a shock to the system,” said Smithson, a 33-year-old Vernon product. “I spent seven years here and I enjoyed every day. (GM) David Poile called me and it was a quick conversation. I had an idea something might be happening because my ice time had been going down lately.”

Smithson, who has played 526 NHL games, spent five seasons of Major Junior with the Calgary Hitmen and went undrafted, signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings. He joined Nashville early in the 2005-06 season and finished with 36 goals and 86 points, along with 313 penalty minutes, with the Preds.

“No hard feelings,” said Smithson, used primarily as a defensive forward and penalty killer by head coach Barry Trotz, a Vernon summer resident. “They were great to me and gave me an opportunity when other teams wouldn’t.”

In exchange for Smithson, the Predators get a sixth-round pick in this summer’s entry draft.

With Patric Hornqvist coming off injured reserve and the strong play of youngsters Nick Spaling and Craig Smith, the Preds were overflowing with forwards. Smithson had recently been moved from centre to the wing.

Said Poile on the Preds’ web site Friday night: “Jerred has done so much for our franchise. He’s one of the longest tenured players in our history. He was part of that group of players who helped bring us from expansion team into a competitive era. Obviously he’s been a big part of our playoff success in recent years and in my mind scored arguably as important goal as any in franchise history – that overtime winner at Anaheim in Game 5.

“His role has started to diminish more this year with a lot of the younger players doing some of the same things – Spaling playing center ice, Smith playing a lot of center ice; guys killing penalties like (Gabriel) Bourque and (Matt) Halischuk and Spaling. I think we’re helping Jerred and putting him in a better place in his career and at the same time we’re offering an opportunity and a challenge to our existing players that they can now play a little bigger role here.”

Smithson, whose phone was overloaded with calls and texts from teammates, friends and family Friday, had one goal and five points in 52 games this season. He was a minus seven.

He will be reunited with former teammates like Vernon Viper grad Mike Santorelli, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc in Florida, where the 27-20-12 Panthers trail the Winnipeg Jets by one point in the Southeast Division.

“I think I’ve only played there twice in my career, but I’m excited to be in that playoff push I’ve got used to in Nashville, and I definitely want to go through that again.”

The Panthers host the Montreal Canadiens Sunday night.

“I just hope they aren’t expecting me to score goals,” deadpanned Smithson, a 6-foot-2, 197-pounder, whose father, Bernie, was recently in Nashville for Father’s Week.