|Jason Smith's leadership and grit made him a valuable asset during the 1,008 games he played in the National Hockey League, the final 63 of them with the Ottawa Senators during the 2008-09 season (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images).
As the summer months rolled along and another hockey season drew ever closer, Jason Smith got a certain feeling inside.
He knew it was simply time.
Time to end his 14-year National Hockey League career after 1,008 games and move on into the next phase of his life.
The veteran blueliner made it official Wednesday morning at Scotiabank Place, announcing his retirement from the game. Smith, whose 2008-09 season with the Senators was cut short by a knee injury, didn't feel he still had it in him to play the game the only way he knows how.
"I was working out and training (during the summer) and normally, your body feels the aches and pains but it always recovers," said Smith. "This summer, as I was training and working out, I didn't feel it.
"It was a constant grind every day and I started to think about the future. Personally, I think it's just time to take on something new. I've always played the game as hard as I can and as physical as I can and I just don't think I can do that anymore."
Still, given all the years he'd given to the game with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers and the Senators, it wasn't a decision he made in haste. Senators general manager Bryan Murray first learned three weeks ago that Smith was pondering retirement but he didn't get the official word until two days ago.
"I thought about it for quite awhile," said Smith. "It's not something where I flipped a coin and made a decision. I talked about it with my family (wife Wendy and daughters Britney and Jordan), my friends and people who are close to me.
"I'd always said that I wanted to go out and give a 100 per cent effort every game. I just don't know that I can physically do that (anymore) and it's time to move on."
While Smith produced only one point for the Senators – an overtime game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars – Murray said "whether we ever got anything out of him offensively didn't matter. What I like about Jason is his leadership and the grit he provides around the net."
The Senators signed Smith to a two-year contact as a free agent in July 2008. While his team got only 63 games of service from the defenceman, Murray believes the benefits Smith provided during that time were substantial.
"Unfortunately for us, we got Jason at the end of his career and we were only able to have him play in Ottawa for one year," said Murray. "As I've mentioned many times, he was a great leader, a very fierce competitor and a guy we wanted our young guys to emulate as much as they could to give us the edge that we need to be an every night competitive team.
"It's disappointing that we got Jason at this point in his career but we wish him all the best. We were very fortunate to have him play in Ottawa for a year and, hopefully, he'll be around at different points during this season to give us some insight as a former player."
As a testament to the respect he quickly earned in the Senators dressing room, six teammates – captain Daniel Alfredsson
, Chris Phillips
, Jason Spezza
, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil
and Chris Kelly – attended Smith's retirement press conference.
"His way to act and his way to hold people accountable as well made him a captain in Edmonton for (five seasons) and in Philly as well," said Alfredsson. "He's very well-respected in the hockey community, without a doubt.
"I was working out and training (during the summer) and normally, your body feels the aches and pains but it doesn't always recover. This summer, as I was training and working out, I didn't feel it. It was a constant grind every day and I started to think about the future. Personally, I think it's just time to take on something new. I've always played the game as hard as I can and as physical as I can and I just don't think I can do that anymore." - Jason Smith
"He's played over 1,000 games, which is pretty rare. And the way he played it, too ... he played hard and he's played through a lot of aches and pains. It's a loss (for us), no question."
For the time being, Smith plans to "take some time and really enjoy being a dad." His two children are enrolled in school in Ottawa and they'll spend the season in the capital. But Smith believes there will be a place for him again in hockey down the road.
"I'm sure somewhere down the line, I'll take up something in the hockey side of things, whether it's a move toward coaching or scouting," he said. "Just being around the game and helping develop young players. I''ve got a great passion for the game and the game has treated me very well. I'm going to give back as much as I can to it."
Murray said the door is open for Smith to get involved with Senators while he's still in Ottawa, from perhaps helping out during training camp or helping out with alumni functions.
"There are some things that, if he feels at some point during the season he wants to be a part of, we would invite him to do that," said Murray.
Smith's retirement also removes his salary off the Senators' books and puts the team under the league-mandated cap, whether Dany Heatley returns to the team for 2009-10 or not.
"That's a big item, but it's not the item of the day by any means," said Murray. "We just had to make one player move and it would have fit anyway. This is that move at this point."
Author: Rob Brodie