Ladislav Smid wishes he could blame his three-year scoring drought on the numbness in his hands, but he admits the touch was gone long before the feeling.
“I’ve had issues with (scoring) for several years,” grinned the 24-year-old defenceman, who has three goals in the last 176 games.
“But this was the first time I experienced numbness in my fingers. My last few games, I lost my stick twice a game. That never used to happen to me.”
The problem is serious enough that Smid will require neck surgery to repair a vertebra later this month in Los Angeles, followed by a long rehabilitation process that will barely leave him enough time to get ready for next season.
“Kind of sucks, needing surgery,” he said Saturday morning. “I’m probably going to be out three or four months. It’s going to be hard getting back in shape, but hopefully I’m going to be ready for next camp.”
The neck has been bothering Smid on and off for years, but it got a lot worse this season, to the point of being unmanageable.
“My neck was always an issue, but it wasn’t that big of an issue,” he said. “But this year I was pretty sure that something was seriously wrong in there.
“Two months ago they found a bulge but they said it’s not that bad, I should be able to play.”
He did, but a few big hits over the course of the season forced him to take a step back.
“The last two months were kind of tough. I tried to play through it, but when I came back from the Olympic break it wasn’t getting any better. So I requested an MRI and the MRI showed the bulge got worse and I needed surgery.”
There are no other options.
“The neurosurgeon said I need surgery if I’m going to play hockey. He said you never know what’s going to happen on the ice, you could get hit and it’ll get way worse.”
With Edmonton dead last in the NHL standings, it’s as good a time as any to get this taken care of.
“For me this is the best time to get the surgery,” said Smid.
He said they’ll go in from both sides of the neck, front and back, and fix the C7 vertebra, which is putting pressure on his spine.
“They have to take it out and kind of adjust it,” he said. “I was like, just do it, don’t even tell me what you’re doing.
“It’s kind of scary, I’m a little bit nervous, but when I talked to the doctor it’s a pretty common surgery. They’re not really worried that I shouldn’t recover.”
It disrupts what had been a breakout season for Smid, who elevated himself into Edmonton’s top defence pairing with Lubomir Visnovsky.
“I felt pretty comfortable on the ice and the coaches trusted me too, a little bit more than previous years,” he said. “It was fun.”
It’s been a double-whammy week, given that Visnovsky, now an Anaheim Duck, won’t be there when Smid comes back.
“I talked to him, he’s happy now, he’s kind of in a playoff race,” said Smid.
“It’s going to be hard without Lubo, he made me a better player than I was before. I think we had a good connection, good chemistry on the ice.
“But that’s the hockey life.”