Like his brother Harry, Tommy Smith was a hockey mercenary. He had played exactly one season of high-level senior hockey in his hometown of Ottawa before going to Pittsburgh to play for pay. He played for seven different clubs in the next seven seasons, before finally settling down (mostly) in Quebec for a few years, where he had his greatest success in terms of the Stanley Cup.
Although Joe Malone is today the best-known player on the great Bulldog teams of the 1910s, there seems little doubt to me that Smith was actually their best player. As it happens, Malone was four years' Smith's junior, and as such was able to hang around long enough to produce in the NHL, rather than the NHA, and as such is known to even some less-than-hardcore fans as the man who scored 2.2 goals per game in the current league's inaugural season. No disrespect intended to Malone, of course, who was a great player in his own right. But Smith doesn't get the respect today that he deserves.
Tommy Smith scored buckets of goals, wherever he went. have a look at his Point Allocation results. He scored in Ottawa, he scored in Pittsburgh, he scored in Brantford, he scored in Galt, he scored in Moncton, he scored in Toronto, and he especially scored in Quebec. He led three separate leagues in goals (the Federal Amateur Hockey League, the Ontario Professional Hockey League, and the National Hockey Association twice), missed leading the Maritime Professional Hockey Association by one goal in 1911/12, and would surely have also led the Western Pennsylvania league in 1908/09 had the team he was playing for not folded halfway through the schedule (his goals-per-game was over twice that of the man who actually led the league, and only his brother Harry was close on a per-game basis).
Offensively, Smith was a beast, there's no doubt about it. Any time you produce a TPAK of over 6, you're in very rarified air, one of the very best players of all time. But it seems Tommy Smith was not just about filling the opponent's net.
Tommy Smith was good both on attack and defence and is one of the best all around players on the team. (Quebec Chronicle, 2 Jan 1913)
Here Smith is noted for his speed and two-way play, and for always being involved in the action. However, that opinion was not unanimous:[Tommy] Smith, unlike his brother Harry, is a speed merchant and is always in the thick of the fray. (Quebec Chronicle, 20 Jan 1913)
[Tommy] Smith, while he loafs almost all the time, never fails to be on the job for a pass, and his shooting is a feature of the forward line. (Toronto Star, 9 Feb 9 1914)
Tommy [Smith] was always ready to join in any Quebec rush if some one else would carry the puck three-quarters of the way up the rink to where he was usually loafing. (Toronto Star, 12 Feb 1914)
A player who "loafs off-side" is basically what we'd call a "floater" today. When the puck was in his own zone he would wait up the ice for his mates to retrieve it and start a rush. Hobey Baker was a loafer, as were many of the best offensive players at this time. But how do we reconcile the differing opinions of the Quebec and Toronto writers? One says he's good defensive and is involved in the play, while the other dismisses him as a floater.
To a certain degree we can attribute the Quebec opinion to homerism; however, in the same respect we can attribute the Toronto opinion to anti-homerism, if you will, or beating up on opposing players while dressing up your own. So the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
My interpretation is that Smith had some defensive skill, but did not use it all the time, as a tactical decision. He was most valuable on offence, so did not spend too much energy on defence. However, both when in Quebec and Moncton, at least, he was noted for always being in the thick of it. I interpret that to mean that while he did not necessarily backcheck, he was an aggressive forechecker.
Smith was quite a durable player - he never missed a significant number of games due to injury; it took typhoid fever to knock him out for most of the 1909/10 season. He was also apparently excellent at taking faceoffs, something not often noted at the time, despite playing wing when he was teamed with Malone.