This past week, Pierre Dorion, general manager of the Ottawa Senators decided to place centre Zack Smith on waivers. Smith is coming off his worst season in the National Hockey League. In 68 games played, he registered 5 goals, 14 assists, 54 PIM, 29 blocks, 90 hits and 27 take-aways.
Oddly enough, while Smith was underperforming, he had a career high in ATOI. For whatever reason, Guy Boucher, the head coach of the Senators wanted Smith to have more of a presence. Perhaps Boucher felt that a veteran like Smith had strong leadership qualities and wanted his roster to pay close attention to Smith’s aggressive playing style.
In theory, that does make sense. As the game of hockey has evolved, there has been a need for more physical players. Teams have a desire to add players who are hungry for the puck and aren’t afraid to push the opposition against the boards in an attempt to steal the puck. Unfortunately, it seems as if Smith was too timid last year. Last season, he averaged roughly 1.3 hits per game, which is a significant drop when you look at his hits total from the season prior. In his previous year, he averaged approximately 1.9 hits per game.
With Smith being less aggressive, it impacted his offensive numbers. In his 2015-2015 campaign, Smith had registered 175 hits, 25 goals and 11 assists in 81 games played. The following year, he registered 140 hits, 16 goals and 16 assists in 74 games played. Last season, he had 90 hits, 5 goals and 14 assists. As you can see, there seems to be a direct correlation between his physicality and the nature of his offensive contributions.
While his numbers weren’t great last year, he could have remained with the Senators if it wasn’t for his contract. Based on his numbers, he’s a solid fourth line centre. He’s someone that you can rely on during the penalty kill and who can be a solid defensive forward when going against third or fourth line competition. Unfortunately for Smith, his contract status is what his buried him in the AHL. On January 23, 2017, Smith signed a four year contract with a $3.25 million USD cap hit and a modified no trade clause.
If you compare Smith’s contract to other contracts of fourth line centremen in the Atlantic Division, you’d see that Dorion decided to overpay Smith by a mile. The only centre who earns more than Smith is Vladimir Sobotka of the Buffalo Sabres. Yet, it’s hard to say that Smith’s contract is a fair one if you look at Sobotka’s as his role prior to the Ryan O’Reilly trade was vastly different than it is now. With his former team, the St. Louis Blues, he was a third line winger, whom the Blues relied on heavily.
All of the other contracts are all under $2.5 million USD and don’t have a no-trade clause. The closest contract in monetary value is Tomas Plekanec, who carries a $2.25 million cap hit with the Montreal Canadiens. If Smith’s contract was a bit less and didn’t have a no-trade clause, Dorion would have been able to move his contract this off-season. Instead, Dorion had no choice but to waive him.
Unfortunately for Smith, I’m not sure that he’ll be able to return to a NHL lineup in the future. With his contract set to expire after the 2020-21 season, he’ll be 33 years old when his deal is done and there will likely be regression in his skill-set. It’s sad to say that his days of playing in the NHL are over and his contract is largely to blame.
If anything, Smith’s contract should be a lesson to depth players everywhere. Fourth line forwards shouldn’t sign contracts that are too high in salary and include a no-trade clause as it can shorten your career in a heartbeat.