Well Senators fans, when it comes to your mock expansion draft scenarios, you can now pencil forward Zack Smith in as one of the team’s protected forwards.
Today the Ottawa Senators announced this afternoon that they have inked Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13-million that carries an average annual value of $3.25-million.
The 28-year old forward, who turns 29 in April, was slated to become an unrestricted free agent this July.
His new contract is the culmination of an impressive turnaround.
Through his first seven seasons in the league, Smith mixed flashes of offensive potential — 14 goals in 2011-12 and 13 goals in 2013-14 — with ineffectual play on the team’s third and fourth lines. At times, Smith looked confused with his role and with it, his confidence waned as he became trapped in the conservative dump and chase role alongside fourth liners like Chris Neil.
Then last season, everything changed.
Playing alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mark Stone, everything Zack Smith shot seemingly went in. On the strength of a 20.7 shooting percentage, Smith set a new regular season high in goals with 25.
When a player essentially doubles his previous career high in shooting percentage, there’s inevitably going to be some skepticism regarding the repeatability of that level of production. As a result, many fans (including yours truly) questioned whether or not it would be in the team’s best interests to sell high on Smith.
He already oozed intangibles and a physical dimension that general managers and scouts love and tend to overpay for at the deadline, but thanks to Smith’s previously unmatched levels of production, you couldn’t blame fans for dreaming on what kind of trade offers the Senators could entertain.
Keep in mind, the Senators were a middling franchise – caught in cycle of making the playoffs one year and missing out the next. Within that context, coupled with the prospective return of a top-six forward like Clarke MacArthur who would push Smith down the depth chart (and away from Mark Stone), you couldn’t blame fans for thinking it may be in the small market team’s interests to stockpile future assets and build towards the future.
Fast forward to the present with the Senators currently holding down a playoff position and the announcement that MacArthur would be shut down for the remainder of the season because of a concussion and you can’t help but wonder where the Senators would be without Zack Smith’s contributions.
Although his production is a notch below last year’s pace, Smith still has 11 goals and 22 points in 43 games. His shooting percentage (12.7) resembles something closer to his career norms than last year’s inflated number, but his goal production is still pretty decent because he’s shooting the puck more than he ever has.
According to Corsica.Hockey, Smith’s five-on-five individual shots per 60 minutes of ice time is 8.13 – the highest of his career. To put this in perspective, he was only averaging 5.76 shots per 60 last season.
Smith deserves credit for adapting and changing his style. He’s gone from the predictable dump and chase style to one in which he’s carrying the puck with confidence and helping extend shifts in the opposition’s end.
Obviously there’s something to be said about how Smith has been the benefactor of playing with Mark Stone. His ‘With or Without You’ numbers over the past two seasons paint a pretty clear picture of this, but everyone plays a lot better with Stone. He’s one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL for a reason.
There’s definitely something to be said about using Stone as a mechanism to inflate a teammate’s worth and inherent trade value, while replacing said player with an inexpensive alternative who has a chance to outproduce what Smith has brought to the table – especially for a small market franchise.
But at the same time, provided Smith continues to play with Stone and perform at level close to where he is at right now, his contract isn’t that egregious, especially when you consider that he has 28 goals and 48 points in his last 80 games.
Conversely, Smith will be 29-years old at the start of the 2017-18 season and it’s hard not to envision a scenario where he’s passed on the depth chart by a more talented offensive alternative within the span of this contract — which would then put Smith in a position wherein he’d be hard-pressed to approach the kind of numbers he can put up with Stone.
Diminished returns are the last thing the budget conscious Senators need, but then again, fans were banking on the idea that MacArthur would return and push Smith down the depth chart. It’s a reminder that even the best plans don’t always unfold as they were meant to, but with Smith in tow for the next few years, management has a known commodity that they like and trust.