This afternoon the Senators announced that they have re-signed Zack Smith to a four-year extension that carries an average annual value of $1.887 million.
And it feels like an overpay.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Smith.
Of all the Binghamton graduates that came up from that 2011 Calder Cup winning team and became full-time regulars, I feel like he has the most upside out of any of them.
That blend of a physical, agitating style with some modest offensive production, is sure to ingratiate him to the blue collar masses (if it hasn’t already) who cry foul every time that Jason Spezza turns the puck over in the offensive zone.
“Dump and chase! Grit! Heart! Hustle! Fight! Give that Matt Carkner a blank check!”
(You get the idea.)
Getting back to Smith though, he’s a decent bottom six forward, but I don’t believe that he has entrenched himself as the team’s third line center. And certainly falls short of a projection to one day be "the best third-line center in the league" as Shean Donovan opined last season.
On the surface, that line of: 14 goals; 26 points; +4; 98 PIMS; and 168 hits looks pretty good but remember, this is a player who has only really had two productive months in the NHL. It also bears repeating that while he's a fresh young face in Ottawa, Smith actually turned 24 in April.
It was during the months of November and December last season when Smith scored on 10 of his 50 shots – good for a ridiculously inflated 20-percent shooting percentage – that led fans to believe that the Sens could have a poor man’s Mike Fisher on their hands; extrapolating this production and projecting a potential 40-point player.
Eventually, much like one of Fisher’s hot streaks, Smith regressed to the mean and put up numbers similar to his career rates. But, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that it was this 27 game stretch that management has romanticized. I mean, if we’re going to use small sample sizes to get some read of Smith, his last 20 regular season games left something to be desired. To put things in perspective, he was a player who had difficulty separating himself from the team’s other bottom six center, Jim O’Brien:
|Name||Zack Smith||Jim O'Brien|
If you watched Smith down the stretch, you will know that he faded badly.
Granted, he could of been playing with some undisclosed injury or he could have simply hit the wall after coming off a long AHL championship season. It's hockey, it happens.
Maybe he'll enter the 2012/13 season rejuvenated after a lengthy offseason that can possibly be extended further by a potential lockout or maybe he won't.
The truth is, to this point, I'm not sure anyone really knows what Smith is: Is he a good third line center? Will he eventually have to move to the wing? Can he take on top-six opposition and keep his head above water? Will the consistency issues always be there? How will internal competition from the likes of Regin, O'Brien and potentially even Zibanejad (should he stick at center) affect Smith's spot?
They're all fair questions to ask.
It's worth mentioning that like the Kyle Turris contract extension, Smith's deal feels as though the organization is paying him based on potential as opposed to past production. But at least in Turris' case, you know he's cemented as the team's second line center alongside skilled players like Alfie.
So even though that $1.887 per season term may not be a hefty price tag relative to some of the other deals that are out there, if Smith cannot play at a more consistent level, it's going to leave fans hoping that this isn’t one of those Bryan Murray fugue state management decisions that leaves us shaking our heads and bemoaning the effects of Smith’s contract on the team’s payroll allocation. The fact that the Senators cap situation is pretty healthy currently helps to make a move like this a little more palatable.