Ottawa — On a sweltering hot Tuesday in Ottawa, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion brought his own kind of heat, dealing’ veteran forward Zack Smith to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for centre Artem Anisimov.
In trading Smith, the Senators sent their formerly longest-tenured roster player (612 games) to Chicago in a swap of 31-year olds that assists both teams on and off the ice. Smith joins former Sens’ associate coach Marc Crawford, who recently found a spot on Blackhawks’ head coach Jeremy Colliton’s staff.
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As with most NHL trades today, it’s as much about managing the salary cap as it is about making a fair deal that suits each team’s needs. This particular swap encapsulates both.
Blackhawks received from Ottawa
Forward Zack Smith
Senators received from Chicago
Center Artem Anisimov
With only $2 million remaining in cap space and RFA Brendan Perlini needing a pay raise, general manager Stan Bowman was forced to find a conventional way to free up salary. He did just that with the Anisimov trade.
The Russian forward earned $4.55 million per season and had a no-movement clause during his first two years of a five-year contract he signed in July 16, but with no trade protection entering this offseason, Bowman opted to move him for Smith, whose $3.25 million AAV relieves the club of an extra $1.3 million on the salary cap.
So, what does the Maple Creek, Saskatchewan native bring to the Blackhawks?
Although Smith notched 25 goals in 2015-16, the left wing/centre isn’t known for his offensive side; he had nine goals and 28 points last season.
A tenacious player, the 6-2, 209-pound winger, along with new acquisition Andrew Shaw from the Canadiens, lends additional grit and physicality to Colliton’s arsenal — something the Blackhawks have lacked since Shaw was originally dealt away three years ago.
Smith will likely become a fixture on the Blackhawks penalty kill, having averaged the third-most shorthanded time-on-ice per game (1:49) among Senators’ forwards last season.
“Obviously for us, trades like this are very difficult. Zack and myself have been in the organization for the same amount of years (11),” Dorion said of the deal. “When I was a chief scout, Zack was in our first draft when we took him. Zack’s contribution on the ice and in the community have been great. Both he and his wife, Brittany [Brodziak] are outstanding people. We wish them the best of luck in Chicago."
Ultimately, the deal gives Bowman salary cap flexibility and another bottom-6 forward that will bring physicality to the lineup.
At his media availability prior to the draft, Dorion said "there are multiple teams facing cap issues. If we can get an asset out of them to get us where we want to be, we will.”
As with the Blackhawks acquisition of Smith, Anisimov not only helps the Senators on the ice, but off the ice as well.
The Rangers' 2006 second-round pick — who was selected during which time coincidentally, Dorion was a member of their amateur scouting staff — saves the Senators $1.5 million in actual salary — providing he remains with the club the next seasons.
The 6-4, 198-pound center is owed only $5 million due to a front-loaded contract on the remaining term of his contract; Smith is set to earn $6.5 million during the same two-year period. Anisimov’s cap hit of $4.55 million keeps the team above the $60.2 million floor.
But for the present, Anisimov is a player who can assist Ottawa with his ability to move up and down the lineup, filling any role. The four-time 20-goal scorer is also versatile, able to play centre or wing.
“We feel our pro scouts, our management group, our coaching staff are really happy with this addition," noted Dorion. "We feel we strengthened our centreman position, and we’re a better team for it. For us, Artem fits in as one of our four centremen.
“Artem is a big, competitive centre with excellent hands and play-making ability. He plays a 200-foot game and will contribute to our depth on both special teams. We’re acquiring an experienced player who can score and at the same time is responsible in his own zone. We really like how he will fit with the makeup of our team.”
Dorion also felt adding another veteran player to a team that recently inked free agents Tyler Ennis and Ron Hainsey can’t hurt.
“We don’t want our team to be just a bunch of younger players. We feel that having some veteran presence will be beneficial for these younger players to grow and develop.”
Fresh off a 15-goal, 37-point campaign with Chicago, Anisimov gives Senators’ new head coach D.J. Smith various options at the centre position while creating roster competition between Chris Tierney, Colin White and a number of the Sens' other returning centres. Logan Brown and Filip Chlapik are also challenging for full-time spots.
Smith also has the luxury of shifting Anisimov, Pageau, Tierney or White to the wing if need be.
This is a win all-around for Dorion. He took full advantage of the Blackhawks tight salary cap situation. In doing so, Dorion received the best player in the trade, while saving his club a potential $1.5 million in actual dollars.