With Phaneuf moved out, Senators’ Smith is trying to tune out trade speculation ... Don’t be surprised if DiDomenico is claimed off waivers ... Harpur might get called up
The deal that sent Dion Phaneuf to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night likely hit home with Ottawa Senators winger Zack Smith.
While the 29-year-old Smith has spent his entire pro hockey career with the Senators’ organization after being drafted in the third round in 2008, his name has been among many that have been mentioned as potential options for deals before the National Hockey League trade deadline at 3 p.m. on Feb. 26.
If the Senators could find a way to get Phaneuf’s $7.5-million cap hit for three more seasons off the books, then Smith’s $3.25-million cap hit through 202021 shouldn’t be an issue.
He won a Calder Cup with Binghamton of the American Hockey League in 2011 and established himself in the NHL by earning the trust of Senators coaches. Smith was also part of several Ottawa teams that have had success, but now he may be considered expendable with the Senators shifting gears.
All Smith can do is try focus on the job at hand.
“There’s uncertainty and you think about it at times,” Smith said Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. “It’s nothing that you can control. You just try to come to the rink and play the best you can.”
Ignoring the noise is difficult in this day and age. Smith might be staying away from newspapers and social media, but that hasn’t stopped family and friends. They read or hear the slightest bits of speculation and immediately pass it along.
“Everyone asks about it, and it just takes one person with any amount of followers to start rumours and get everyone asking you what’s going on,” Smith said. “It’s kind of outside noise, and a lot of times it’s just something you talk about.
“We have to keep reminding friends and family that it’s just rumours. It happens every year to the teams that aren’t in a playoff position and they have to decide which direction they’re going to go, so it’s quite common.”
Smith has been linked to the Calgary Flames, but several NHL teams are looking for a forward or two, including the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks.
Smith would fit anywhere because, as Senators head coach Guy Boucher noted recently, he can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s also valuable because he’s comfortable at centre or wing and he’s good on faceoffs.
General manager Pierre Dorion has received lots of expressions of interest in Smith, so, if the Senators want to move him, they will have options.
“If teams are inquiring about me, it’s not because I’m scoring goals. That’s quite evident,” said Smith, who has four goals and 10 assists in 41 games. “Like you said, versatility is probably my biggest asset.
“I play left wing, I take a lot of draws, and I consider myself a pretty good faceoff guy and I can kill penalties. I think that’s what’s earned me the minutes with this club and has given me the opportunity to play different roles. That started early for me. It started in junior, when you have to adapt, and it’s worked to my benefit.”
THE LAST WORDS
Some of coach Guy Boucher’s favourite players are headed out the door before the trade deadline. Centre Nate Thompson, signed as a free agent last summer partially because of his prior relationship with Boucher, went to Los Angeles with Phaneuf on Tuesday. Forward Chris DiDomenico was placed on waivers Wednesday. If he clears, he’ll be sent to the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville, but don’t be surprised if a few NHL teams consider claiming DiDomenico, who has six goals and four assists in 24 games with Ottawa. He was plucked off waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this season, but subsequently reclaimed by the Senators ... The Senators sent winger Max McCormick, who played only 7:15 on Tuesday back to Belleville on Wednesday. With Marian Gaborik and Shore arriving in the deal with the Kings, the Senators don’t need any extra forwards … Gaborik will wear No. 12 for the Senators, with Shore in No. 23 … The Senators could have winger Gabriel Dumont (high ankle sprain) back for Thursday’s game against the Sabres … Dorion indicated the Senators could recall a defenceman from Belleville. It would make sense if it was Ben Harpur, who signed to a two-year contract extension last week … With points in three consecutive games, defenceman Mark Borowiecki will attempt to do something he hasn’t in his career by extending that streak to four games against the Sabres … If the Senators stick to the alternating goalie system, Craig Anderson will make the start Thursday. He played Tuesday in Pittsburgh in relief of Mike Condon, who had allowed four goals on nine shots.
Senators’ Zack Smith (right) tries to break free from the Wild’s Matt Dumba. Smith has a contract in place with the Senators through the 2020-21 season.