The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Zack Smith.
The best types of trades are the ones that turn out to be a win-win for both sides. That was the case for the Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators when they made a 1-for-1 swap last July involving Artem Anisimov and Zack Smith.
From the Blackhawks' perspective, they opened up $1.3 million in cap space and acquired a player in Smith that could bring energy to the fourth line and help on a penalty kill unit that ranked 31st in the NHL.
For a budget team like the Senators, they added veteran center depth and saved money in the process. Anisimov’s cap hit of $4.55 million for this season and next helped them reach the floor, but the Blackhawks paid his $2 million signing bonus prior to the trade so the Senators owe him only $5 million total in actual dollars.
In his first season with the Blackhawks, Smith accumulated 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 50 games and drew significant defensive responsibility. No player on the team had more defensive zone starts on a per-60-minute basis at 5-on-5 than Smith.
"He’s done a great job killing penalties," head coach Jeremy Colliton said in January. "He’s versatile and can play all three forward positions."
The biggest obstacle Smith had to deal with was his back injury, which nagged him all season long. He missed time in training camp with a lower back injury and also came out of the nine-day All-Star break and bye week feeling sore.
After pushing through it for most of the season, Smith had season-ending surgery on March 6 and was put on a three-to-four-month timetable. He should be cleared for hockey activities by June or July, which could be around the time the league is hoping to ramp things up as it looks to finish the 2019-20 campaign in some form.
If the Blackhawks are forced to make difficult financial decisions due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis, you wonder if they could consider buying out Smith, who has one year left on his contract after this season with a $3.25 million cap hit. A buyout would save the Blackhawks $2.166 million in 2020-21 but the team would owe him $1.083 million in 2021-22.
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