As the Ottawa Senators and their fans were still licking their wounds from the inevitable Erik Karlsson trade, general manager Pierre Dorion surprised everyone inside and outside of that dressing room earlier this week when he placed centre Zack Smith on waivers.
Multiple players and head coach Guy Boucher seemed to be caught off guard by the move and spoke out about it on Tuesday, with Matt Duchene saying “it’s a kick in the balls for us,” and Boucher, who was using the versatile Smith as his second-line centre, brushed it off by saying “until further notice his name’s on my board.”
Smith’s $3.25-million cap hit is high for the measly 19 points he managed last season, which was why he passed through waivers unclaimed. Injuries have hampered his production two years in a row as he moved out of the top six, but he has remained a valuable penalty-killer for the Senators. His teammates love him and his coach wants to use him, so it was a big surprise for Smith when Dorion told him he was going to hit the wire.
“I think it ran the course on the emotions. Disbelief first, then denial and anger. It kind of fluttered through me all at once, it was kinda hard to grasp,” Smith told reporters in his first comments since passing through waivers. “Tuesday, (Dorion) pulled me in and said I’m going on waivers at noon and it was a performance-based issue and that was it.”
Following Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s season-ending injury, Ottawa’s depth at centre took a blow and that’s where a healthy Smith could have chipped in. With Duchene on the top line, Smith was being used on the second unit, with newly acquired Chris Tierney slotting in on the third line.
If Smith was out of the picture, Boucher would have to think about using 21-year-olds Filip Chlapik and Colin White in more prominent positions down the middle. They combined to play 41 NHL games last season.
It was just an all-around bad 48 hours for Smith. It’s difficult enough for a professional player to deal with the reality of being put on waivers and faced with the possibility of being claimed by another team or even being sent to the minors, but he joked about another unfortunate event he woke up to the day after hitting waivers.
“To recap, yesterday it started off at 6:00 a.m. with my dog getting sprayed by a skunk and then jumping in bed with us,” he said. “So, that’s how it started! That was a good start to the day. I was like, ‘This is going to be a good one!'”
Smith said he was moved by seeing how his teammates responded to the news he had been put on waivers. Aside from how they voiced their opinions publicly to the media, Smith said he also received texts from other players in the league.
“It choked me up a couple times to know that guys in the room value me, that was a humbling part too,” he said.
The Senators play their next pre-season game Thursday night in Chicago, and Smith is expected to be back in the lineup on the second line.