|Senators forward Zack Smith signed a four-year deal Wednesday that will keep him under contract until the end of the 2016-17 campaign. (Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun)
OTTAWA - The Senators are locking up players before the NHL locks them out.
With the CBA set to expire on Sept. 15 and a lockout looming, Senators GM Bryan Murray served notice Wednesday it’s business as usual, signing Zack Smith to a four-year, $7.55-million contract extension.
The signing of the club’s No. 3 centre comes only a week after No. 2 man Kyle Turris agreed to a five-year, $17.5-million deal and not long after winger Chris Neil signed a three-year, $5.7-million contract this summer.
Smith, 24, confirmed this wasn’t his idea and, quite frankly, he was caught off-guard when he got a call from his agent with news the Senators wanted to get the contract in place that will pay him close to an average of $1.9 million per season.
“It’s very exciting,” said Smith. “It’s flattering to know that they want me to be around for another four years and that I fit well in the picture. I couldn’t be more happy to get the deal done. It’s a nice ending to the summer.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think it’s very common to sign a four-year deal when last year was basically my first full year (in the NHL). Everyone is excited about the team we have this year along with the prospects we have coming.”
Scheduled to make $700,000 this season, Smith couldn’t thumb his nose at the chance to get financial security. While the figure might sound high, many consider it a reasonable deal, especially if Smith can fill the role the club wants.
“I like where I fit with the team,” said Smith. “With the signings with (Erik) Karlsson and Turris to long-term deals as well, you know they were happy with the core of our team last year. We did some good things and surprised a lot of people.
“When I started playing regularly two years ago, they wanted me to fill the role of Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher with that type of play. They were both huge assets to the team. With them being gone, they need someone to step into that kind of role with physical play, penalty killing and chip in offensively as well.”
Murray said Smith has good upside.
“He’s an improving player and there are areas he’s going to get better at,” said Murray. “He’s got a physical and size presence. He’s very competitive.
“We know that last year being his first (full) NHL season that the inconsistency at times was a matter of youth. That is the one area he will get better at. Likewise, he’ll be stronger and more NHL-ready. It’s hard to find good young players and when you get them you want to make sure you have them for term.”
Smith, who had 12 goals in the first half of the season, admits he didn’t finish the way he wanted.
“I learned a lot last season. I got off to a good start offensively and put up some numbers,” said Smith, who had 14 goals and 12 assists in 81 games. “I don’t know if it was the playoff grind in Binghamton (the season before), but I kind of hit the wall.
“I got pretty frustrated in my lack of production, so I kind of got my game off track. It was definitely a learning experience. There’s a lot of things I want to improve on. One thing I got away from was my defensive play. I slipped towards the end of the year. That’s something I definitely want to improve on.”