SAN JOSE – Although the Sharks were sellers at the NHL trade deadline that passed on Monday, general manager Doug Wilson offered a glimpse of what is likely to be his upcoming summer strategy.
The Chicago Blackhawks will be up against the salary cap at the conclusion of the season. Ben Smith, who had recently been a healthy scratch, carries a $1.5 million salary cap hit through 2015-16, while Andrew Desjardins is a pending unrestricted free agent making $750,000. The Sharks retained half of Desjardins’ salary in the deal, too.
“We added a player that fits for now and the future that’s a winner,” Wilson said on Monday.
They also upgraded. Desjardins had some decent seasons in San Jose, but the Sharks’ bottom six hasn’t done much this season and he wasn’t in their future plans. Smith had an immediate impact in Monday’s win over Montreal, getting one goal and one assist. His two points were more than he had in his previous 28 games with Chicago, when he had just one assist over that span.
Smith is also an adept penalty killer, has better advanced possession numbers than Desjardins, and has won a higher percentage of his faceoffs. Desjardins never really showed an ability to play more than a fourth-line role, either, so Smith could prove to be much more versatile.
As Wilson mentioned, the 26-year-old knows what it’s like to be part of a winner. Although he wasn’t a huge piece of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup championship season, playing in just one late regular season game and another in the Final, he considered the experience a valuable one.
“Just being around there was really good for me, a good learning experience,” Smith said. “Being around guys that were fighting for their lives for two months, it definitely was a big couple months for me learning.”
He won a pair of NCAA championships with Boston College in 2008 and 2010, too, playing there for four years there and earning a degree. Current NHL’ers Cory Schneider, Brian Boyle, Nathan Gerbe and Cam Atkinson are among his former college teammates, but he credits his coach there for helping to make him the player and man he is today.
”Coach Jerry York there is such a good role model. I learned a lot from him on the ice, but I think more off the ice,” said Smith, who was born in North Carolina but moved to Connecticut at age three. “Starting my pro career after having four years at school, I felt I was mature. I lived on my own for a while, and that definitely helped me prepare for the pro lifestyle.”
“It was nice getting some big game experience and playing in some big crowds, and high pressure situations. That’s certainly helped me as I’ve gone to play at some other big venues in high pressure situations.”
Tommy Wingels, an Illinois native, has gotten to know Smith a bit during summer workouts in nearby Chicago.
“He’s a guy I’ve skated with a couple times in the past couple summers I’ve been back home,” Wingels said. “He’s a guy that I’ve seen have a great work ethic in the summer. He’s doing everything he can in the weight room and working with skills coaches. … He hunts pucks, he’s tenacious, and he’s got a good skill set. I think he’ll compliment our team very well.”
Speaking before the Sharks’ game in Vancouver, Smith didn’t want to speculate on why the Blackhawks moved him, even though many point to the cap crunch as a primary reason.
“You want to go where you’re wanted, and so far it’s been a lot of fun 24 hours,” he said. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind, but I’m having fun and just excited to be here in San Jose.”