Former Ottawa Senator Zack Smith didn’t always know he would make it as a professional hockey player. But he became a fan favourite quickly when he did.
Smith sat through the 2006 NHL Draft without hearing his name called. He started looking at which Canadian university to attend. Then, at age 20, he was on the ice making his NHL debut with the Ottawa Senators, eventually becoming known as “the new Mike Fisher.” Now, at age 33, the former fan favourite has announced his retirement from the league, according to various reports.
Smith played in 662 career NHL games; 612 with the Senators, where he registered 94 goals, 193 points and over 650 penalty minutes. In 45 career playoff games with the Senators, Smith had two goals and nine points. The Maple Creek, Saskatchewan native, finished playing 50 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019-20, notching four goals and 11 points.
Smith’s Heart Wasn’t Into It
In an interview with Ian Mendes of The Athletic, Smith explains his reasons for hanging up his skates after moving on from the nation’s capital for a single season.
My heart wasn’t into it the last couple of years. I guess I was a little jaded in some ways. You’re playing well and then you learn the business side of it.‘Senators fan favourite Zack Smith retires from NHL: Recalling playoff runs, scoring spurts and being waived.’ Ian Mendes, The Athletic Sept. 17, 2021
That was an apparent reference to when the Senators placed him on waivers after training camp in 2018, surprising many of the team’s fans and onlookers around the league. It’s a fact that sometimes tough decisions like these have to be made in the salary cap era, but unfortunately, it sometimes has a lasting impact on players.
Smith told Mendes that marked a low point in his career from which he could never fully recovered. He had three years left on his contract at the time and was an important contributor to the dressing room environment. Although he wasn’t putting up impressive numbers, he was also a force on the ice, changing the momentum of some games with a big hit here or there and making things tough for Senators’ opponents.
Senators Teammates Loved Smith
He was popular among his Senators’ teammates. After the team put him on waivers in 2018, Matt Duchene described the move as “a kick in the balls.” “It sucks for sure,” Mark Borowiecki chimed in. “He’s a really, really, really good friend of mine and a lot of guys in here. He’s universally loved and respected in the room.”
He had proved before he could deliver on ice, at one time playing with Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau during the 2015-16 season, where he would put an impressive 25 goals on his stat line. Even though his numbers declined after that, he still seemed an effective part of the team.
In the Senators’ 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff run, for example, he played in all 19 games. He told Mendes that he never realized at the time that was his best chance to raise the Stanley Cup over his head.
I realize it now more so in the last few months, that I probably will never get over that. Because when you’re still playing, you always say to yourself ‘OK, I’m going to have another opportunity.’ But now that I look back, it was the closest I’ll ever get to a Stanley Cup. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. It was bittersweet, because it was an amazing experience. It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had playing hockey, but it was a tough pill to swallow.The Athleic
Smith said he still holds the fans and the city of Ottawa close to his heart.
Smith’s Injuries Also Played a Role
The back pain that plagued Smith in recent years was also a factor in his retirement, he told Mendes. It’s still something he deals with after undergoing surgery to correct it in 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the NHL.
Before the beginning of the season in January 2021, the Hawks waived his rights. That March, he was placed on the long-term injured reserve. He would never return to the ice. The surgery didn’t solve any of his issues, which affected his ability to train at the level needed. Now his concentration will turn new passions like running, perhaps he says, in triathlons or marathons. He’s also always want to try jiu-jitsu as well.
Smith has two children under four years old. The family is reportedly moving to a new home outside of Calgary, Alberta. As he fades from the focus in the NHL, Senators fans will always remember his grit and tenacity as they look to current players like Brady Tkachuk to take up the torch and lead the team into the future.
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.