It's not a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination but in their first move of the NHL's trade deadline day, the Sharks swapped bottom-six forwards with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending impending unrestricted free agent center Andrew Desjardins to Chicago for winger Ben Smith.
Ben Smith has been dealt to San Jose. Not sure yet on return for Chicago— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 2, 2015
Smith, 26, has another season remaining on his contract after this one at a $1.5 million cap hit and has nine points in 61 games this season in mostly fourth-line duty for Chicago. He's a dependable penalty killer capable of playing either center or wing with a decent if unspectacular offensive touch. He's essentially what Desjardins was for the Sharks a couple of seasons ago, only Smith has a 14-goal season on his resume, accrued in 2013-14 while he was playing exclusively on a Blackhawks checking line that managed to post positive possession numbers with some of the toughest defensive zone starts of any line in the NHL.
Smith, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig were fed to the wolves by Joel Quenneville last season and managed to stay above water; while that's mostly courtesy the two-way brilliance of Kruger, Smith played a significant role for that unit as well and even briefly moved up to center the Hawks' second line in the first round of the playoffs. He probably won't score 14 goals ever again but Smith is a solid utility guy signed for another season, which is a better return for a fourth-liner the Sharks weren't going to re-sign than anyone could have expected. If nothing else, Smith is an actual NHL player and if he keeps Mike Brown out of the lineup next season, this is a good trade for San Jose.
Terms like "great teammate" and "hard worker" are often tossed around with reckless abandon in hockey but Desjardins exemplified both for the Sharks. The 28-year-old Ontario native had to bust his ass to even make it to the show, one of the few active regular NHLers to have played in the Central Hockey League and ECHL. He was once the ideal fourth line center: an agitator who drew plenty of penalties, a great faceoff man and an underrated offensive player who pushed the pace in the neutral zone and showed spurts of playmaking creativity. He wasn't getting the job done this year but if you made Sidney Crosby center the likes of John Scott, Adam Burish and Tye McGinn (Desjardins' three most common forward linemates by ice time this season) he probably wouldn't look too great either. Hopefully Desjardins can regain his form playing with competent forwards on a very deep Chicago team. San Jose retained 50% of his remaining salary in the trade.