The Bruins were less than 24 hours removed from watching Torey Krug depart for St. Louis. They’ll need to fill that big hole on the left side of the defense either from within the organization or via free agency or trade.
But GM Don Sweeney had other holes to fill entering an important off-season, particularly in the middle-six of Boston’s lineup. With that in mind, the Bruins found one of their needs on the open market with the addition of former Predators winger Craig Smith on Saturday. The Bruins inked the veteran winger to a three-year deal with an average cap hit of $3.1 million per season.
“Yeah, it was pretty exciting…obviously a great opportunity here, so we’re ecstatic about that,” Smith said regarding his signing with the Bruins via Zoom. “My wife and I were kind of going through the boxes of what we want checked off for places and I couldn’t be more happy to land here. I’d like to thank the Jacobs family and especially Don Sweeney and the rest of the staff for believing in us. My wife and I felt comfortable that this was going to be. This checked off all the boxes and especially, this is a team that catches your attention and is going to be definitely a contender. We’re excited and we’re ecstatic. Last night when things got done, I think we were both kind of shook and just excited to get there and go to work.”
Smith’s wife became a selling point. But what did the Bruins have to offer aside from discussing his potential role?
Well, they had to look no further than their top-line center to sell Smith on coming to Boston.
“Yeah, we spoke,” Smith said on his discussions with Patrice Bergeron. “I have a lot of respect for him, especially his game. I don’t know him personally. This was the first time that we had talked. But the way he discussed his team and where they’re at, and the manner that he carried himself throughout the phone call was impressive to me. As a player, I’ve played a little while now and it’s definitely attractive to hear a guy talk about his team like that and how much passion he has for his city and the love he has for his teammates. That’s something I want to be a part of.”
Smith likely won’t see any time with Bergeron, be it on even strength or special teams. But the 31-year-old has plenty to offer whether he lines up with Charlie Coyle and/or David Krejci.
The Bruins struggled to generate 5v5 offense during each of their last three postseason exits. Last season, the Predators outscored their opponents in 5v5 play 46-22 when Smith touched the ice, and most of his shifts began in the defensive zone.
With Smith’s 76 career power-play points, the Bruins have another decent option for their secondary man-advantage unit. Combine that with his five career 20-goal seasons and you have yourself another well-rounded option for Bruce Cassidy’s squad.
“Well, I think five-on-five scoring,” Sweeney said regarding Smith’s strengths. “Five of the last seven years, he’s topped 20 goals. Everybody advertised him as an absolute true professional. He’s a true right-winger, volume shooter, probably plays best on the second- or third-line role. Can certainly play the bumper on the power play. We described the fact that Bergy [Bergeron] is in that spot so he’s probably not likely taking it, but more than happy to move around and be a shooter on the second one if necessary or he can slide down low in the drop-off.
“We’ve felt all along that the depth in scoring has to be there. It showed up this year in the playoffs. It was a real factor for us in the previous year. Craig touched an awful lot of the boxes that we were looking to plug that hole with.”
Smith’s signing gives the Bruins another viable scoring option. But Sweeney remains active on the free agent and trade fronts. The team still needs another top-six weapon along with filling Krug’s void either from within or externally.
The open market remains busy with Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall and Tyler Toffoli among the top available names. The Bruins have a little over $12.295 million in salary-cap space with pending new deals for RFA’s Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk looming.
Adding another big name might take some creativity. But that shouldn’t stop Sweeney from trying to keep the team’s Stanley Cup window open.
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