Craig Smith doesn’t personally know anyone on the Bruins. That will soon change.
The career-long Predators winger signed a three-year, $9.3 million deal Saturday to join the forward ranks in Boston. A phone chat with Patrice Bergeron helped sell him on the move.
“As a player,” Smith said in a Zoom call, “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.”
The money works out nicely for Boston, which had work left to do as of Saturday afternoon. Smith was making $4.25 million a year last season as a third-liner in Nashville, but will cost the Bruins' cap $3.1 million, good value for a perennial 20-goal scorer.
The club had yet to sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk, unrestricted free agent Zdeno Chara, or find a replacement for newly minted St. Louisan Torey Krug. General manager Don Sweeney was also in the Taylor Hall business, looking to add even more scoring punch to the top of the lineup.
Count Smith as a believer in the roster as it stands.
“When we play Boston, that’s a team that just has my full attention with that first line with [David] Pastrnak,” he said. “That was one of the best lines that I think I’ve ever played against.”
Lower in the order, Smith has been productive. The 31-year-old spent the first nine years of his career in the Music City, scoring 20-plus goals in five of the last seven seasons. He went for 18-13—31 in 69 games last year before the pause.
Smith is listed at 6 feet 1 inch and 208 pounds and shoots right. He also shoots often. Smith sends it from pretty much anywhere. He would have finished fourth on the Bruins in shots last year (184, one behind Brad Marchand).
That shot mentality, which coach Bruce Cassidy tried to coax out of several of his younger charges last season, boosted the Predators. They outscored opponents 46-22 at 5 on 5 with Smith on the ice last year. That follows a trend. Since 2013-14, they have outscored opponents 345-230 when Smith hopped over the boards.
In that play-driving sense, Smith has been one of the most impactful forwards in the league for the last seven seasons. According to numbers tracked by the advanced stats site Evolving Wild, Smith is fourth among NHL forwards in on-ice goal differential at 5 on 5 in that time. Marchand is second (plus-122), and only he and the Lightning duo of Nikita Kucherov (plus-144) and Ondrej Palat (plus-115) outrank Smith’s plus-113, which is tied with the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko.
The Bruins were ninth in scoring last year (3.24 goals per game), but ranked a middling 17th in 5 on 5 scoring (141 goals). Among teams that made the second round of the playoffs, they were last in goals, both 5 on 5 and overall.
Smith is not an elite finisher — he has a 9.6 percent career shooting mark, and has gone over 10 percent four times — but his value comes in forcing goalies to make saves. That could make him a wonderful fit with Charlie Coyle, a puck-possession center who doesn’t shoot often, on Boston’s third line. He could play the bumper or the wing on the Bruins' second-unit power play.
Boston, both franchise and location, appealed to him.
“The city has a big part to do with it,” he said. “My wife is in love with Boston and I’ve always had a soft side for it so that definitely checked it.”
From a background standpoint, he will fit in a Bruins organization loaded with American players who came up through the NCAA ranks. Smith is from Madison, Wis., and played for USHL Waterloo and the University of Wisconsin.
Smith, the 98th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has a spot in the Predators' relatively thin record books. He leaves Nashville fourth in games played (661), fifth in goals (162), sixth in points (330), second in even-strength goals (120), and tied for fourth in power play goals (42).
Oh, and he’s fourth in shots (1,694).
No contact on Pietrangelo
In a Zoom call after the Smith signing, Sweeney said the Bruins have had no contact with the camp of Alex Pietrangelo, the St. Louis captain.
As for Hall, he wouldn’t say.
Asked by the Globe if he was in the market for both, Sweeney only named one. Pietrangelo, he said, wouldn’t be “the absolute best fit” in a Boston six-pack that includes right-side minute munchers Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
“Very respectful [of] the player, an elite player in the National Hockey League,” Sweeney said. “That’s not the discussion we’ve had. In regards to other players, we’re certainly engaging the interest on both sides of it and seeing what we can potentially fit in.”
Pietrangelo, essentially pushed out by the signing of Krug, visited Vegas on Saturday and was expected to sign there.
Krug negotiations fell short
Sweeney didn’t directly refute allegations Krug made after signing in St. Louis on Friday. Krug said the Bruins made one contract extension offer to him — before last season — it was later revoked.
“Not agreeing, from a contractual standpoint, is never disrespecting a player,” Sweeney said. “You just don’t find the common ground. The bottom line is, we fell short on term.”
Sweeney’s offer to Krug was reportedly for six years and $6.5 million per, the same AAV and one year shy of what he got from the Blues.
Sweeney said he continues to explore left-side options on defense, in light of Krug’s egress and Chara’s uncertain future. At present, Grzelcyk and John Moore are the only proven NHL players who can play the left side, and Moore was a spare part last year. The other lefties — Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril — are green.
In leaving the door open for a younger option, Sweeney pointed to Carlo’s unexpected emergence, assisted by Chara, four years ago.
“[McAvoy and Carlo] now have been in this league and have had a tremendous amount of success,” Sweeney said. “Can they carry a younger player? Is [Grzelcyk] ready for an elevated role? Some of that is to be determined.”
On the Bruins' second-ranked (25.2 percent) power play, where Grzelcyk or McAvoy would be the leading internal candidates to replace QB1 Krug: “Somebody is going to get a hell of an opportunity.”
Grzelcyk files for arbitration
Grzelcyk was one of 26 players to file for salary arbitration Saturday, signifying he was unsatisfied with a $1.4 million qualifying offer. Two other arb-eligible RFAs, Karson Kuhlman and Peter Cehlarik, did not go that route. The sides can settle before the hearings, which are scheduled for Oct. 20 to Nov. 8. In July 2019, the Bruins and Danton Heinen avoided arbitration, settling on a two-year deal worth $2.8 million. Heinen was traded to the Ducks in February for Nick Ritchie ... Sweeney said he continues to speak with Chara, who remains without a deal for his 23rd NHL season, and there is “no ambiguity” with regard to Chara’s role and potential earnings. “Whatever Z decides to do, ultimately, he’ll tell us,” Sweeney said. “We’ll react accordingly to that. We have our own feelings as to where these things will go. We’ve certainly relayed them. We’ll continue to relay them. He’s an iconic player, a personality and a leader. We want to make sure that we’re dealing with this with the utmost respect.” … Sweeney does not sound as if he expects the NHL to play a full 82-game season once it resumes. “Total speculation on my part,” he said, “I think the compression will make it difficult.” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced earlier this week the league is targeting a Jan. 1 start date.