When Reilly Smith would come off the ice, he would go immediately to his phone. He hoped for messages from his agent, for updates from Torey Krug, about their contracts. He had expected a deal with the Bruins would get done during the summer. It didn’t.
With negotiations dragging on and on, the winger was spending his days in Connecticut skating with Krug, waiting for the chance to return to his team. His teammates were getting ready for the season, playing in preseason games, trying to win jobs. He was falling behind, as long days passed.
As Smith said, “I think we were both on the breaking point for a lot of it.”
And, as Krug added, “It wasn’t fun. It was very stressful at times.”
That all ended Monday, with the news the two entry-level free agents each had agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal.
“It took a little while with Torey and Reilly,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But you know they’re good young players; they’re good, young individuals. Throughout the process I explained to them that we have some challenge here cap-wise, and it was important for them to get in and play.
“And we’ll try to bang out an extension as soon as we can because those are two kids — two young men — that we want to have in the mix.”
The Bruins got the two on deals that will allow them to be cap compliant without moving Johnny Boychuk and his $3.366 million cap hit. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to make a move, though. The team is now $418,000 under the NHL salary cap, according to capgeek.com, but that includes just 11 forwards (Jordan Caron and Justin Florek among them) and eight defensemen.
Still, they’re close.
Both Krug and Smith could command significant raises on those long-term extensions that Chiarelli mentioned. Plus, the Bruins have a large number of players coming up as restricted or unrestricted free agents next summer. That list could include Krug (RFA), Smith (RFA), Dougie Hamilton (RFA), Niklas Svedberg (RFA), Caron (RFA), Ryan Spooner (RFA), Matt Fraser (RFA), Boychuk (UFA), Carl Soderberg (UFA), Gregory Campbell (UFA), Daniel Paille (UFA), Adam McQuaid (UFA), and Matt Bartkowski (UFA).
“I think both sides assumed some risk and both sides benefit,” Chiarelli said. “They walk right into arbitration and that’s the certainty of the deal. And they both put up good numbers, so they have good cases.
“From our perspective it helps us from a planning perspective this year, but we risk a higher number next year. So I’m OK with that. It’s a two-way street, but both sides benefit, both sides assume some risk.”
But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
“It was definitely tough,” Smith said. “At times you think you’re fighting a three-way battle. You’ve got your own ideas, your agent’s advising how he probably should, and they’ve been in the business a long time and that’s probably the advice you should take. The Bruins also have their ideas and ideologies of how they want the whole situation to go.
“You’re kind of bouncing ideas off everyone. Me and Torey were kind of bouncing ideas off each other the whole time because we just wanted to get to camp, but it seems like it all worked out.”
Krug, a left-shot defenseman, had 14 goals and 26 assists in 79 games last year. He led first-year defensemen with 40 points and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Smith was one of the players the Bruins received in July 2013 from Dallas in the Tyler Seguin blockbuster trade. The Bruins projected Smith as their No. 3 right wing, but his smart and slippery play, coupled with Loui Eriksson’s slow start, landed the ex-Star on the second line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Smith scored 20 goals and added 31 assists, both career highs. He faded toward the end of the season, but he elevated his play in the postseason, scoring four goals in 12 games.
The players could have continued to stay away from camp, hoping for the Bruins to trade someone and free up cap space for a bigger deal or a long-term extension.
As Krug said, “I think at some point you’ve just got to get in here and make sure you’re prepared for the upcoming season. It got to be that time.”
Both professed happiness at how the situation worked out. But there is also more pressure.
“I think if you’re on a one-year deal, you’re always pushing, you’re battling for the next year and you’re never really sitting back,” Smith said. “I think that’s a good feeling to have, and it pushes you more and more as a young player. It’s something I love to have and it forces you to come to the rink every day with a bright attitude.
“It’s nice to know they have that kind of faith in you, but it’s a two-way street and I have to do my job to pretty much force them to keep me here.”
Neither will play Tuesday against the Islanders. They have been skating, but not in game conditions. They returned to the ice Monday at TD Garden to begin the process of getting back up to speed.
“It’s nice to have them back,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think everybody agrees on that. Now it’s a matter of getting them in game shape.
“They’ve been skating. They showed up, obviously looking in real good shape, but playing and battling are two different things, so they’ve got a little less time than others have had to get up to speed with everybody.
“Right now they’re behind. No matter how good of shape you are, those two weeks that they lost are two weeks that they’ve got to try to regain somehow.”
. . .
The Bruins released forward Ville Leino from his tryout agreement and released defenseman Chris Breen from the roster. Breen will join the Providence Bruins. Leino was trying to resuscitate his career after a 2013-14 season in which he went goal-less for the Sabres.