After bringing back defenseman Kevan Miller on Friday, the Boston Bruins made their second signing of the 2020 NHL Free Agency period on Saturday putting pen to ink with 6-foot-1, 208-pound forward Craig Smith for a three-year contract worth $9.3 million. The deal carries an annual salary cap hit of $9.3 million.
Smith had 18 goals and 13 assists in 61 games this past season and has five 20-goal seasons on his resume with a 25-goal campaign two seasons ago. Smith, 31, has spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Nashville Predators who drafted him in the fourth round (98th overall) at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The Madison, Wisconsin native played for the University of Wisconsin prior to that.
Smith’s contract brings the Bruins salary cap space down to $11.2 million. They are yet to sign restricted free agents Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk or unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara and Joakim Nordstrom. Sweeney said this past week that it was unlikely that they will bring back Nordstrom.
Just as 19 players on the Bruins do when they think of walking off the ice in their home barn after losing Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues, Craig Smith still holds that sense of redemption and motivation. In 2017, Smith and the Nashville Predators lost the Cup Final in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that fire to return to the final still burns. For Smith, that’s why he chose the Bruins after nine seasons in Nashville.
“That’s another box that we were looking at that we wanted checked. Obviously, that is a great team that is going to be in contention,” Smith said. “They were close two years ago. I’m not in the room, I don’t know – it’s different from team to team and year to year. But that seems like a team that’s just chomping at the bit with the guys that they have on their team. It just seems like everybody is out there and has something to prove, which is attractive to me. I’d like to be a part of that and chip in any way I can.”
Craig Smith has always respected Bruins veteran forward and future hall of famer Patrice Bergeron so when the Bruins alternate captain became part of the Bruins’ recruiting process to lure Smith into signing with them, that pretty much sealed the deal.
“Yeah, we spoke. The way – I have a lot of respect for him, especially his game,” Smith said of the call. “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.”
What the Bruins are hoping is that Smith can chip in regularly as a scoring and physical presence in their middle-six forward group. Smith adds some much-needed depth on the right side for the Bruins as they now can boast a lineup that if healthy will have potentially three 20-goal scorers on the right side with David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase, and Smith. Factor in 10-15 lamplighters from Chris Wagner on the grind line and suddenly there’s not such a lack of scoring on the right side.
“Well, I think five-on-five scoring,” Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney said in a Zoom call with the media Saturday. “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.
As Sweeney pointed out, Smith is familiar with playing the bumper on the powerplay and will only make one of the Bruins’ strengths more dynamic.
“Can certainly play the bumper on the power play,” Sweeney said. “We described the fact that Bergy 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.”
Since they started dominating opponents over the last three seasons, Craig Smith has been in awe of the pure skill and tenacity of the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand-Bergeron-David Pastrnak and to have the opportunity to play and be teammates with them was another factor in signing with the Bruins.
“Just looking at the lineup and playing against that team, like I said, when we play Boston, that’s a team that just has my full attention with that first line with Pastrnak,” Smith said “That was one of the best lines that I think I’ve ever played against. To get to be able to work with those guys – as far as the team and where I’m going to fit in, I have to come in and earn that and earn the respect from the guys. That stuff will sort it all out. I’m excited to be part of the group and be able to chip in any way possible and any area, I’m going to be there for it. I’m excited and willing. Like I said, we’re just ecstatic to get there and get to work.”