Signing of Craig Smith helps Bruins fill five-on-five need
From general manager Don Sweeney down to head coach Bruce Cassidy, Bruins management have made it well known that five-on-five scoring was a major issue last season.
In 2019-20, the Bruins were tied for 16th in five-on-five goals with 141.
On Saturday, they addressed that issue by signing forward Craig Smith to a three-year contract worth $3.1M annually.
So what’s the best aspect of Smith’s game you ask?
“Well, I think five-on-five scoring,” Sweeney said in his much anticipated media availability 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. 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.”
In nine seasons with the Nashville Predators, Smith had 162 goals and 168 assists in 661 games. 116 of those goals came five-on-five.
Last season, Smith spent the majority of his time on the Predators third line with Rocco Grimaldi and Nick Bonino. Of NHL lines that spent at least 300 minutes of five-on-five ice time together only the line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto in Edmonton had a better Goals For % (77.8%) than Smith’s line (72.5%).
In case you’re wondering, the Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak trio ranked 7th at 65.7%.
While Smith seems to check all the right boxes on the ice, he also checks all the boxes from an analytical standpoint, something the Bruins put much stock into.
“There is certainly a layer and a variable that we look at. We have different lenses. Obviously, we have pro scouts that do an awful lot of work and travel to attend these games and follow up with video, follow up with having knowledge of the players and trying to do our best job as possible to know how that player is going to fit in our lineup,” Sweeney said.
"You’re trying to recruit a player, obviously trying to identify him first and foremost that he can come in and help your team. And the analytic piece has become a tool for all of us to use and certainly we try to add it to all of our decision making.”
When going through their due diligence on pending UFA’s the Bruins obviously have boxes that need to be checked off. The same goes for the players themselves, especially when their services—like Smith’s were—are in high demand.
“Yeah, it was pretty exciting. We had some, obviously a great opportunity here. So, we were ecstatic about that. 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,” Smith said.
“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.”
Spending all nine of his professional seasons in the Western Conference, Bonino has yet to get a chance to get know many of the Bruins on the roster.
But a phone call from Bergeron to Smith was all Smith needed to hear, making his decision to land in Boston an easy one.
“Yeah, we spoke. The way – 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,” said Smith.
“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.”
Joining a team that has a legitimate chance at winning a Stanley Cup was one of those aforementioned boxes for Smith. Like most of his new teammates, Smith too knows the feeling of losing a Stanley Cup Final. Feeling as if the Bruins Stanley Cup window is still open, Boston being a Stanley Cup contender was another box Smith was able to check off.
“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. 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,” he said.
“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.”
After a quiet day on day one of free agency, Smith may not be the only new face in Boston when the puck—hopefully—drops on January 1st.
The Bruins are rumored to be one of several teams in on Taylor Hall and reportedly have a short-term offer on the table to Hall.
While Sweeney would not admit one way or another that they’ve had conversations with Hall’s camp, he did reveal that they’ve yet to talk to Alex Pietrangelo who would be the perfect replacement for the departed Torey Krug.
“We’re comfortable having conversations with the remaining free agents that we feel would help our club. I have not, full disclosure in this case, I have not had a discussion with Pietrangelo’s camp,” Sweeney said.
“We feel that our right side might not be the absolute best fit for our club. Very respectful for the player, an elite player in the National Hockey League. 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.”
The Bruins top-nine is already better than it was a day ago, adding a Taylor Hall would only improve it.