The Boston Bruins have addressed one of their biggest needs entering NHL free agency by signing veteran right winger Craig Smith to a three-year contract worth $3.1 million per season.
Secondary scoring was a major issue for the Bruins last season, especially in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now, to be clear, Smith alone won't fix this weakness. The Bruins must add another quality forward -- maybe a free agent like Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman or Tyler Toffoli? -- to go into next season with a strong enough forward group, but throwing Smith into the mix is a tremendous start.
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Let's start with Smith's 5-on-5 production.
The Bruins got ran over at 5-on-5 during the playoffs with a minus-12 goal differential (17 goals scored, 29 allowed). Smith should make Boston more productive in that regard as someone who shoots the puck a ton -- averaged 205 shots on net over the last seven years -- and wins puck battles all over the ice with his physical play.
Smith helped the Predators drive puck possession at a very high rate last season. They were a plus-159 in shot attempts, a plus-112 in shots on net, a plus-59 in scoring chances and a plus-24 goals scored at 5-on-5 when Smith was on the ice.
Outside of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on the top line, Boston didn't have any reliable scorers on the wings a season ago. Jake DeBrusk is capable of giving Boston offensive production in spurts, but he's too inconsistent. Maybe Ondrej Kase is more productive in his first full season with the B's, but that remains to be seen. Jack Studnicka could provide an offensive spark, but he'll be a rookie in 2020-21.
Smith has scored 20-plus goals in five of the last seven seasons, and he likely would've reached that mark in 2019-20 if the regular season hadn't been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He finished with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 69 games.
His hat trick against the New York Islanders in February was a solid example of his two-way skill set. The first goal was quite impressive -- he stole the puck from Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and scored from a ridiculous angle.
The veteran winger could play on the second line alongside center David Krejci, but the ideal fit would be on the third line next to center Charlie Coyle. Coyle had an impressive 2020 playoff run but didn't have enough skill on his line. Smith is an upgrade over other third line wing options such as Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman, Nick Ritchie or Chris Wagner.
Another positive to this Smith signing is the contract value. The Bruins didn't have to commit a lot of term (just three years) or salary ($3.1 million salary cap hit) to acquire him.
Signing a consistent 20-goal scorer who is durable (hasn't missed more than six games in a season since 2012), plays a physical style, has 52 games of playoff experience and rates very high in many advanced stats for just $3.1 million per season is a no-brainer move.
The Bruins have plenty more work to do in free agency with about $11 million in cap space. And they still have to figure out what to do with some of their own free agents, including defensemen Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk, as well as forward Jake DeBrusk.
But it's hard to not be encouraged by Boston's start after the signing of Smith.