Craig Smith does not know anybody in the Boston Bruins organization personally — from the players to the coaching staff.
But all parties involved know that Smith has the potential to be a tremendous fit in Boston.
The veteran middle six winger on Saturday signed a three-year deal with the Bruins that carries a $3.1 million annual cap hit. He’s one of the most shot-happy players in the NHL and routinely posts 20 goals a season. That the Bruins got him to take a pay cut compared to what he was making with the Nashville Predators is an indication of how good Smith finds the fit.
For years now, stability in the middle six has eluded the Bruins. Smith should help fix that — especially in even strength situations.
That’s the part of Smith’s game that caught Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s eye.
“Well, I think five-on-five scoring (was most attractive),” Sweeney said Saturday afternoon over Zoom. “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. Can certainly play the bumper on the power play. We described the fact that (Patrice Bergeron) 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.”
Box-checking was a theme between Sweeney and Smith’s public comments Saturday. Both player and team were quick to point out that the myriad of boxes they were looking to check off were done so with this marriage.
Again, a fantastic fit.
“Obviously, there’s different things that we looked at and with our options, we looked at obviously, the team, the organization, the people that we’d be working with,” Smith said Saturday over Zoom just minutes after the deal was announced. “The city has a big part to do with it. My wife is in love with Boston and I’ve always had a soft side for it so that definitely checked it. Those were two of the big boxes that we wanted to check and definitely checked them off, so we’re excited.”
Smith knows what he’s getting into with the Bruins to a degree, even if he doesn’t know specifically where he fits into the lineup at the moment.
Despite spending the entirety of his career up until now with the Nashville Predators, facing the Bruins meant Smith had to gear himself up to play against what he described one of the best lines he’s ever faced.
Now, they’re his teammates.
“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 (David) 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.”
And it was one of those top-line Bruins that help sell Smith on Boston.
During the initial courtship process, Smith’s phone buzzed and it was Patrice Bergeron — who has been known to be one of the guys to sell someone on the Bruins or first welcome them to Boston.
Smith knows what it’s like to be a true pro in the NHL, and he unsurprisingly was impressed by the B’s alternate captain.
“I have a lot of respect for him, especially his game. I don’t know him personally,” Smith said. “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.”
In all likelihood though, Smith will end up on the third line with Charlie Coyle. The 31-year-old comes from a situation where he played on an elite third line in Nashville, and he has the opportunity to form another special third unit with Coyle.
And while he doesn’t know Coyle, he’s looking forward to the possibility of riding shotgun with him.
“We played against each other quite a bit when he was in Minnesota but I don’t know him personally. I liked his game,” Smith said. “I like the way he skates. I think he thinks the game well. Obviously, he’s a big strong body and he can make plays. For the last couple years, I’ve watched him. That would be great. Like I said, I don’t know how things are going to shake out here when I get to Boston and get to work. If I have a chance to play with him, I think that would be an exciting opportunity and I’d definitely take advantage of it.”
It’s unclear if the Bruins are done pursuing outside options this offseason. Regardless, they addressed a big need in Smith.