When the Boston Bruins signed Craig Smith as an unrestricted free agent, they appeared to be getting one of the biggest steals of the offseason. A player who could immediately come in and boost scoring, Smith was seen as the perfect player to help fix a major crux of a lineup that’s often gone as far as the top line could take them.
With the combination of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak making up the bulk of the Bruins ability to score in recent years, the team has struggled to consistently produce offense without them on the ice. This has been an ongoing issue that simply needed a fix if the team was going to compete with their current core of players.
On paper, bringing Smith in made all the sense in the world. He was also signed to a team-friendly three-year, $9.3 million deal that made his addition to the team even sweeter. Still, even with Smith in the fold, the Bruins offense would continue to struggle to produce without the aforementioned top line on the ice.
Though Smith was doing his part to try and help solve this problem, nothing seemed to give for the Bruins or for their newest addition. It would be a stretch to say that Smith wasn’t playing well early in his Bruins’ tenure as he was doing just about everything the team could have asked of him. The only thing that was missing, however, was the consistent production on the scoresheet.
Bruins Rely Heavily on Smith’s Offensive Production
Over the first 26 games of his Bruins’ career, Smith would take 61 shots and score four goals and nine points. Each of his four goals and four of his five assists would come at even strength. In general, when he was producing, he was helping the team when they struggle the most, specifically when they aren’t playing either up or down a player and are skating at even strength. Still, the Bruins were going to need more than nine points in 26 games if they planned on winning anything this season.
This is especially true when considering the fact that, in those 26 games, the Bruins were 6-1-0 when Smith recorded a point. Unfortunately, that means he failed to record a point in 19 of his first 26 games with the team.
Over the last 10 games, however, Smith has found himself producing at a far more consistent pace. Being held off the scoreboard just four times in that stretch, Smith has scored three goals and 10 points. The Bruins are now 12-1-0 when Smith records a point and interestingly enough, they were 0-2-2 in the four games that Smith failed to register a point.
It’s easy to look at the Bruins and say that the team is heavily reliant on Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk to create offense and win games. Without Smith producing, though, the Bruins have struggled mightily and definitely need him to be consistent just as much as they need their other top stars.
In need of scoring and finding a way to get some more out of his players, head coach Bruce Cassidy decided that playing Smith alongside Bergeron and Marchand made sense as it would then slide Pastrnak down to play with Krejci. In theory, this would give the Bruins a more balanced attack and help get others going.
The move has certainly created a positive change for Smith on the scoresheet, but consistency for the lineup as a whole may still be an issue. The Bruins, even with Smith, were always going to be at least one more top-six forward away from competing.
They were lucky that the departure of Torey Krug wasn’t disastrous with Grzelcyk stepping up and playing his part well. The team is also lucked into Nick Ritchie appearing to finally be playing at a level that many thought him capable of when he was drafted with the 10th pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Without those two things happening, the Bruins situation could be far bleaker.
This team could use a major splash at the NHL Trade Deadline and though they appear to be active on the market, the need to acquire at least one major player on offense and potentially an impact player on defense could ultimately be too tall of a task for general manager Don Sweeney to pull off. It takes two to tango and though Sweeney may want to make a deal, the opportunity has to present itself.
The hope is that the right deal materializes for the Bruins and that Smith won’t be seen as the only new Bruin being tasked with such immense pressure to produce.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.