It has been well documented throughout the offseason that the Boston Bruins are somehow straddling a line with one foot in a salary cap crunch and another with an abundance of cap space thanks to long-term injured reserve (LTIR). In this awkward position, decisions have to be made about players who could be moved off the current roster to free up space when the injured players near a return.
Some names, specifically Nick Foligno and Mike Reilly, are high on the list of some fans to ship out. The problem is finding a trade partner who will send anything meaningful back in return. Beyond these names, it takes some creativity in finding contracts that can be shed without hampering the team’s hopes of a playoff run. One name I would put forward as an option to start the year in Boston, but who should be moved to clear cap space for Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand, is Craig Smith.
Smith Should Start the Year With the Bruins
Smith should start the season with the Bruins, taking his spot on the third-line, likely alongside Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. Assuming this line can regain the mojo they showed during the final third of last season, it could prove to be a potent source of secondary scoring and puck possession as the Bruins look to survive the early injury bug.
Within this group, Smith will be able to take on the role of shooter, a position he is quite good at given his propensity to rip the puck from anywhere on the ice. On this line, and in his powerplay opportunities with Marchand’s absence, he has the chance to put up strong numbers to start the year. Given his nature as a streaky player, it may be a gamble to expect huge production from him, but crazier things have happened. If all goes right and he can build upon his career 9.5 shooting percentage, maybe even creep into double digits, he will be an important factor in the Bruins’ early success.
Bruins Should Trade Smith by December
Although Smith has a role on the Bruins, decisions will have to be made to clear cap space for Marchand’s return. Nick Foligno would be the preferred contract to move, but few teams will take him on without a sweetener, something the Bruins cannot afford to part with. With him being close to impossible to move, the Bruins will need to move someone else.
Enter Smith. He is a big-bodied winger in the Bruins’ middle-six. He also plays a role with the most depth on the NHL roster. The Bruins’ new addition, Pavel Zacha matches Smith’s physical characteristics and has past experience playing in a similar position with the New Jersey Devils. Zacha is expected to start on the top-line in Marchand’s spot but will be pushed down when the perennial All-Star returns from LTIR. Although there is intrigue in an all-Czech line with Zacha, David Krejci and David Pastrnak, it is unlikely Zacha will displace Taylor Hall on the second line, which leaves the third line. The line Smith is on. Pretty good match, huh?
Smith has other benefits over trying to trade Foligno. For one, he is two years younger. That is a big difference in hockey terms. Second, more teams will be interested in him. While Foligno is looking to prove he can regain some level of value to a team, Smith will have suitors for a third-line body. He is streaky, but when he gets hot, he burns bright. Just look at last year’s stats. Foligno had 2 goals and 13 points, Smith had 16 goals and 36 points. That level of production will garner interest.
General manager Don Sweeney would love to swap Smith for a second-round pick in an upcoming draft. That asking price is likely unattainable, especially given how well documented the Bruins’ cap crunch is, but Sweeney can hope. Depending on how Smith starts the season, there is a case to be made that he could justify a third-round pick or, worst case, a fourth-round pick. Teams have shown a willingness to part with these picks to fill out their active roster. This would be the sweet spot for where Sweeney should look for a deal.
What the Bruins Would Look Like Post-Trade
With the cap issues facing the Bruins, the team will have to start to move out some veteran pieces on more expensive contracts and replace them with younger options. Come December, the rough timeframe for a return by Marchand and McAvoy, the Bruins will likely need to turn to players from Providence. Assuming two of the bottom-six wingers are gone from Boston, and one defenseman is moved, at least three new bodies will be added to the mix.
Depending on how their development goes, and what coach Jim Montgomery is looking for in his roster, the two forward spots will likely be filled by a combination of John Beecher, A.J. Greer, Fabian Lysell, Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, and Chris Wagner. Whether Montgomery wants more of a checking presence, a size element, or more scoring touch will dictate who gets the call.
On the back end, the Bruins have an abundance of options to turn to. Assuming Reilly and Grzelcyk are moved, the left side can still be manned by Hampus Lindholm, Derek Forbort, Jakub Zboril, or Jack Ahcan. If they are looking for added depth on the right-side behind McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton will start the year there, Zboril can play his off-side, and Connor Carrick can step in from Providence.
Smith has been incredibly useful since signing his three-year contract as a free agent from the Nashville Predators. He has been exactly as advertised and has played as a Swiss Army knife up and down the lineup. However, Smith is still an option to be moved. Based on his track record of success, he will generate interest in a way other trade candidates will not. Hopefully, Sweeney can swing a trade that benefits the player and the club, but regardless of who the trading partner is, Smith will likely be trade bait to allow Marchand to return to the black and gold.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.