3 Bruins Playing Below Contract Value

The Boston Bruins are off to a surprising start to the 2022-23 season, sitting with a 27-4-3 record through 33 games. Their start can be pointed to many factors, including some players playing above their contract values. While there is no question that some players are playing above their value, there are some players that are performing below their contract value.

Related: 4 Bruins Playing Above Their Contract Value

Winning 27 out of your first 33 games is going to overshadow some of the performances that have not been up to par. The players excelling early are getting all the headlines, but there are some players that are not meeting their value through the first quarter of the 2022-23 season. Here are two Bruins’ that are playing below their contract value.

Craig Smith

When the Bruins signed Craig Smith to a three-year free agent contract for $9.3 million with an average annual value of $3.1 million in October of 2020, they were hoping to get the player that was a 20-goal scorer for five of his nine seasons with the Nashville Predators. Through his first two-plus seasons in Boston, they are not getting the player they thought they were.

Craig Smith Boston Bruins
Craig Smith, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Smith tallied 13 goals his first season in 2020-21, then 16 last season, but this season has been a disaster for the fourth-round pick at No. 98 overall by the Predators in the 2009 Entry Draft. In 19 games, he has one goal and four points while falling down the lineup between the third and fourth lines. His lack of production is waning on him as he has been showing frustration at times on the ice and he is not getting many high-danger opportunities.

Related: Bruins’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Pastrnak, Carlo, Sweeney & More

What the future holds with the Black and Gold in the upcoming weeks and months remains to be seen, but Smith’s troubles led to him being a healthy scratch earlier in the season, and he is battling with A.J. Greer to avoid being a healthy scratch. If general manager (GM) Don Sweeney can find a suitor to take him, it should be a move he makes, but finding a suitor is going to be extremely difficult.

Jakub Zboril

After a strong training camp and preseason, things have gone south very fast for Jakub Zboril this season. He earned a spot out of training camp and was a nice addition to the defense on the third pairing, but the 13th overall pick in the 2015 Draft now finds himself on the outside looking in for playing time.

Jakub Zboril Boston Bruins
Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking to have a bounce-back season following surgery last December after tearing his ACL in a game against the Predators, Zboril has been a healthy scratch since a game against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 23 where he was benched for the third period, where he logged just 7:17 of time on ice on 11 shifts. He signed a two-year, $2.275 million contract in May that carries an AAV of $1.137 million. In 13 games this season, he has struggled with turning the puck over, playing with little to no confidence, and looks like a player whose development is not where it needs to be. Missing a month of action as a healthy scratch hurts his development, but with the Bruins’ defense playing the way they have been, there haven’t been any chances to get him in the lineup, something Jim Montgomery tried to do before the three-day holiday break, but was not able to do.

“It’s a tough situation. We stay in communication with him about, you know, his development. We want to get him a game.’’ 

Jim Montgomery (from ‘As seventh blue liner on roster, Zboril remains odd man out,’ Boston Globe, Dec. 22, 2022)

The Bruins chose Zboril over Mike Reilly as they placed the veteran defenseman on waivers in November and he was sent to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) after going unclaimed. The decision to keep Zboril was clearly a decision to keep the Bruins cap compliant. Things were so bad for Zboril after the Florida game that Anton Stralman, who the Bruins also placed on waivers on Nov. 28, was in the lineup over him in games before being waived. That does not mean Stralman is gone, but if the Bruins make a trade to free up more cap space, the Stralman can return and most likely again be ahead of Zboril on the depth chart.

Mike Reilly

You might be saying, Reilly? He’s in the AHL with the Providence and has been down there since early November after playing his last game with the Bruins on Nov. 7 against the St. Louis Blues. By sending him down to the AHL, the Bruins are on the hook for $1.875 million of his $3 million AAV while he is in the minors. That might not seem like a lot, but for a team who is looking for ways to clear cap space, it’s a fairly big amount of money to have for someone playing with Providence, and even before he was sent down, he was playing nowhere near his value and has not been in the last two seasons.

Reilly was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline in April of 2021 and played so well after the deal that he earned himself a three-year, $9 million contract the following offseason. Things have not gone well since the end of the 2020-21 season as Reilly has struggled in all situations, turned the puck over numerous times in the defensive end, and is not playing with the same confidence he did following the trade. In 10 games this season, he has one assist. Like Smith, Reilly is another player that Sweeney would like to move, but finding a team to take him without eating some of his salary is a tough ask.

The Bruins have the best record in hockey in terms of winning percentage, but there is still room for improvement from within. Reilly and Smith will likely be moved at some point, but Zboril’s lack of development and play is troubling. If one player needs to turn it around, it’s Zboril. Smith’s $3.1 million AAV is tying up money and even though Zboril is making just over a million, playing just over seven minutes as he did against the Panthers and forcing Montgomery to play the final period with five defensemen is concerning.

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