With the free agency market opening up on Oct. 9, there is a lot of talk regarding who teams should sign to improve their team. For the Montreal Canadiens, who will likely be entering the day with $10.2 million in cap space, not including the contracts of restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete, they likely won’t land a top free agent. However, the Canadiens are in need of a middle-six winger to start next season.
There are plenty of options, and Craig Smith should be at the top of their list.
Smith is coming off a season where he scored 18 goals and 31 points in 69 games for the Nashville Predators. He fell below a half-point-per-game average for the first time since 2016-17. However, that shouldn’t be too worrisome as the Predators as a whole seemed to have a rough season. Plus, he would have still scored 20 goals had the season not been cut short.
The Habs will likely be able to get Smith on a reasonable two or three-year deal in the $3 to $3.5 million per season range. He would be a good stop-gap while the Canadiens wait for players like Cole Caufield and Jesse Ylonen to make the roster without having to rush them.
Why Smith Would Fit Well in Montreal
Smith is a player who can score 20 to 25 goals regularly and would have likely done so this past season before COVID-19 cut it short. On a team that has many skilled playmakers like Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens need a player or two who can score goals. While Smith isn’t the flashiest or even the best scorer in free agency, he would provide Montreal with a secondary scorer behind Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.
Much like many other forwards on the Habs, Smith is also a pretty underrated player who often doesn’t get the recognition for his consistent 20-goal seasons. He has scored 20 or more in five of the last seven seasons. As mentioned before, it likely would have been six of the last seven if not for the stoppage of play.
At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he would give the Canadiens a much-needed forward above six feet tall to play in their top nine for next season. This would make Smith only one of the two wingers (Joel Armia) who are over six feet. While 6-foot-1 is about league average, it certainly would help a small team like the Habs.
Smith also has a decent amount of speed to his game. This will allow him to keep up with some of the team’s faster players on a breakout.
The Risks of Signing Smith
Even if Smith would fit well in Montreal, there are still some risks. For one, there is the fact that he is now on the wrong side of 30 (31), which means his speed game may be faltering soon. This is why the Canadiens would need to be careful with the length of the contract, as he may start to decline in the upcoming years. But even with that being said, his game doesn’t show any sign of a dramatic decline, which is why it shouldn’t be too risky to sign him for a few years. Even if his speed declines, his underrated shot should still stick with him.
There is also the cap hit, which could be risky if multiple teams are interested and a bidding war occurs. This is often why players get overpaid in free agency as many teams try to one-up each other. The fact that Smith is underrated and most teams may be more interested in Taylor Hall could help Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin if he decides to swoop in on Smith early.
Although Smith is underrated given his age, anything over four years could be too risky. The league is getting younger and much faster, making it harder for players age 35 and older (from ‘The modern NHL is a young man’s league. And it’s getting younger. And better.,’ Washington Post, 10/04/2017).
Where Would Smith Fit?
Overall, the Canadiens should take the risk of signing Smith for about two to three years due to the need for secondary goal scoring. He is a player that could fit well alongside Suzuki or Kotkaniemi, and he’s a veteran who can continue to help them progress into top-six centres.
Expect Smith to slot in on a middle-six role with some power-play time. He won’t be the biggest name in free agency but he will be very helpful for the Canadiens if they can land him.
Now the only question is, would Smith be willing to come to Montreal? I don’t see why not. He would be a good fit and would get decent playing time. The team is also filled with promising young talent which could entice him. We will soon know if Smith agrees to become a Hab, or if the sides decide to pursue other options.
Nick is a journalism student at Concordia University. He has been writing about the Habs and hockey for almost 7 years now for websites such as AWinninghabit and Last Word on Hockey. he hopes to one day work TSN.