Free Agent Profile: Craig Smith, Vastly Underrated Depth Forward

Forward Craig Smith has spent all nine-years of his career in Nashville. (Photo via NHLPA)

Introduction

Our free agent profile series has largely focused on defensemen, as that is not only the biggest need for the New Jersey Devils but also the strength of the pending free agent class. However, today’s focus is going to be on an unrestricted free agent forward that would fit the description of a “value signing.” This being Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators.

This idea of a value signing or “free agent bargain” is going to be the theme of an offseason featuring a flat salary cap. Also, some teams are taking it further and imposing their own internal salary ceilings and cutting costs. You can hear more about this on our most recent episode of Devils Army Cast (see below).

The Profile

Craig Smith is a 31-year old that was drafted by Nashville back in the fourth-round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft. The six-foot-one, 208 pounds forward is a right-handed shot that can play either center or right-wing. Wisconsin born and raised, Smith will be entering his 10th career NHL season. 

The Statistics

Traditional

Craig Smith is probably not a household name, but the nine-year NHL-veteran has made a nice career for himself. He has 330 points in 661 career games. Smith has record point totals of 52 and 51 under his belt as well as 31, 38, and 51 respectively the past three seasons.

Now, none of these numbers will jump off the page but it’s important to note that Smith was only playing around 13-to-14 minutes a night. Also, Smith has five career 20-plus goal seasons, with two of which occurring in the past three seasons.

Advanced

What catches my eye when examining Smith’s game is his underlying statistics. His career even-strength Corsi For % (CF%) of 53.8 is comfortably above the average of 50.0. Additionally, his career Corsi For % Relative (CF% Rel.) of 3.6 shows when he has been on the ice in his career the Predators have been better than when he isn’t. Impressively, over the past three seasons, his CF% Rel. has been 8.3, 1.3, and 5.7 respectively.

This chart is courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

The visual above tells you how great Smith’s analytics are. The Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) chart above captures five vital underlying statistics in determining how effective a player is.

For fun, the chart above compares Craig Smith to Nathan MacKinnon. Now, Smith plays nowhere the minutes, nor the competition MacKinnon does. But, it says a lot when his chart looks comparable to a guy such as Nathan MacKinnon.

The last advanced statistic I examined is Smith’s Goals Above Replacement (GAR). This past season he held a GAR of 12.4 which was fourth-highest on the Predators. This number was greater than the likes of Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene. Over the past three seasons, Craig Smith has a total GAR of 36.4, which is an absurdly high number.

In comparison, fellow unrestricted free agent Mike Hoffman has a total of 7.5, former Devil Blake Coleman a total of 27, and former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall a total of 36.9.

The Contract

Craig Smith is coming off a five-year contract that was worth $4,250,000 per season. He will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time and possibly pursuing his first home other than Nashville. Projecting Smith’s new contract will show he fits this description as a “value signing” as was mentioned above.

Evolving-Hockey projects Craig Smith with a three-year contract at $4,422,000. Meanwhile, Dobber Hockey projects Smith to receive around $4,368,384 per year. For me, these numbers, especially in this market, seem a tad more than Smith will receive. 

A fair contract for the 31-year old would seem to be a three-year deal at around $3,750,000. His projected salary from Evolving-Hockey is most likely inflated by his extraordinary underlying statistics.

Conclusion

Craig Smith is one of the better bottom-six forwards in the NHL. He would fit perfectly on the right side of the Devils bottom-six, an area that desperately needs some reinforcing. He also would help a Devils’ power play that has struggled for seasons. Smith has the fourth-most power play time of the 40 forwards that have played for Nashville the past three seasons.

The snippet above comes from my recent article that can be found here.

Smith would fit the mold of a “free agent bargain” or “value signing perfectly”. General manager Tom Fitzgerald should have Craig Smith at the top of his free agent forwards target list. In a forward market that is not all that deep, Smith would provide great relief to a team, in the Devils, that desperately needs depth scoring, especially on the right-side.

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