There are some critical players that are due to become free agents for the Nashville Predators this offseason, but none more so than Craig Smith .
Smith has put together a long and respected career with the Predators after being drafted originally in the fourth round in 2009 out of the University of Wisconsin. He cracked into the NHL for the 2011-12 season by playing in 72 games and making his presence known as a high quality role player even at a young age.
That 2011-12 Predators team was one of the better teams to that date putting up 104 points in the regular season and defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. Smith played a major role on that team, and the rest is history.
Smith’s last run with Nashville?
Smith still has a lot to give in his NHL career. His most productive days may be behind him, but he’s remains a quality player that can put up 20-plus goals and provide vital forechecking and defensive presence.
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If the Predators can’t get a deal done with Smith, then he’ll be an added asset for whichever team ends up with him.
There are going to be plenty of teams who will show interest in Smith on the open market if the Predators don’t come to an agreement. Smith may be looking for something more long-term to finish out his NHL career, and the Predators may not be willing to meet that requirement.
One team that may be interested in a proven veteran scorer like Smith is the New Jersey Devils, per Corey Masisak of the Athletic. New Jersey has plenty of cap space to work with, and they’re looking to rebuild a roster that’s gradually getting better for the future.
In return the Predators could haul in some extra draft picks and create more cap space to retain Mikael Granlund, who is another pending unrestricted free agent.
Other rebuilding teams like the Devils would love to bring a player aboard like Smith. He’s going to get plenty of suitors if the Predators can’t negotiate a new contract.
It’s also about what the Predators decide to do with their other pending free agents, with the other big one being Granlund. I’ve said all along that I don’t think they can keep both, and Smith looks more likely to be the odd man out at season’s end.
So this could very well be Smith’s last ride with the Predators before moving on in a different uniform. He’s bounced back this season in a big way to get to 18 goals, and probably would’ve matched last season’s goal total if the regular season was finished in its entirety.
Can they negotiate a short-term deal?
Smith doesn’t appear to be dropping off in any major way despite being age 30 and having nine NHL seasons under his belt. He’s played in 70-plus games in all but two of those seasons.
The Predators are going to rely on Smith in the upcoming play-in series with the Coyotes to provide playoff leadership, boost the defensive play of the team and obviously be one of the main scoring threats.
Smith never takes a play off. He goes with a relentlessly high motor that you wish you could see from the rest of the team. Even when he was in his slump early on in the season, I knew he’d eventually turn it around, and that he did.
Even at age 30, Smith remains very important to the Nashville Predators. Will the front office see it that way when the time comes to negotiate a new contract? I’m hopeful that they do, but I’m also skeptical that it happens.
The Predators have to dump some salary in one way or the other in the offseason. There are some more obvious choices like Yannick Weber, but Smith is the top free agent to address.
There’s plenty of storylines to follow in the play-in series with Arizona, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is us possibly witnessing Smith’s last run of games in a Predators uniform.
If it is Smith’s last stretch with the Predators, he’ll go out as one of the top players in franchise history with over 160 goals and over 300 points. Or perhaps he hits a hot streak just in time for the playoffs and forces the Predators to give him a shiny new contract.