It looks like the Leafs are taking the temporary fix route to their centre crisis, signing Jerred Smithson to a 1-year contract ahead of Friday’s game against the New Jersey Devils. While not the big splash that some were hoping for, it’s probably the sanest move. Why? Read on.
What does he bring? To be honest, not a ton. Smithson is a defensive forward who is best suited to fourth line minutes. Splitting last year between the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers, the 34 year old centre contributed three goals and three assists over 45 games. His minutes were, as you expect, quite held back, playing 10:40 a game over that span.
Smithson’s biggest assets are his ability to contribute to the penalty kill and to the faceoff dot. Specific to the draw, he was one of the most consistent faceoff men in the NHL last year, winning 55.4% of his 478 draws. This this wasn’t an outlier year, either, with percentages of 58.3, 57.5, and 54.9 in the years immediately prior. He has also been one of the most used players while shorthanded throughout his career, mostly recently averaging 2:10 per game last year.
Prior to today, Smithson was an unrestricted free agent playing for the Toronto Marlies on a professional tryout contract.
Why Is This Smart?
It’s quite simple. Making a big push for a centre right now isn’t the wisest potential option. The Leafs are still pushed against the upper limits of the NHL’s salary cap, and with no higher profile pivots on the market and a tinge of desperation, all costs would be made premium by other NHL teams. You have to ask yourself if upgrading in this position right now is worth giving up prospects or young talent, or if it’s smarter to stay the course.
Tyler Bozak, whether you like him or not, is safely here for some time yet, just barely beginning his new contract. He’s currently on the Long Term Injured Reserve list, but all signs point to him being reactivated when eligible on November 21st, a date that is just six games away. It’s not crazy to think that the Leafs will temporarily move James van Riemsdyk to centre for a few games to offset the offensive contribution lost, and have Smithson be their faceoff specialist and second penalty killing centre in the meantime.
Once Bozak returns, they can decide what the next course of action is. This also allows them to send down Trevor Smith before he hits his 10 games / 30 days waiver limit, in case they’re worried about losing their AHL captain less than two months after naming him. As well, you have to imagine the cap hit of a 4th line forward who isn’t in the NHL a month into the season won’t be very high, likely close to if not at league minum.
This by no means is the "sexy" option, but it does give the Leafs some flexibility.
Photo Courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com