Barring a last minute signing, the first arbitration case of the summer will be heard Monday, and Craig Smith and the Nashville Predators might be farther apart than expected.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Smith’s current ask is $4.75 million per season, with the Predators looking for a $3 million settlement with their 25-year-old right winger. Smith, a restricted free agent, is coming off of a two-year, $4 million contract.
While he’s flown largely under the radar on a club whose faces are all defensive stars, such as Shea Weber, Seth Jones and goaltender Pekka Rinne, Smith has been a steady second-line scorer for the Predators over the past two seasons. Smith scored 47 goals and 96 points over the past two seasons while averaging between 13 to 15 minutes of ice time per game on his last deal. That’s not including his rookie campaign in 2011-12, in which he scored 14 goals and 36 points.
What the stumbling block may be for Nashville in inking Smith to the $4.75 million figure he has requested is his 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. During the abridged campaign, Smith struggled mightily as a sophomore, able only to muster a scant four goals and 12 points in 44 outings. His season even included a demotion to the AHL, something few would have seen coming after his rookie year.
That said, over the past two seasons, the only players on the Nashville roster who have racked up more points are Weber, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal. Of those, only Neal has scored more and, on a team that has long been devoid of offense while maintaining one of the best defenses in the league, Smith’s scoring is a necessity in Nashville.
There are six players who, like Smith over the past two seasons, have an above-50 percent shot attempts for percentage, between 45 and 55 goals and between 90 and 100 points. Those players include teammate Neal, Tomas Tatar, Brad Marchand and David Perron. At the high end, Neal has an annual cap hit of $5 million while Tatar, at the low end, earns $2.75 million. The wide gap between the Predators and Smith makes more sense taking comparable salaries into consideration.
As a team that, generally speaking, stays close to the league’s salary floor, the move to not pay close to Smith’s asking price – and a $1.75 million gap is quite the chasm – could be a cost-cutting measure. The Predators could risk hurting their relationship with the winger, though, something that might not bode well if the two sides want to hammer out a long-term deal in the future.
At present, the Predators are more than $1.9 million under the salary floor, according to GeneralFanager.com. They still have both Smith and Colin Wilson – arbitration for Wilson is set for July 28 – to get under contract.