What We Learned: Craig Smith and an education about arbitration

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Nashville Predators center Craig Smith tries to control a bouncing puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Nashville Predators center Craig Smith tries to control a bouncing puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Most hockey fans, I think it's fair to say, couldn't pick Craig Smith out of a lineup.

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He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Predators this past season, so put him behind Pekka Rinne, and probably even a few other guys who finished behind him in scoring (Colin Wilson, James Neal, and Seth Jones), and he's one of the lesser-known interchangeable parts on a team that not a lot of people league-wide get to see very often.

Most people really only got exposure to them in that six-game series against Chicago to open these playoffs. If they were really, really paying attention, they might have noticed that Smith was one of four guys who tied for second on the team with five points in six games.

So then Elliotte Friedman says on Saturday that, with Smith's arbitration hearing coming up today, the Predators asked that he be paid $3 million for the coming season, and Smith himself put in for $4.75 million. That's a big gap — 58 percent, in fact — and even as a guy who watches a lot of Predators games, I thought $4.75 was a bit much. “Where,” I thought, “did he even come up with that valuation for himself?”

This is, of course, how arbitration works. Team goes lower than it thinks a guy is actually worth, player goes higher. An arbitrator probably drops them somewhere in the middle, and both sides grudgingly take whatever's offered. This is how compromise works.

But the more I thought about it, the more this whole thing nagged at me. I mean, $4.75 million for Craig Smith?

That sure sounds like a lot, and he's a restricted free agent. That doesn't make him rich by NHL standards, certainly, but hell, that's what Gustav Nyquist makes. Although, hmm, Nyquist is only four days older than Smith, and has played with better linemates, and has 100 games fewer on his NHL tally, and also has 29 fewer career points.

Nyquist couldn't possibly be a career comparable for Smith, could he? That doesn't seem right. And yet...


It seems that with the exception of goal-scoring (which you'll note is a fairly valuable skill), Nyquist and Smith are more or less similar players. And those numbers are, in fact, driven by Nyquist having a much higher shooting percentage. I'm not willing to dismiss him being a higher-skill player — except that Smith attempts more shots per 60 minutes — but are we willing to say that Trotz's system in Nashville for the first three years of his career wasn't a restrictive issue there?

And what's interesting, actually, is that these numbers are so similar despite the fact that Smith had a horrible lockout season. We're talking “4-8-12 in 44 games” horrible. Now granted, that's almost a sixth of his career, so you can't just throw it out the window, but in the past two seasons, the results have been very favorable. You'll notice there aren't huge changes from the chart above, but every one more or less favors Smith.

At this point, the difference in overall value has to be seen as minimal, even with Nyquist continuing to score some 23 percent more goals per 60 minutes.

NHL
NHL

Of course, this is just one comparable, and if you use War On Ice's similarity tool, you're going to get a lot more for the past two seasons; guys like Drew Stafford, Bobby Ryan, Michael Frolik, Patrick Hornqvist, Chris Kreider, and Artem Anisimov pop as as having similar seasons to Smith's age-24 year (in which he went 24-28-52). And this past season was comparable to Viktor Stalberg twice, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Anders Lee, and Hornqvist again.

These are mostly good players who usually do a pretty good job of drawing salary. And those numbers don't take into account overall production, either, which is still going to be huge in an arbitration case. And not to talk too much out of school here, but Smith's overall per-game totals over the last two seasons are pretty similar to Brandon Saad's — with the caveat that Saad is three years younger but also played with some guy called Jonathan Toews — but among forwards in relatively the same age group, he's got some pretty good company.

NHL
NHL


Again, this is a guy I've seen play plenty of times over the last two seasons and I would have valued a lot of guys in this neighborhood a little (or in some cases, a lot) more highly than him. Most NHL fans probably don't even rate him as much as I would.

Obviously he's not at the level of a van Riemsdyk or a Turris, but he's basically Nazem Kadri, and Kadri just pulled a $4.1 million one-year “prove it” deal. If Kadri has another season in the 45 points range, it's a reasonably safe bet he gets a raise and a longer-term deal out of the Leafs. So why, then, is Smith — who's better at most things — not falling into that same boat?

If you're looking at overall production around Kadri's level, and with the 5-on-5 stats that are effectively the same as Nyquist's, it turns out that holy crap, Craig Smith is pretty damn good. You don't want to give him Nyquist money because the goal-scoring isn't there? Well, Smith is short nine and played 22 extra games, so fair enough. But in terms of durability, production, and ability to control play at evens, there aren't many guys around their peak who can do what Smith does.

Let's say he gets $4.5 million out of the Preds, whether this goes to arbitration or not. That's the equivalent of a $4.05 million deal coming out of the lockout (6.3 percent of the cap), so in the end that sounds fair for a player who probably gives you 40-50 points a year pretty reliably with strong possession numbers to back it up, doesn't it? The guy's just a very solid two-way, second-line forward. It's that simple.

And you have to lock up players like that long-term, for the money they deserve. And Smith deserves more than most people probably think.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: When you get the chance, you gotta bring in Shane O'Brien. That's the kind of player that has no effect on your team because he plays in the AHL and isn't even good down there.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes say they won't rush Dylan Strome into the NHL if he's not ready, especially because he might help them be not-horrible and they could miss out on Auston Matthews. Have fun in junior next year, bud!

Boston Bruins: The Bruins might not be done kicking the tires on free agents, and why not? There are plenty more bottom-pairing defensemen on the market who aren't just going to sign themselves.

Buffalo Sabres: Johan Larsson is locked up for another year, because the Sabres can never have enough centers under the age of 25. Like most teams, they're just doing some contractual housekeeping at this point in the summer.

Calgary Flames: The reason Michael Frolik wears No. 67 is that Jaromir Jagr is No. 68 and he didn't want to go higher than that. That's a good reason.

Carolina Hurricanes: Wow, Matt Willows! He's one of those UNH players who it feels like he was around Hockey East for roughly 12 years. Turns out it was only four. But there's now a definite connection between UNH and Carolina, because they also drafted other two Wildcats.

Chicago: No word yet on who will replace Patrick Sharp as the alternate captain. My guess: Bryan Bickell just kidding.

Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene likes country music, and songs about drinkin'. Real shot across Ryan O'Reilly's bow.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This is the last time anyone will compare your ol' buddy Gregory Campbell to Brandon Saad in a positive way ever again.

Dallas Stars: I'm not willing to say Dallas's defense is going to be good next season just yet. But man, it realllllly might be.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings might trade one of the roughly 400 defensemen they currently have under contract. Ooo, maybe it'll be Niklas Kronwall while he still has value.

Edmonton Oilers: Thanks for checking in, Wayne. We'd nearly forgotten you are good at hockey and once played for the Oilers but now we all remember again. Thank you.

Florida Panthers: Hey, how'd Dave Bolland do in his first season in Florida? Not good, you say? But Dave Nonis said he was really great!

Los Angeles Kings: Nick Shore looks like he's going to be a full-time King sooner than later. You don't sign for two years and $1.2 million if they plan to stuff you in the AHL again, especially if the second year of that deal is a one-way.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild still think Darcy Kuemper can be good, but at this point, he's just a backup in a best-case scenario, so...

Montreal Canadiens: Oi me m8 an me was eatin nandos and him is sayin he fancies Subban's lookin well fit again this year. It's bloody mental innit?

Nashville Predators: Newsflash -- Teams draw well when good.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils have a new way of buying season tickets that allows fans to just give them $2,500 and then say, “These are the games I want to go to and this is how many seats I need,” later. Already, 1,000 people have signed up for this kind of ticket. That's cool.

New York Islanders: Turns out the Islanders are probably going to be good again even without spending a lot of money in free agency. Better to not commit those funds to guys from outside your cap system when you're going to face tough decisions in the near future, eh? Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are both UFAs after 2015-16.

New York Rangers: Antti Raanta is excited to spend even more time on the bench with the Rangers than he did in Chicago.

Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris is a huge, huge bargain at $3.5 million. End of discussion.

Philadelphia Flyers: Huh, no one wants Vinny Lecavalier? Why? It's almost like he's......... bad and his contract is............ worse.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang got married this weekend. Everyone wore blue suits. New third jersey, maybe?

San Jose Sharks: To answer your question: Probably not. See ya.

St. Louis Blues: Kevin Shattenkirk is really good. Remember all those trade rumors? Haha who believed that?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos now supports the Tampa Bay Rays over his hometown Blue Jays. Yup, he's definitely going to Toronto after next season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: It'll take you almost an hour to watch all of Phil Kessel's goals with the Leafs. Take the hour. It's very entertaining because Phil Kessel, it turns out, is really good. Sorry in advance about the garbage music. Turn off your speakers.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks' prospects played blindfolded dodgeball at development camp. Good training for how they'll be asked to play defense.

Washington Capitals: People often compare Madison Bowey to John Carlson. The obvious difference is that Carlson is a beautiful American superstar and Bowey is a craven Canadian. But other than that...

Winnipeg Jets: Yeah so what do the Jets do with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien moving forward? Because this team isn't close to being Cup competitive and they're not getting any younger.

Gold Star Award

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Jack Roslovic poses for a portrait after being selected 25th overall by the Winnipeg Jets during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Jack Roslovic poses for a portrait after being selected 25th overall by the Winnipeg Jets during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Blessings to Jack Roslovic for not going to major junior. Very excited to see him play college hockey next year.

Minus of the Weekend

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 23: The famous neon Welcome to Las Vegas sign at the south entrance to town is viewed in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino on December 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas, the popular Southwest desert tourist getaway, appears to be making a slow economic recovery following a tough global recession. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 23: The famous neon Welcome to Las Vegas sign at the south entrance to town is viewed in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino on December 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas, the popular Southwest desert tourist getaway, appears to be making a slow economic recovery following a tough global recession. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

But if Seattle isn't used as a stalking horse in this whole expansion thing, does that mean we're getting two Las Vegas teams or something?

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Mad Brills” is mad. In the insane way and not the angry way.

To Nashville: RNH, 7th rounder

To Edmonton: Roman Josi

Signoff

The Hopkins! Baby, what a dream. You'll finally get your tenure!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is hereand his Twitter is here

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