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The Range of Reilly

May 30, 2014, 4:20 PM ET [21 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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Last weekend, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed forward Tyler Johnson to a three-year contract extension worth $10 million. Skating in his first full season with the Bolts, the 23-year-old Johnson struck with 24 goals and 50 points in 82 games. His 24 goals were fourth-most among Lightning forwards, and his 50 points were fifth on the club (fourth among Tampa forwards).

The production of the 5-foot-9 center wasn’t a complete shock (Johnson won the AHL MVP last season), but Johnson’s ability to step up into the Bolts’ top six when injuries struck the lineup -- namely to the team’s top-line center Steven Stamkos -- was simply huge.

In the general scheme of things, this has nothing to do with the Boston Bruins.

Well, maybe not exactly. With a few slight variations here and there, Johnson’s breakthrough story could in essence be a total copy of the 2013-14 story of Black-and-Gold winger and pending restricted free agent Reilly Smith. Starting the year on the Bruins’ third line, the 23-year-old Smith found himself finishing the year on the club’s second line (taking over for the twice concussed Loui Eriksson in early December), and with 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games.

Those 20 goals put him fifth among Bruins, while his 51 points were the sixth-most on the team.

The similarities with their numbers don’t really end there, either.

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After recording three goals and nine points in 37 games with the Dallas Stars last season, there’s no way to really describe Smith’s contributions to this year’s Bruins squad other than calling him an unexpected bonus to what was an already stacked squad. Smith certainly made up for the loss of Rich Peverley (he basically placed in every role Peverley would have except for penalty-killing), and lessened the blows that came with Eriksson’s multiple concussions early on.

But is he a $3 million per year player for the Bruins? Especially when bonuses from this year (mainly from the Jarome Iginla contract) are expected to leave a bit of hurt on the B’s ‘14-15 cap?

Expected to be hit with $4.5 million in cap penalties next year with bonuses hit by Iginla, Dougie Hamilton, and Torey Krug, the B’s are operating without the cash they’d prefer given their offseason re-signing priorities, which include Iginla, Krug, and the aforementioned Smith.

So, taking that into account along with the eventual Marc Savard (post concussion syndrome) LTIR cap space (a little more than $4 million), the Bruins will have just under $8.7 million dollars of summertime cap space to fill three forward spots and sign a backup goaltender. Easy math tells you that a $3 million cap-hit for Smith leaves you with $5.7 million to re-sign Krug, Iginla, and bring in a backup goalie. Also known as ‘not enough money to do all of that.’

With that in mind, perhaps the question becomes just how low can the B’s go with Smith’s new deal?

Since both Smith and Krug emerged as legitimate weapons for the Black-and-Gold this year, I’ve felt that getting the two under contract for a combined $5 million would be absolute best case scenario. And while it’d certainly require a bit of taking-less-to-stay-on-a-contender, this could be the ‘bridge deals’ that general manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins have a history of.

In the summer of 2009, the Bruins signed David Krejci to a three-year contract extension worth $11.25 million ($3.75 million cap-hit). That was on the heels of a 22-goal, 73-point season for Krejci that truly showed off his skills as a legitimate top-liner of tomorrow. After his unbelievable 2011 postseason, the Bruins and Brad Marchand agreed to a two-year extension worth a total of $5 million, clocking the agitator in with an affordable $2.5 million cap-hit.

Both of these contracts paved the way for larger deals to remain with the club, and most importantly kept the Bruins out of a total cap-hell, something they dealt with during the 2009-10 season.

But just what is Smith to the Bruins? Is he a top-sixer? Or is he simply a third line talent that thrived with some stronger linemates, finishing the year with Patrice Bergeron as his center opposed to a Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, or Ryan Spooner? I tend to think that if the Bruins had their say (and this is purely my opinion), Smith would be a player that skates on their third line next year while a healthy Eriksson gets another chance to be on the team’s top six. This is similar to the discussion that came about with Marchand in 2011, I think.

In the end, Marchand got a contract, but still had to prove that his year before was no fluke.

Smith should be in a similar boat, you’d think.

When looking at his numbers, you’ll certainly notice that most of Smith’s damage this past season came in an insane month of Dec. that saw him pot nine goals and 14 points in just 13 contests. Nine goals on 30 shots, too, good for a .300 shooting percentage. That number obviously balanced itself out over time as Smith went on to score just six goals on the next 77 shots fired. In the postseason, Smith seemed to regain his scoring touch, striking with four goals (including two game-winners) and five points in 12 contests. And Smith certainly would’ve had more had he not struck iron on just about every shot he threw on night throughout the Bruins’ brutal seven-game series with Montreal.

Again, though, I think that Smith best serves the Black-and-Gold on their third line, and with Eriksson making second-line type money ($4.25 million cap-hit), you’d think that that’s something the Bruins consider when they sit down with the 23-year-old in the coming weeks.

At least if they see guys like Krug, Iginla, and others in their 2014-15 plans, anyways.

Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com
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