In a move that shouldn’t surprise anyone, but might please few, Ben Smith is the first UFA extended by the Toronto Maple Leafs. They also announced a new contract for RFA Nikita Zaitsev at the same time.
Updated: This is a two-way deal with a $150,000 AHL salary. The minimum AHL amount is $70,000.
Smith was acquired on waivers from the Colorado Avalanche early in the year, and he played exactly 40 games for the Leafs, notching two goals and two assists. His even strength Corsi on the Leafs was 42.7 per cent, which is not the lowest on the team! Eric Fehr and Byron Froese, who played one and two games respectively, were both worse. Frederik Gauthier was also not much better. (All numbers are from Hockey Reference.)
With a new 1 yr deal, & having played in 40 gms this season, Ben Smith now meets both requirements to be exposed as 1 of the 2 Leaf forwards— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) May 2, 2017
By signing Smith, the Leafs get themselves another forward that meets the expansion draft exposure requirements. They have only a small number of those, and most are players they would not want to risk being taken by Vegas.
Even if the Leafs ultimately make a deal with Vegas, or choose other forwards to expose who meet the requirements (they must expose two), this signing still provides flexibility for the team.
As a player, Smith is also an asset to a team that is very lacking in centre depth. They traded their top AHL centre in Froese and replaced him with Cal O’Reilly on a loan deal. They seem about to lose RFA Sergey Kalinin to the KHL, according to rumours. It is likely that the Leafs can easily pass Smith through waivers in the fall, even with his low contract amount, and he will be welcome in the AHL.
Smith is also an experienced NHL player who can move up to the NHL in emergencies. It seems highly unlikely that the plan is to play him at 4C on a permanent basis. But having depth at all positions is the Leafs number two job this off-season after getting better at key positions. This signing is part of job number two.
So, how do you feel? Are you okay with this? Worried it means they will protect Matt Martin? Let it all out in comments.