Brendan Smith has officially cleared waivers. The news comes Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
Smith, Kruger and Jooris all clear— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 9, 2018
The plan for now is for Smith to go to Hartford – how long he stays before they bring him back is another story. Jeff Gorton spoke about the decision to place Smith on waivers and it seems like he views this as an opportunity to level set things. Via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:
We’ve done some different things to try and get him going, we’ve scratched him [10 times], and he just hasn’t played that well. There’s no real insight into [why], but he just hasn’t been able to find his game. Based on what we’ve seen in the past, Brendan is a good player who can play physical and who’s a good skater, but really, those elements haven’t been there this year.
This is all understandable, but of the defensemen on the roster, I am not sure Smith should have been the first to receive a “wake up” call.
One of these players is allegedly having a "bounceback season", and will make $5.7M for 3 more years with a full NMC— Sophisticated Snacks Package (@RickNashtag) February 9, 2018
The other is allegedly a "bust" after 50 games, making $4.3M for 3 years with no trade protection.
Which one deserved the "message" sent? pic.twitter.com/Jr9zP99ZcD
The NMC and NTC clauses are the difference here, and also the Rangers’ loyalty to Staal. Now is not the time to dwell on that too much though, but it’s still worth mentioning for context. While the immediate scenario involves Smith in Hartford, there is still a chance his time in New York could be shorter than expected.
On Thursday Gorton and Glen Sather addressed the media, and released a dual signed note addressed to the fans.
A Message from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton. pic.twitter.com/Q56CXS8vDc— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 8, 2018
This note suggests that changes are coming and that could involve Smith. Just because Smith wasn’t claimed doesn’t mean that he isn’t wanted per say.
In other words, a team that was interested in Smith may have wanted him to clear first so that they have the flexibility to assign him to the AHL. Although the one wrinkle in this thought is that any team that wanted Smith could have flat out claimed him. Now if the Rangers want to deal him they have to ask Smith for his 15 team trade list, a clause in his contract per Cap Friendly.
It isn’t the biggest issue in the world, because I am sure there would be an overlap of teams both on Smith’s list and interested in taking him on as a “reclamation project.” I am using air quotes here, because I can already imagine an introductory conference call explaining how Smith is a player with pedigree looking forward to a fresh start. And if the Rangers wanted him gone so badly, which would be a dumb move out of desperation, you would assume salary retention would be involved.
This strategy would give interested teams the ability to build Smith back up by giving him top minutes in the minors before bringing him back in the fold. He is a professional athlete, but if you were in a situation where 30 teams or companies had the opportunity to acquire you for nothing but passed on it, your ego would probably be a little bruised.
With that said, the Rangers could take advantage of this strategy as well. Smith more than anything needs to play, and a stint in Hartford could do him some good. He would be playing against inferior competition, but sometimes you just need an easy win to get back on track.
Either way there are options in this situation. Smith is 29 and he still has more to give at the NHL level.
Smith in particular is having a fine season, if maybe a shade less than you might expect for the money he makes. pic.twitter.com/fYPQHa1mCg— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 8, 2018
The focus from this point on needs to be one of value. There’s good reason to believe he can be an effective player going forward.
The worst thing to do would be selling him for pennies on the dollar. Personally, I think you mulligan this season and give Smith the summer to refocus and prove himself. For all we know the Rangers do end up making a coaching change, and maybe Smith returns to form with a new bench boss and system. If at that point he still isn’t in the Rangers’ plan going forward as they set out to rebuild this team into a Cup contender, it is a lot more justifiable to trade him.
For now the Rangers will have him in Hartford, and hopefully this situation sends the intended wake up call resulting in Smith returning to the form that earned him a four-year $17.4 million contract in the first place.