On February 28, 2017 the Rangers acquired Brendan Smith from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2017 third-round pick (Zachary Gallant) and a 2018 second -round pick. He added depth and consistency to the Rangers’ blue line and appeared to bring out the best in rookie defenseman Brady Skjei. As a result, Jeff Gorton re-signed Smith to a four-year, $17.4 million deal on June 28.
It’s been all downhill from there.
There were reports that Smith came into training camp out of shape and with a lot on his plate off the ice; the veteran d-man moved, got married, and became the Rangers’ NHLPA representative over the summer (the role was previously held by Derek Stepan). In November, Smith was scratched for six consecutive games before showing a spark of the player he was the year before around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately that did not last.
Smith looked sloppy and undisciplined when he was in the lineup and remained in Vigneault’s doghouse. He wasn’t the only Rangers’ defenseman who was failing to live up to expectations, but that didn’t keep him from becoming something of a scapegoat for the team’s defensive shortcomings. On February 9, Smith hit the waiver wire; he was sent to the Wolf Pack the next day.
“He got off to a slow start, we worked with him in a number of different ways, and he seemed to be having a hard time finding his game,” Vigneault told the media after Smith’s demotion. “This might be a little bit drastic, but management and the coaches felt this was the way to go for our team right now.”
The front office wanted to send Smith a message. That message became louder and clearer each time he was passed over when the Blueshirts came calling to Hartford for defensemen. Smith could not and would not escape his exile no matter how many injuries the Rangers’ blue line suffered.
The unfortunate odyssey that was Smith’s 2017-18 season came to an abrupt end when he broke his hand at a Wolf Pack practice on March 18. What makes matters worse is that he didn’t break his hand by blocking a shot; it was damaged as a result of a fight with teammate Vinni Lettieri. It was an unfortunate end to an altogether unfortunate year and it has left Smith’s future with the organization more uncertain than ever before.
It’s hard to blame fans and other writers for suggesting that Smith should or could be bought out, but that seems like a drastic and altogether unnecessary solution. It’s in the Rangers’ best interest to give the 29-year-old defenseman another chance from a cap perspective. If Gorton chooses to buy out Smith the Rangers would have $4,377,778 of dead cap space in 2020-21. That number would jump up to $8,077,778 if the Rangers buy out Marc Staal in the 2019 offseason and $8,223,334 if Staal is bought out this offseason. Nope, not good.
If Gorton has already admitted defeat on his investment in Smith, then the Rangers are in quite a bit of trouble. Right now Smith’s trade value is in the basement somewhere beneath a cardboard box filled with VHS tapes, XFL trading cards, and a broken Furby. Unless an opportunity presents itself where the Rangers could part ways with Smith’s contract with minimal strings attached the best option moving forward is to give him another chance.
The good news is that Smith has nearly half a year to work on his conditioning and get his head on straight. One has to imagine that the odds of him finding redemption will improve if the Rangers decide to part ways with Vigneault. But regardless of who’s blowing the whistle at training camp in October, Smith deserves the opportunity to prove himself.
It’s time to rebuild and re-evaluate players who are currently under contract. Believe it or not, Smith still has the potential to be part of the solution and could be a valuable voice in a locker room that will soon be filled with players with more pimples than games played in the NHL.
Salary cap information courtesy of capfriendly.com