I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fall from grace on the level of a Mr. Brendan Smith.
The first act was one of the playoff hero, with Smith being one of — if not the — best defenseman for the Rangers down the stretch. Over that summer, I wanted Smith back badly. I thought retaining him, and adding Kevin Shattenkirk, would give the Rangers a formidable top-four that they could throw out against anyone in the league.
What happened? Oh Smith got his contract (the second act of the play), but Nick Holden became a top-pair defenseman right under his nose (now a healthy scratch for the Bruins) and Smith reportedly came to camp out of shape. Smith spent the first two months watching as many games from the press box as he did from ice level, and when he was on the ice he was, well, not good.
The third act involved Smith being waived to the AHL, where he watched the Rangers (due to trades and injuries) call up Anthony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, Ryan Sproul, and John Gilmour instead of giving him another shot at the NHL level. As I speculated on the podcast a few weeks ago, the Rangers were probably never calling Smith up this year, if only to send a message, but there were a lot of players called up this spring while Smith was stuck in the AHL.
The final act of the play happened a short while later, when Smith ended his season thanks to a broken hand from a fight ... in practice ... with his own teammate ... Vinni Lettieri. The report originated from Larry Brooks, who said the following:
3. Brendan Smith’s miserable season has ended in almost predictably miserable fashion, The Post has learned.
The defenseman, who was assigned to the Wolf Pack after clearing waivers Feb. 9 in the midst of the first season of his four-year, $17.4 million deal, suffered a broken hand in a fight at practice this past Sunday with Vinni Lettieri.
There are arguments to be made that Smith’s situation was handled poorly — even though he was at fault for being out of shape — but the point remains that Smith was a shadow of what the Rangers paid for. A shadow of himself, as well, and it made the team markedly worse.
Smith will probably be given a clean slate next year, and to be honest there’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen. The hope is that this year serves as a wake up call for Smith, he figures himself out, and comes back like the defenseman the Rangers traded for. That said, the hope won’t save him from the report card grade that’s coming.
Smith’s underlying numbers actually weren’t that bad if we’re being honest, but I’ve never seen a player who failed the eye test so blatantly somehow get a passing grade on the analytical side of things before.
AHL life didn’t suit him either. Raw stats don’t tell the entire tale, of course, but in 11 games Smith had just two assists. He was also a -11, but +/- is the worst stat in hockey so I have no idea what that stat actually means for him. What is clear is that prior to breaking his hand, Smith wasn’t lighting the world on fire in the AHL, so the Rangers not giving him another opportunity at an NHL role, and looking to other members of the Wolf Pack instead, wasn’t socking.
It’s hard to look at Smith’s season as anything other than a failure of pretty catastrophic proportions. If the Rangers were planning on contending next year, then this would be a much bigger problem with even further reaching consequences down the line. Since that’s not a reality, though, the Rangers can give Smith next year to see if he can return to NHL action.
Final Grade: F
I don’t think we’ll see another failing grade out of the players this year. It may seem harsh, but in a season full of missed expectations and disappointment, there wasn’t a worse outcome/performance result than that of Brendan Smith.