The 2017-18 season could not have gone any worse for Brendan Smith. After coming to New York at the 2016 trade deadline, Smith added a rather steadying presence to a shaky Rangers blue line during their playoff push and played himself into a four-year, $17.4M extension. The first season under that contract went terribly as Smith never seemed to play up to what he showed during that initial postseason, and he eventually was demoted to the AHL for a large portion of the season.
It was later revealed that Smith entered camp out of shape, and that really didn’t do much to help the optics of the situation. Things got even worse when he season ended after getting into a fight with Vinni Lettieri in practice down in Hartford, and it appeared that he was on his way to being bought out.
The 2018-19 season, along with new head coach David Quinn, seemed like a perfect opportunity for Smith to have a bounce back year, and prove he could be counted on as an NHL defender.
With a rookie coach and a new system in place, Smith entered the season as one of the few veteran Rangers defenders with solid NHL experience under his belt. Smith was expected to help anchor one of the middle pairing defense slots and assist youngsters Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo get further adjusted to the NHL game after both blueliners saw limited time in New York the year prior.
As the season wore on, Coach Quinn played musical chairs with his defense pairings with Smith ending up as the odd-man out on a few occasions. As Quinn searched for the right combination for his bottom pairings, Smith rotated along with Fredrik Claesson and Adam McQuaid. But that approach led to Smith not really finding a steady defense partner, and in turn diminished the returns on his performance.
Overall he appeared in 63 games logging 15:18 a night, and posted a line of 4-9-13. Offensively speaking it was the third best season of his career, but that really doesn’t say much.
After the trade deadline and with the Rangers completely out of the playoff picture, Quinn curiously began rotating Smith into a 4th line wing position, rolling 11 forwards and seven defensemen, thus turning Brendan Smith into an extremely low-rent Brent Burns or Dustin Byfuglien.
Smith truly was — as Mike described earlier this season — “a man without a role”, and that led to some interesting results on the whole. But for all of the ups and downs this season, Smith’s numbers are probably what you’d expect from a third-pair defenseman, especially when looking at his relative rates. Smith’s CF% Rel was a 1.8, his xGF% Rel came in at 0.04 5-on-5, and he posted a WAR of -0.6.
Using Evolving Hockey’s skater table, Smith posted some underwhelming results, including an EV_GAR of -4.9 which was second-worst on the team. His GAR of -3.6 was also second-worst, with Marc Staal finishing with a gaudy -8.2.
While those numbers don’t provide encouragement by any stretch, it is important to remember how bad the team that was defensively, and that only three roster regular (DeAngelo, Skjei, and Claesson) posted a positive result in this area. This does not excuse Smith by any stretch of the imagination, but it is to say that the results weren’t unique to him.
All that said, his numbers don’t justify a salary of $4.35 million a year, and the Rangers need to find a way to get creative in order to try and get some value out of their investment.
Grade: D+ | Banter Consensus Grade: C-
Smith was used as a defenseman and forward this season, and there were times he played both positions during the same game.
The Rangers are paying Smith $4.35 million a season, and they appear to feel they’re getting something for that by deploying him as a bottom-six forward at 5-on-5, and a defenseman on the penalty kill.
I guess “two players” for the price of one is one way of handling a deal that hasn’t quite worked out like the Blueshirts planned. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
With the influx of talent coming into the Rangers pipeline, there are going to be a lot of tough decisions made by the front office. At the top of that list is going to be what to do about a defense in need of a major overhaul.
Smith does have a modified no-trade clause and a pretty heavy contract, so a buyout or trade could be difficult to pull off, though bringing him back in a limited bottom-pair defensive role may not be the worst decision.
2019 Report Cards: Ryan Strome / Filip Chytil / Brendan Lemieux / Tony DeAngelo / Chris Kreider / Pavel Buchnevich / Neal Pionk / Cristoval Nieves / Kevin Shattenkirk / Marc Staal / Jimmy Vesey / Brady Skjei / Connor Brickley / Vladislav Namestnikov/ Vinni Lettieri