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To Trade or Not to Trade: Brendan Smith

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Will the Rangers trade the veteran defenseman by this afternoon?

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NHL Trade Deadline is today at 3 p.m. ET but the New York Rangers have not made any moves as of yet. It has been quieter than in previous years, perhaps the reason being that the Brendan Lemieux trade was their big move before the deadline. But with only mere hours left, there is one player whose future as a Blueshirt can really go either way.

According to Marisa Ingemi of NBC, Brendan Smith “might be their easiest player to move” as he is approaching unrestricted free agency this summer and could be a good trade piece moving forward. The Rangers acquired Smith from the Detroit Red Wings at the 2017 deadline, signing a $17.4 million deal. Four years later, he is currently averaging 15:44 of ice time per-game, with 3 goals and 4 assists in the 34 games he has played this season.

The 32 year-old can play either side and also play as a forward. To avoid the weak UFA market for defensemen this offseason, Jeff Gorton could trade Smith by this afternoon for a future draft pick to a team in need of a veteran looking to make a playoff run. This could also help pave a path for Tarmo Reunanen to get into the Rangers’ lineup.

However, do the Rangers need more future draft picks? As outlined by Larry Brooks:

The Rangers have six picks in the first four rounds of the 2021 draft despite having traded their second-rounder to Detroit as the sweetener in the deal that sent Marc Staal to the Red Wings during the offseason. The Blueshirts own Buffalo’s third-rounder they received in exchange for Jimmy Vesey, Ottawa’s fourth-rounder acquired for Vlad Namestnikov and the Kings’ fourth obtained two weeks ago for Brendan Lemiuex. (NY Post)

Sure, you can never have too many lottery tickets but Smith does have value to the Rangers. It’s just hard to quantify most of the time because there’s no escaping the cap hit of his current contract and how David Quinn has utilized him.

Say Smith is not traded, the veteran defenseman’s playoff experience could continue to be useful to the kids on Broadway as they try to make a playoff run of their own. He has been a solid third pairing defenseman, bringing depth and some toughness that the team has now lost with Lemieux being traded to the LA Kings. Aside from Ryan Lindgren, Smith is the only other player whose name immediately comes to mind when the team needs someone to answer the bell. He has also been praised by Quinn as someone who “brings an awful lot to the table on and off the ice.”

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

If Smith is not traded and plays out the rest of the season, his contract will expire and then it will be a matter of whether he’d want to come back to New York on a cheap one-year “show me” deal as a depth defenseman.

If he does, he may ask for a deal worth around $1.75 million. This seems feasible considering Jack Johnson signed a one-year deal for less and Smith has proven to be a more reliable player than Johnson was. Then if Smith wants to be traded next season or the kids coming up through the pipeline look ready, Gorton could flip him and retain about 30 percent of his contract if need be.

Really, it could go either way with Smith today. The front office might deem what he brings to the table as a versatile mentor on the blue line more valuable than what he’d bring back in a trade. There’s also the real possibility that there simply isn’t a market for him out there. With all of that being said, he’s definitely a name to keep an eye out for today. He’s one of just three pending UFAs on the roster (and Taxi Squad) and the injured Jack Johnson isn’t going anywhere.

Salary and contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.com.