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2021 Report Card: Brendan Smith

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A look at Smith’s performance in his final year in New York

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Oh, Brendan Smith. The sometimes-winger, should-have-always-been-a-defenseman that is now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes — along with about a dozen other former Rangers. I know it’s been a minute, but let’s look back at Smith’s final season in New York.

Expectations

What were we expecting out of Brendan Smith in the final year of his contract? Well, it’s safe to say that things couldn’t go much worse than they did in the penultimate year of his deal. In 2019-20, Smith played wing on the fourth line, was frequently a healthy scratch, and seemed like he must have done something to offend David Quinn’s family.

Heading into 2020-21, it was hard to see where and why Smith would fit into this year’s Rangers squad after he failed to stick anywhere that made sense with the 2019-20 squad. So, expectations were reasonably low — he was an off-brand version of Flex Seal who could be applied to the blueline or as a fourth-line winger who had a shot at playing regular minutes on the third pair, depending on how things went with Libor Hajek and Jack Johnson.

Performance

Per game, Smith played 5:20 more TOI/GP in 2020-21 than he did in 2019-20. That is a huge jump in ice time but remember, he played a bunch of games at forward two seasons ago. What’s more important is that he was dressed in 48 of the Rangers’ 56 games last season. To his credit, Smith also scored five goals — which was good enough to tie for his personal best in a season — and hit a bunch of people.

On a team that was frequently criticized for being too soft, Smith was a hammer. he finished the season with 84 hits in 48 games and 76 PIM. He also drew 25 penalties and was widely considered to be a positive presence in the locker room. Smith did a lot of dirty work and was paid gloriously to do it, which is why many will view his stint in New York as a major disappointment.

Smith finished the season with a -4.52 Rel xGF% and -2.45 Rel CF% — which was close to the bottom of the bottom half of the Rangers’ blueliners. His most frequent d-partners at 5-on-5 were Libor Hajek (261:13 together) and K’Andre Miller (207:22) which gives you an idea of what role Smith was expected to fill this year. He was the versatile veteran defenseman playing alongside kids who was expected to rattle the boards and stick up for his teammates. He was a chaperone for two young defensemen on dramatically different career paths.

Of course, Smith’s season ended with a bang with his fight against Tom Wilson. Enough has been said (and will continue to be said) about Wilson and the Rangers. But we all knew it was Smith who would have to answer the bell for his team. That, in and of itself, is quite a thing and says a lot about Smith’s role and the sport itself.

Final Grade: C

Banter Consensus: C+

I gave Smith the grade of “C” more than a month ago when Banter’s staff was first organizing our report cards. Reflecting on his season now, I’m a lot closer to “B-” territory for him but I think the consensus “C+” grade feels right. He didn’t exactly end his time in New York on a high note but he was a serviceable and versatile player. Smith’s pucks skills aren’t all that great but he does a lot of little things that add value and many of those were on display in 2020-21.

Looking at the big picture, it was definitely time for a change of scenery for Smith. He was far from a disappointment in 2020-21 but he still felt like a spare part. He was playing with an expiration date on the back of his jersey, which is a shame because he would’ve been a reasonable option as the team’s seventh defenseman for another year. But the writing was on the wall and he signed with Carolina as a free agent on July 29.

Data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.