What Should the Rangers Do With Smith?

The New York Rangers will have a very important decision to make regarding defenseman Brendan Smith. Smith’s defensive troubles are persistent and are often a primary cause of the team’s defensive woes. He was acquired by the Rangers before the 2017 Trade Deadline in exchange for two draft picks. The team went on to make the playoffs that season, falling to the Ottawa Senators in the second round. Smith’s play during the postseason was widely regarded as positive.

But as the 2017-18 season drew on, Smith’s play slowly deteriorated until Rangers’ management could take it no longer, assigning him to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Several weeks following his demotion, it was reported that Smith got into an altercation and punched Wolf Pack teammate Vinni Lettieri.

Brendan Smith - Rangers
Brendan Smith, New York Rangers, September 27, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As bad as Smith was last season, he ended up with a positive plus/minus rating and eight points with the Rangers. He managed to lose weight this past offseason and make the team at the start of the season.

Smith’s Struggles Continue

Smith has been undoubtedly the Rangers’ worst defenseman this season. He has the second-lowest plus/minus rating, ahead of only Kevin Shattenkirk. He also has among the lowest number of takeaways on the Rangers’ blue line.

Another consistent issue Smith has faced is staying out of the penalty box. He has the second-most penalty minutes while playing significantly fewer games than the majority of the team. Delicately put, this has been a season for him to forget.

Related: Rangers’ Power Play Surges, Defense Collapses

So what do the Rangers do from here? The ideal solution would be to trade him before he loses his entire trade value. But even at that, he is not an attractive asset at the moment. A trade for Smith would return to the Rangers a late-round pick at best.

I question if a team like the Senators would consider trading for Smith due to the NHL experience he would bring to a mostly mediocre blue line. Or perhaps a team with an already solid defense pushing towards the playoffs could look to add Smith as a depth defenseman.

Brendan Smith, New York Rangers, NHL
Rangers’ Brendan Smith. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

A trade sending Smith out of New York is certainly not impossible, but it is still far fetched. From his poor stats to his undisciplined play, he is not a player any team would consider their first choice in a trade.

Surely there should be at least one team desperate enough to change their team and take on Smith’s big contract in what would be a new reclamation project. What complicates this is his modified no-trade clause through the conclusion of his contract.

Smith’s NTC allows him to submit a list of 15 teams to which he’d be willing to accept a trade through the 2019 season and a 10-team list after that.

Trade Alternatives

There is also the buyout option, which seems more likely than a trade. Smith has a cap hit of $4.35 million over the next two years. The Rangers, who will be looking to re-sign some of their veterans like Chris Kreider, may need that money available.

A four-year buyout of Smith would cost the Rangers approximately $1.145 million per year. This transaction would save several million dollars in the long-run and allow the Rangers to allocate more money to re-signing their free agents.

John Gilmour Rangers
John Gilmour, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another option the Rangers have, which is one they’ve already enacted, is to leave Smith in Hartford. He has made the trip between Connecticut and New York far too many times for a player with his salary. But when it comes down to it, only the players that give a team the best chance to win should be in the lineup.

At this point in time, there are several players who should be playing instead of Smith. I would even go as far as to say Wolf Pack defensemen John Gilmour and Libor Hajek should be given opportunities to take Smith’s spot. Gilmour was Hartford’s All-Star representative and has notched 34 points in 45 games.

Related from the Archives: Gilmour & Pionk are Fitting Quite Nicely with the Rangers

For now, it will be interesting to see if a team on Smith’s acceptable trade list actually does bite, which would send a late-round pick to New York. Until then, the Rangers are back in action tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers with Neal Pionk expected to return to the lineup.