Now that newly-acquired Brendan Smith is fully in tow, here’s how the New York Rangers should align the pairings along the blueline.That’s all, folks. We’re officially living in a post-deadline world as the calendar page turns to March. Yes—the month right before April …
And no, that’s not Artem Anisimov you see oddly paired on the backend with the captain. It’s Brendan Smith, the only consequential move made by New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton in terms of going on a run this season, with this group.
Clearly, Smith is not the splashy, high-profile trade Rangers fans are accustomed to seeing at this juncture every year, and he did not grow up in New Rochelle, either. What he hopefully represents is a solid, steadying presence on the defensive right side whose game will elevate like the price he’ll now be paying for rent.
In his first practice in New York, the 28-year-old Smith paired up with Ryan McDonagh as Alain Vigneault’s top unit. Having played together at the University of Wisconsin (along with Derek Stepan), there is certainly going to be a bit of chemistry and comfort, which should help ease Smith’s transition into the lineup. Descriptions of the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Smith around the Rangers locker room included words like “competitive,” “gamer” and “grit.” These are welcomed attributes for Rangers fans that’ve seen their team lack that edge for long stretches of time.
Smith represents a player who will not light it up on the stat sheet, but who can contribute meaningful minutes in all situations. While the price may have been a bit steep for a rental, it’s a conservative move for a team and coach who believe they’re not all that far away. If they can maintain their current point pace, finish in the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and #HankisHankagain, they just may be in business.
But this is an objective breakdown of what our defense should look like going forward. Barring injuries, there is a right lineup, and there’s certainly a wrong one for AV as we head into the show. The Rangers head coach has shown a propensity to continue rolling out certain players in spite of rather obvious physical and/or mental tribulations.
Now, however, AV has the pieces to mount a considerable defensive shield in front of an in-form Henrik Lundqvist, and he’s got 18 more games with which to find the perfect pairings.