The New York Rangers keep winning without Brendan Smith, so it stands to reason that he’ll have to keep waiting for a chance to play.
Back in June, Brendan Smith was preparing to become an unrestricted free agent. The Rangers, happy with his play, wanted to keep him. So on June 28, the two sides agreed to a four-year, $17.4 million deal. With an average cap hit of $4.3 million and a modified no-trade clause, Smith and the Rangers were both happy with the new contract and their future together.
Fast forward to Thursday night’s game in Tampa, when word was that Smith would be out of the lineup with Nick Holden replacing him. Holden would start the game with Steven Kampfer as his partner, while Smith was a healthy scratch for the third time this season.
Head coach Alain Vigneault explained his thinking to Newsday‘s Steve Zipay. “Last game Smitty had a couple of moments that were challenging.”
AV: "For tonight, bringing Nick (Holden) back. Last game, Smitty had a couple moments that were challenging."
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) November 2, 2017
In other words, Vigneault wasn’t happy with Smiths overall play on Tuesday night when the Rangers pulled off a comeback win over the Golden Knights. In that contest, Smith only played two shifts in the third period as the Rangers scored four goals.
Has Smith been playing so bad that he is now ranked below Holden and Kampfer in Vigneault’s eyes? He’s got two assists and is a plus-two in 11 games.
It was the second time this year the Rangers battled back from a deficit while Smith sat on the bench and watched. The other game was in Toronto, where the Rangers were down early, scored some big goals to make the game close but ultimately lost, 8-5.
Rangers bench Brendan Smith again, but he's happy where his "game's at" https://t.co/D8XJ8SaCKB
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) November 3, 2017
“I like where my game’s at,” Smith told the New York Post‘s Brett Cyrgalis. “I think I’ve been playing pretty well. I wasn’t totally happy with my last game, but there is always room for improvement.” Smith sounded like he was in agreement with how his game went on Tuesday night, but by speaking about it at all, shows he is not in agreement with sitting out games.
For Thursday night’s game, the defense pairing was Holden, who played most of his 20:11 on the ice alongside Ryan McDonagh, while Brady Skjei went with Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Staal with Steven Kampfer, who got into two fights.
As for the Smith’s game on Tuesday night, Vigneault told Cyrgalis that Smith “is a hard worker, he’s a really good person.” Hard worker or not, it appears for some reason that Vigneault is reluctant to give Smith the benefit of the doubt. The head coach obviously has a confidence issue with Smith and feels sitting him out of games is more beneficial than playing him.
Smith doesn’t believe that his overall game has been as bad as the coach does, “I felt like I’ve had a lot of really good games and a couple periods have got away from me,” Smith said. “I just have to make sure that I have a lot of consistency to make sure that I stay in the lineup.”
Brendan Smith is going to have to be patient and work hard to get back the confidence Vigneault is looking for in him again. Is the coach just trying to push Smith’s buttons to get him back to playing the style of hockey he did when Smith came to the Rangers last year?
I don’t believe that Smith’s play really dropped so dramatically that Steven Kempfer will continue to see more game opportunities as Smith watches from the press box. Brendan Smith had a big role on the defense playing with Brady Skjei last season. It was expected that the pair would be together again when training camp began, but one the regular season started Smith and the Rangers all started out with poor showings in games.
Vigneault has been changing lines and defense pairings all season long, now with the team winning consecutive games don’t be surprised if Vigneault keeps Smith out of the lineup until the Rangers lose a game.