Veteran defenseman Brendan Smith got an odd birthday gift from the New York Rangers—a notice that he was placed on waivers.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 9, 2018
Prospect Neal Pionk, 22, will take Smith’s place and make his NHL debut Friday night when the Blueshirts host the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
Smith, who the Rangers re-signed to a four-year, $17.4 million deal last June, simply wasn’t the same player in 2017-18 as he was in 2016-17, which remains a mystery to the team.
That’s a polite way of saying that Smith has stunk up the ice. While he’s a plus-two on the season, Smith has played in only 44 games, recording eight points (one goal, seven assists) and 69 penalty minutes. Over 261 career games—all but 62 with the Detroit Red Wings—he’s posted 67 points (15 goals, 52 assists).
Often a healthy scratch, the eight-year veteran routinely found himself out of position and committing costly turnovers when he did get a chance to play, becoming more of a liability than an asset.
“We worked with him a number of different ways and he seemed to be having a hard time to find his game,” head coach Alain Vigneault remarked. “So at the end of the day, this might be a little bit drastic here, but management and coaches felt this was the right move for our team right now.”
Considering the years and money left on his deal, it’s highly unlikely that another team will claim Smith, which would clear the way for him to be assigned to the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. It’s a move that Gorton thinks could help Smith re-discover his game.
“I do, based on what we’ve seen in the past,” Gorton said. “I think Brendan’s a good player that can play physical, that is a good skater. But really, those elements haven’t been there this year. This is something I think at this time, it’s best for him to go on waivers, see what happens and go from there.”