Brendan Smith, New York Rangers
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

In the blink of an eye, Brendan Smith went from valued New York Rangers defenseman to the AHL. What happened?

The New York Rangers and Brendan Smith have been having their struggles throughout the 2017-2018 season. Despite the Rangers giving Smith a four-year, $17.4 million deal, he came to camp out of shape, underperformed, was a healthy scratch, and was ultimately placed on waivers.

At first glance, this seems to be an awful deal by the organization. $17.4 million to a man who has done nothing but disappoint this season? What blasphemy!

But, there is a great degree of merit to this deal. Throughout the second half of last season, Smith proved to be a very valuable top-four defenseman. His skating ability, coupled with his puck handling, defensive awareness, physicality, and grit allowed him to flourish in his role with the Rangers.

Such excellent play allowed for this contract, which, arguably, seemed like a solid deal for the 29-year-old defenseman. Seven months later, Smith is skating with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

While his skating and offensive abilities were still present on the ice at the NHL level, his awareness on the defensive end was nonexistent. His ability to endure the physically debilitating NHL play was missing as well, as he was often unable to keep up his excellent skating for a full shift.

Because of this, he was consistently responsible for allowing two on ones up the other end of the ice. Players like Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and, recently, Anthony DeAngelo, have all fallen victim to Smith’s poor reads and lifeless skating.

Despite being benched in favor of players like Steven Kampfer, Smith’s game never came back. Sadly, it was more of the same throughout the season for Smith, who appeared apathetic to his situation.

According to the New York Post‘s  Larry Brooks, comparisons to the Wade Redden are practically erroneous. While they both are in similar situations (a veteran defenseman with proven skill and a hefty contract), the reasoning behind the assignment of Smith to Hartford is slightly different. It was not to create cap space, like Redden.

With all of his talent, the demotion to Hartford serves as a message. One must savor his opportunity to play in the NHL. Smith took it for granted. As one of the most talented and well-rounded defensemen on the Rangers, Smith must take initiative and do everything he can to augment his game.

Hopefully, Smith can regain his original form and come back for the Rangers. But, in his absence, it’s not the worst thing in the world to see what some of the Hartford kids have to offer. John Gilmour and DeAngelo have already excelled early. Both have shown flashes of speed, adeptness with puck handling, and even skill running the power play, an attribute that Smith has yet to hone.

Smith has one goal, seven assists, and a plus-two rating in 44 games this season. His CF % (Corsi Percentage) is down 2.6 points from last season. These poor possession stats are arising from an increased role in the offensive end as well! Smith’s usage is completely different from last season (51.5 percent offensive zone starts this season to 44 percent last season). These numbers, across the board, are inexcusable. While offensive and possession stats do not tell the full story of a defenseman, these numbers, in Smith’s case, do. Ranger fans expecting 35 points out of their $17.4 million-dollar man, along with a shot suppression ability and physical edge, was not the most absurd thing. It was, as many thought, a reasonable output.

As far as a complete package goes, his advanced stats, when combined, begin to tell a more optimistic story, as a Penguins fan making a plea for Smith shows here:

These stats, while appearing to be decent, do not tell the story of the costly turnovers and poor effort that Smith has executed this season. This just goes to show that while the statistics are not satisfactory by Smith’s standards, they do appear to be solid. But, his poor awareness on the ice, on both ends, cannot be immediately measured numerically, but rather by a simple eye test…one that the average fan should be able to execute.

An example of such is when Smith goes after a puck along the mid-boards with no wing back to support him. Often, he will get caught up the ice on a tie-up, allowing the opposing team to break into transition up the other end. This often results in the dreaded two on one.

Unfortunately for Smith, because of his poor play and awful reads, the Rangers may not even call him back up this season.

Recently, the organization took a rebuilding approach to their team. In other words, it is in their best interest to investigate young players like DeAngelo and Gilmour as opposed to investigating something they are already familiar with in Smith. With the new-look defense succeeding over the last few games, I would not expect a change on the roster anytime soon.

Smith, as a bonafide member of the Vigneault doghouse, will more than likely remain a member of the Wolf Pack until next season, barring a sudden turn in direction for this Rangers team. But, the season is still young. So you never really do know.

Come back soon Brendan Smith, you are far too valuable—and far too talented—to allow your skill to be wasted away in the AHL.