As Jeff Gorton, Glen Sather, and Alain Vigneault meet to discuss the offseason plans, one of their major talking points will surely be the blue line. The futures of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal will certainly be the focal point, but there is still a need retool the defense to something that resembles a Stanley Cup blue line.
A good portion of that discussion will be centered around retaining Brendan Smith. As Pat pointed out earlier this month, retaining him is critical. While the cost was steep (2018 2nd and a 2017 3rd), that is sunk cost at this point. The main reason, at least to me, why he needs to be retained is because he is a solid top-four option on the right side, something the Rangers sorely need.
Smith, an unrestricted free agent, put up a line of 1-3-4 in 18 games with the Rangers following the deadline, good for a full season total of 3-6-9 in 51 games. That’s an 82 game pace of 5-10-15, which is about on par with his career scoring average. Smith is not a noted scorer, but is still a solid defender who does a lot of the little things right. He was very clearly in the top-three of Rangers defensemen once acquired through the end of the playoffs.
Like with gauging Mika Zibanejad’s next deal, we need to find comparable contracts to Smith. Smith is coming off his two-year deal that paid him $3.25 million last season, with a cap hit of $2.75 million. This is proving to be tricky, as defensemen that don’t put up points regularly are very difficult to gauge. Smith doesn’t have the reputation as a “stay at home” defenseman either.
We are going to get into a little bit of a stretch with some of the comparable contracts, so I’m probably going to spend some time convincing myself that these are comparable to what Smith will get. So let’s break down some of the criteria used. All players listed as comparable to Smith will have:
- Signed his previous contract at age 26 and hit free agency at age 28.
- Had his contract year within 20% of Smith’s salary.
- Not had a point explosion during this contract.
- Not be terrible at the position (that actually eliminated a few guys).
- Not be a journeyman (that eliminated a few as well).
- Be somewhat similar in style of play.
With all that in place, I came up with three contracts, and they are all over the damn place.
The first that came up was Jason Demers, who unfortunately puts up double the amount of points as Smith. However he does meet the above criteria, so hooray! I’m going with Demers here because we can use him to set a ceiling on Smith’s value. Demers signed with Florida this past summer for five years and a $4.5 million cap hit. That’s a very good thing for the Rangers, as Demers regularly put up 30 points over an 82 game pace, and Smith is at half that. So….win!
The next comparable contract was Carl Gunnarsson. He put up roughly the same stats in his contract year (3-6-9, but over 72 games, not 51). But the interesting thing here is that he signed for less than his final year’s salary ($3.45 million). His three year, $2.9 million contract is likely the lowest of the low. Smith will get more than that for sure.
Cody Franson actually came up as a comparable contract, which I found to be interesting. He came off a one year deal worth $3.3 million and turned into two years with a $3.325 million contract. Franson was a little weird, since he put up 30 points regularly, but played so poorly following his trade deadline move to Nashville that it cost him in free agency. Smith isn’t getting $3.325 million, he will come in over that.
Not included in the list of comparable contracts in Capfriendly was Niklas Hjalmarsson, which could actually be the closest we come to a comparable deal. Hjalmarsson came off a contract year making $3.5 million and turned it into a five year deal with a $4.1 million cap hit. He put up 19 points in his contract year, which is close. I think we are at the contract that might turn into Smith’s. So let’s go with this one.
Smith is a UFA, so he’s not going to settle for a short term deal. Teams will be lining up to sign a top-four defenseman who can play on both sides. He’s not flashy, he’s not offensively gifted, but he’s steady and a good skater. Kind of fits in with the Hjalmarsson comparison. Personally, $4.1 million over five years (expiring at age 33) is right in the terms of comfort for me. If it’s that contract, let’s hope the Rangers lock him up before he hits the open market.