Hey, remember Brendan Smith? All-around solid defenseman, slated to be on their second pair last year, a potentially perfect partner for Kevin Shattenkirk? Yeah, that guy.
The Rangers acquired Smith in a trade from Detroit at the deadline two seasons ago, and he helped them reach the second round of the playoffs. Despite a rough game six against Ottawa (perhaps a portent of things to come), Smith’s play down the stretch was a revelation. He was the embodiment of the modern “stay-at-home” defenseman; he played a reliable defensive game with an edge, but also moved the puck efficiently and chipped in on offense (seen here):
Smith’s performance during the spring of 2017 earned him a four-year, $17.4 million contract, which includes a modified no-trade clause. The Rangers invested in the defenseman (after parting with draft picks in the initial trade to get him), and after acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk on July 1, appeared to have solidified their blue line, with Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei already in tow. How does that old saying about best laid plans go?
The catastrophe that was Brendan Smith’s 2017-18 season has been well documented, and ended with him on injured reserve in the AHL after he fought Vinni Lettieri during practice and broke his hand. What’s left is a legitimate question about the viability of Brendan Smith’s NHL career moving forward, especially as the Rangers rebuild and turn their focus towards young players. Smith will turn 30 next season.
That’s where David Quinn comes in.
In an interview with Don Lagreca and Michael Kay on Thursday, Quinn matter-of-factly rattled off the names of current Rangers that he has an existing relationship with, and among those names was Brendan Smith’s. How the two are connected is unclear, but Smith’s college days at Wisconsin from 2007-10 overlap with Quinn’s stint as Associate Head Coach at Boston University from 2004-2009. Perhaps Smith was on BU’s recruiting radar.
Much has been made of Quinn’s ability to communicate with and develop young players, but the coach himself was also quick to remind everyone during his press tour that he’s coached at all levels of the game. Regardless, this will be his first experience as a head coach at the professional level in dealing with what amounts to a reclamation project.
Smith’s playing style seems to be a natural fit for Quinn’s ethos. The new coach said on Thursday that the Rangers will focus on defense “all over the ice,” emphasize puck possession and be difficult to play against. Those are platitudes to be sure, and all easier said than done, but at his best Smith plays smart possession hockey with an edge. If the Rangers feel it’s worthwhile to give Smith a second chance, then it’s Quinn’s job to bring out the best in the player.
If you want my $0.02, here it is: I think Brendan Smith can still be a useful player for the Rangers. It’s tempting to look at the situation and write Smith off. A cursory glance at Twitter earlier this week seemed to indicate that many people have. After all, he’s approaching 30, and if you can bury an albatross contract in the minors at a reduced rate, you may as well do that and focus on the kids, right?
But even rebuilding teams need veteran players. Again, Smith is a solid defenseman who has proven capable of performing in big moments. That has tremendous value to a team with very little experience on its blue line. The best-case scenario would be Smith making a comeback, rebuilding his value, and the Rangers trading him at the deadline next season to a contender.
However it shakes out, it will be interesting to see how David Quinn and the Rangers handle the Brendan Smith situation."Can David Quinn Fix Brendan Smith?",