On yo-yoing Brendan Smith on waivers and dumb GMs

Training camp is only a few weeks away folks, and following the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk you might think there’d be a bit more clarity around the form the defensive group is going to take next year. You wouldn’t entirely be right though, because aside from Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, and of course Marc Staal, no spots are truly, fully locked up. Tony DeAngelo is probably on the inside looking out as it were – more likely to have a spot than be left on the bench or traded than not, but from there things get even weirder.

The Rangers have three talented defensive youngsters – Libor Hajek, Yegor Rykov, and Adam Fox – plus Brendan Smith, all of whom would be capable enough on the bottom pairing or rotating in as the 7D. Smith is the really, truly complicating factor in all of this, but it’s worth noting that may actually be a good thing. First though, we need to figure out how to stem at least some of the overflow that exists here.

Taking into account our prior math, we have four guys more or less on lock, and considering that Brendan Smith likely retains a soft spot in David Quinn’s heart, let’s pencil him in as number five. There’s two more spots at that point, and three on-the-cusp prospects. Ideally, Smith just would be buried in Hartford or traded away somewhere, but the reality is that one of Hajek, Rykov, or Fox is going to spend significant time with the Wolfpack. Solving this problem isn’t insanely difficult though, provided James Dolan knows a good car service willing to bring guys back and forth to central Connecticut on a regular basis.

The three young guns would be duking it out anyway, so letting them push each other for spots is fine. They know the kind of situation the Rangers are in, so they’re either down with the program or not, and they’re young and will want to prove themselves one way or another. The fun part though is that the top two kids wouldn’t be fighting for the sixth and seventh spots – they’d be competing for fifth and sixth.

That’d leave Brendan Smith as your seventh defenseman, constantly on his toes as far as playing his best game, and whichever of our three amigos that didn’t make the cut aware of a potential call-up at any time. This also accommodates Quinn’s tendency to use Smith as a forward, because sure, go ahead and play a bottom pairing of up-and-comers who may be looking to prove themselves not only in the near future but further down the road as well.

Only good things can come of this, because if whichever rookie has an off night, needs to get a better feel for things from a bird’s eye view, or is banged up, you’ve got your ready-to-play replacement-level defenseman waiting right there on the depth chart. But Smith is only really useful as a seventh defenseman if his spot is more than just in flux – it needs to be totally lacking in any guarantees.

The signal of this rebuild was waiving Brendan Smith. The brain trust is willing to do it, and now they’ve got the perfect excuse to do so regularly – three other defenseman who all should be getting some playing time. Sending him back and forth to Hartford means also that’d he’d have to clear waivers continuously, which can only be a good thing.

It’s unlikely Smith will get claimed, you might say, but consider this. The first time was around the pre-playoff coalescing period, and most teams were set in the course forward. Early throughout the season though, you might catch a GM whose coffee wasn’t good that morning with a team on an extended losing streak, having just gotten embarrassed by whichever team we deem the 2020 Stanley Cup Champions in November (remember when it was Montreal’s to lose that one year? We do this all the time and it never works out). All it takes is one stupid moment for one of the other 30 NHL GMs and bam, Brendan Smith is off the team, no questions asked.

Now you’ve got another open spot and a prospect who’s been hoping to sketch out some kind of spot on a top-flight roster rather than play in the AHL. You’re still going to have lots of competition and rotation, and there’s still of course the Coming of K’Andre Miller down the line, as well as Nils Lundkvist’s Landing (workshopping these guys, bear with me), but now you’ve got a much more stable, youth driven, mix-and-match rotation to play around with.

Barring a trade, letting loose some old fashioned, no-holds-barred roster competition and dangling Brendan Smith up and down on waivers continuously throughout the season is probably going to be the best bet. With the right dope on the other end of the line, some day at noon we may be getting that sweet, sweet news that our defensive group is six 25-year-olds and Marc Staal. Not so bad.

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  • This just in, Kuznetsov was banned from the Russian National Team for 4 years for cocaine use. NHL suspension next?

  • Seems to me that Smith stays around most of the year until and unless one or two of the young defensenmen prove to be NHL level players. It is easy sometimes to forget that defensemen tend to blossom later. Will Fox, Rykov and Hajek all be NHL caliber players right out of training camp? I rather doubt it. It is entirely possible that all three will need AHL grooming.

    • Smith stays because he’ll get used on the PK when not playing up front.

      Early in the season I can see Smith being waived for cap purposes as the 21st player as a paper transaction, yet traveling with the team and being put on the roster for game days only.

      I see Rykov starting in Hartford so he can get acclimated to the smaller sheet(gap control, angles.)

    • There will need grooming indeed Peter. Skinny Smith was not the Rangers worse defenseman last year by any stretch. He gets a lot of bad press and the motivation of behind that is his contract not so much his performance on the ice.

  • Of the 3 S’s (Shattenkirk, Staal and Smith) Smith was (is) the most valuable based on his versatility. We can argue all day as to whether Staal provides “leadership” or if Shattenkirk gave us some RD offensive pop (when healthy), but Smith has the definitely has the versatility to play LD or RD plus forward on a 4th line. Unless Smith comes in like he did 2 years ago, Hajek regresses from his 5 game NHL stint and Rykov plays lights out, then it only makes sense that Rykov be sent down to the AHL for some NA seasoning. Come the trade deadline I suspect Smith could have trade value as long as the Rangers assume half his salary for the remaining season and a quarter — if they feel any pressure to free up circa $2M a season.

    • I wonder. It seems contradictory to think that on one hand, the Rangers might send him down and replace him with a cheaper player just to save less than 400K of cap space – but on the other hand, think that someone else is willing to pay him $2M a year. My own suspicion is that he may have trade value in 2021 at the deadline when some team with some extra room is trying to add a player, but won’t have any takers this season, even at half retained UNLESS of course the perceived value of his ability goes up noticeably.

  • Once a player clears waivers, he can go up and down as many times as needed in a 28 day period.

    After that, he would need to clear waivers again.

    • I’m assuming Smith’s salary be pro-rated as he moves back and forth from Hartford. Is that correct?

      • Most of Smith’s salary stays in the NHL, regardless of where he plays. The only issue is the $1.075M that the Rangers are allowed to bury in Hartford. Essentially the Rangers sidestep $13,100 for every Ranger game that Smith is not on the roster. If he is sent down for a week, the cap benefit depends on how many games the Rangers play that week.

      • The amount of his cap hit that goes down to Hartford is pro rated, his one way salary does not.

  • Pat – this is the type of over-hyping of prospects that does a disservice to the fan base that buys into this stuff. The statement that the 3 youngsters are all capable of bottom pairing is ridiculous. Fox is the only one who should be counted on to play regularly. Hajek basically stunk in the AHL all year. Does his 5 game stint where he looked better qualify him as a capable NHLer when he failed in the AHL – don’t think so. Similarly it is asking a lot of Rykov to be NHL ready first time over here. Certainly his contract contemplates one year in Hartford after which he can return to the KHL if asked a 2nd year. Could either earn a spot in the pre-season: of course, that would be great as we desperately need LHD. But far from certain. maybe not even likely.

    And that brings us to Smith who seems to have a spot on the Rangers if they can fit him into the cap. Firstly we will certainly need a 4th RHD at some point this season and Smith seems like the only good candidate for that. He can play RHD or LHD equally, mediocorely but adequately well. So he seems like a pretty good 7th D while the prospects play full time in Hartford, if necessary. Moreover Smith seemed to be a very serviceable 13th forward last season; seemed to gain favor with Quinn..

    • I agree becase I think that while we’d love the young defensemen to step right into the NHL, it possible and even likely that two of them or even all three might need some time in the AHL We will see about Fox, but if he needs time in the AHL that should not be a surprise or a disappointment.

      I also agree that Smith’s versatility in being able to play RD or LD and also at forward makes him rather useful to the club at juncture. I have a feeling that he very well may be on the roster most of the year.

      • Fox is rated much higher than the others so hopefully he can step right in. Ideally he would have played 53 games in Hartford if we still had Shatty so the 2nd 2nd rounder due the Canes reverted to a 3 but it was not meant to be. No backup plan now if Fox can’t handle the NHL. I do think he can be special.

        Here’s another RHD dilemma – what if someone gives ADA an offer sheet for say at least the money that Pionk got, if not more, say 3.5 mil for 2 years. ADA has to see that Pionk contract and think he should be getting that much or more.

        Hajek and Rykov are good prospects, not elite talents. If just one of them makes it as a solid 2nd pair dman in the next few years we should be happy. This idea that every good prospect will make it is not realistic. I remember reading that only 1 in 3 non top 10 1st rounders make it as a good NHLer and neither Hajek or Rykov are 1st round talents.

    • Defensive play is so predicated on knowing your partner’s tendencies. Hajek was playing with an ever rotating number of partners of wildly varying talent, which inhibits that. Learning the systems on top of that is a recipe for disaster.

      What his stretch showed on Broadway is that he understood the system and when playing with those who also knew the system and knew the right places to be, he would be fine.

    • We know nothing about how Rykov will react to playing in North America and in the NHL specifically, so I would suggest caution on his ability to play in the NHL immediately. On the other hand I think Hajek can — and yes, 5 games in the NHL doesn’t prove consistency of play, but they showed us how he can play in the NHL.

  • Some truth to that but what also is truthful is that Hajek’s performance was terrible in Hartford and it is wrong to say Hartford was a disaster so nothing that happened their counts at all. That is something one says when the facts don’t support one’s thesis. Other seemingly less talented dmen performed better than LIbor there. 5 points in 58 games is embarrassing as is -26 +/- (admittedly not a great stat to go by). I look forward to his improvement this year. I just don’t think it’s a certainty that he can play at this level, especially at 21, which is young for a dman.

  • Just know with Smith you can count on him being in the box every 10th shift or so…….and people rag on Staal???

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