By: Will Burchfield
Take it for what it’s worth, and it’s far from vindication for Detroit’s beleaguered general manager, but Ken Holland received two draft picks for a player who’s been a healthy scratch for the past four games with his new team.
That would be defenseman Brendan Smith, who played well enough for the Rangers following last season’s deadline deal to earn a four-year contract with the club in the offseason. But he’s been a shell of himself in year two.
Less snarl. More turnovers. Career-low possession metrics. All of it has contributed to Smith and his $4.35 million cap hit watching six of the Rangers’ first 17 games from the press box.
The Red Wings tried hard to re-sign Smith prior to trading him last season, but their reported offer of $3.5 million annually over three years wasn’t satisfactory to Smith’s camp. In hindsight, maybe that was for the best.
The trade afforded the Wings some extra cap room, which they used to sign defenseman Trevor Daley to a three-year deal worth just over $3 million per season. Daley has stepped in and played well on the team’s top pairing, at a lesser cost than it would have required to retain Smith.
It also yielded two draft picks, one of which Detroit used to select defenseman Gustav Lindstrom in the second round (38th overall) of this year’s draft. The other is a third-round pick in next year’s draft.
Smith, meanwhile, has played himself out of the Rangers’ lineup. Their current five-game win streak began when he was benched for most of the third period in a 4-2 comeback win over the Golden Knights, and he hasn’t played since.
There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, obviously, and it’s a safe bet that Smith will play an important role in whatever success the Rangers achieve this season.
“I’m going to get Smitty in here at some point,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters on Wednesday, via the New York Post. “He’s working extremely hard and understands the areas he needs to improve and focus on.
“He needs to be stronger in his puck battles. We believe he can play with an edge and play with bite. [He needs to be] a little bit quicker going back for pucks and making the right initial play.”
But from the Red Wings’ perspective, the decision to part ways with Smith rather than meeting his contract demands is looking like a smart one. That’s a notable and important departure from the norm for Holland, who’s often been guilty of overpaying his own players. Instead, he found a good deal for Daley.
Absolution? No, far from it. (See: Ericsson, Jonathan; Kronwall, Niklas; Abdelkader, Justin; et al.) But certainly a step in the right direction, and perhaps a sign that Holland can separate business from emotion.