New York Rangers need Brendan Smith to make a comeback

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 3: Brendan Smith #42 of the New York Rangers skates against the Nashville Predators during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on February 3, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 3: Brendan Smith #42 of the New York Rangers skates against the Nashville Predators during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on February 3, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

For the past two seasons, the New York Rangers defense has been a concern. Seeing the performance of one of their top defensemen drop substantially only made matters worse.

After joining the New York Rangers at the deadline during the 2016-17 season, Brendan Smith looked like a solid addition to the New York Rangers’ roster.

Smith played alongside Brady Skjei, and helped to fill a hole, bringing a physicality to the defensive end that the Rangers were sorely missing.

The Rangers managed to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Smith and Skjei were one of the most successful pairings in the postseason. They recorded good shot suppression numbers and were the two players with the highest on ice save percentage in the playoffs.

Based on his good start with the team,  management extended Smith in the offseason, signing him to a four-year, $17.4 million dollar deal ($4.35 million AVV). However, when the 2017-18 regular season started, Smith looked like a completely different player.

The Rangers took a risk in signing Smith after such a short amount of time with the team. However, at one point, Smith had shown that he was a valuable asset that fit the Rangers style of play.

This year, it will be vital for Smith to turn things around. Not just for his sake, but for the sake and success of his team.

What went wrong?

Signs of Smith’s demise started before the season even began. There were multiple reports that Smith showed up to training camp out of shape.

From there, the Rangers got off to a rocky start in October, and Smith never fully found his footing. Following this, he was benched for six straight games in early November in favor of Steve Kampfer and Nick Holden.

Smith would return to the lineup by November 17, but his stint with the team was short-lived. In early February, management made the surprising decision to place Smith on waivers, which he cleared. He would spend the remainder of the 2017-18 season in Hartford.

Smith played 11 games for the Wolf Pack, and from there things somehow got even worse. In late March, Smith broke his hand after getting in an altercation with teammate Vinni Lettieri during a practice and would miss the remained of the season.

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Steps toward recovery

Clearly there were some issues with Smith last season that need to be resolved. While it was important that he turn things around regardless of how much the team changed in his absence, with the direction the Rangers took with the rebuild, seeing improvement is even more important.

At his best, Smith is a physical, yet reliable defensemen. He has the ability to step out into the corners and use his body to make plays, while also managing to hold good position and suppress shots.

In addition, he has proven to fit the Rangers’ transition game and is a solid player along the blueline.

There are factors that impacted Smith’s play that we, on the outside, may never have the opportunity to fully understand. There are likely two sides to the story of why Smith’s game saw such a drastic drop off as well — I don’t think this is a scenario where you can pick a specific party to blame.

What is most important at this point is that Smith comes back and is given an opportunity equal to the one in which every other player on the ice will receive. And in this regard, I don’t think circumstances could be better for him.

The Rangers are basically a completely new team — with new players on the ice and new coaches behind the bench. This means that Smith will likely be granted a clean slate.

With the position in which the Rangers are currently in, they need someone like Smith on the roster. Without him, things look a little thin.

Smith is a veteran, who has shown he can be reliable and — assuming he’s playing a solid game — will immediately add depth to the roster.

We know that Smith fits the Rangers, and we know that he has the capacity and skill to add value on the ice.

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All he needs to do is deliver.

If Smith can turn things around, the Rangers will be far better off for it.