When the New York Rangers traded Brady Skjei, it solved their cap space problem. But his departure has created a hole in the lineup.
The New York Rangers needed to clear cap space in order to get their restricted free agents signed this summer. The solution they found was to trade Brady Skjei and his $5.25 million annual cap hit to the Carolina Hurricanes for a first round draft pick. While Skjei has never lived up to the promise that he showed in his rookie season, he was an important member of the defense and replacing him is going to be a challenge.
How important was he? He averaged 20:41 minutes of ice time per game, second to Jacob Trouba. He was third on the team in hits in ten fewer games. Last season he led the team in hits and led all Ranger defensemen in hits the season before. He was durable, averaging 80 games per season in his three full years in New York.
He was no slouch offensively. His eight goals and 23 points were only four fewer than the point the total for Jacob Trouba who played in ten more games. As much as many Ranger fans were happy to see him go and there is no doubt that he was overpaid, he contributed a lot. It’s no mystery why Carolina gave up a first round pick for him.
The immediate solution
When they traded Skjei, he was replaced on the top pair by Brendan Smith. David Quinn was reluctant to break up the Adam Fox–Ryan Lindgren tandem and he didn’t want to make the mistake of saddling Marc Staal with first pair minutes.
Smith was the recipient of frequent, high praise from coach David Quinn, who clearly valued Smith’s willingness to “mix it up” as he did when he took on Jamie Benn in Dallas.
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After the Dallas game, Quinn remarked on how well he thought Smith was playing . “He’s done a phenomenal job stepping in and playing defense the last two and a half weeks. I loved his puck play, his defensive mindset…there’s just so many good thing to his game right now. He’s really been a solidifying force for us back there. He steps up, he fought Benn last night, he’s really the consummate teammate.”
While Smith might have been playing well and Quinn was doing his best spinning that narrative, if anyone thinks a team with Brendan Smith on the top D-pair is going to go far in the playoffs, they have another thing coming.
While the Corsi percentage for the Trouba-Skjei pairing was almost the same as the Trouba-Smith pairing, when Trouba was with Skjei the team had 51% of the high danger scoring chances. The Trouba-Smith combo had only 36% of the high danger scoring chances when they were on the ice. Similarly, when Smith was on the top pair, the Rangers had fewer overall scoring chances.
If Smith is not the answer, who is?