A few days ago, I saw Corey Masisak of The Athletic respond to someone who thought Ty Smith would make the opening night roster. Corey’s response was as follows:
I'm not saying this can't or won't happen, but for this to happen, one of the following probably needs to occur:— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) September 16, 2018
* An injury that will cost someone several games
* Being willing to lose Santini on waivers
* Convincing Yakovlev to go to the AHL
* Trading one of the other 6 guys https://t.co/oFklBZCsyn
I think this is probably an important conversation to have because, as I watch the Devils split squad scrimmage with the Rangers right now, it seems very possible to me that Ty Smith is one of the 6 best defenders available to the Devils. His confidence on the puck is obvious and warranted given his skating and passing ability. It’s not unreasonable to think that with Will Butcher hopefully graduating to a top 4 role, that the “Butcher” spot (sheltered minutes, stay-at-home partner, PP time) could be available for Ty.
Let’s say Smith is the 6th best defender available. That doesn’t mean he should automatically make the team. It might seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a lot of things that happen when a guy like that makes an unexpected jump to the NHL so fast.
First of all, Ty Smith is not eligible to play in the AHL due to an NHL-CHL agreement regarding players less than 20 years old. He is allow a 9-game trial without initiating his contract — if the threshold is not met, he is eligible for an entry-level slide which delays his contract (and, consequently, the expiration of the contract) another year. If a player’s contract “slides” we get to hold onto them on their ELC for and extra year (or two, if they slide twice). Due to this combination of rules, if the Devils were to hold Smith on the team for 10+ games, he would need to either play in the NHL or sit, and they would lose time off his contract by forgoing the slide.
What if the Devils just want to see him for a little bit? What’s preventing them from the 9-game “tryout”? Well, as Corey indicated in the tweet at the top of this piece, there are implications for the other players on the roster that complicate this matter. First of all, one of the reasons Santini played much of last year in the AHL was that he was the only one of the fringe-NHL defenders who was waiver-exempt. By virtue of playing a single game under an NHL contract in 2015-16, Santini’s waiver exemption is officially over. As a 2nd rounder who has already shown flashes in his 75 NHL games, I think it’s safe to say he’d be claimed. Given that, combined with his new contract, it seems unlikely that they would attempt to send him down and lose him to waivers. So he’s probably with the NHL team. Yegor Yakovlev is 27 years old and on a 1-year ELC so he actually is waiver-exempt. But there’s risk there as well because foreign players can (and Russians have) go back to their country at any moment. As an Olympic champion with 300 games at the KHL-level, it would certainly be understandable for Yakovlev to scoff at the idea of playing in the minors. If he does, the Devils would either lose him to Russia, or be forced to roster him in the NHL.
Let’s recap what the Devils defensive situation looks like, given the above information. The Devils are obviously going to have Greene, Vatanen, Severson, and Butcher on the team — we’d excpect them to play basically every game for which they are healthy. The Devils no longer have John Moore, but still have Ben Lovejoy and Mirco Mueller and new arrival, Eric Gryba. All 7 of them are waiver-eligible. You’re allowed to roster 23 playersand there must be 18 skaters (typically 12F/6D) and 2 goalies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team carry 9 D and 12 F (correct me if I’m wrong in the comments), but suffice to say it’s rare enough to not consider a legitimate possibility. Typically it’s 14F/7D so we’re actually at a roster crunch as it is.
So, assuming no injuries/trades, and assuming the Devils allocate 8 roster spots to defenders as the did at the open of last season, rostering Ty Smith would force us to expose AT LEAST one player we don’t need to in order to either a) see Ty Smith for <10 games, or b) trust him with a regular NHL role and lose year(s) off the end of his contract.
As you can see, merely being the 6th best defender available does not necessitate a roster spot for Ty Smith. That’s not to say he won’t win one, it’s just that they’d be making quite a few concessions, and displaying a boatload of trust in him if they were to do so.
Do you think Ty Smith going to make a run at a roster spot? More over, should he get the roster spot? How willing to lose Santini, Gryba, and/or Yakovlev are you? If Ty Smith were to make the team, what role would you expect him to have?
Leave your thoughts below, and thanks, as always, for reading!