One of the more minor needs for the New Jersey Devils in this offseason is a depth defenseman with experience. It is true that the Devils have Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Reilly Walsh in Utica. There is an argument to be made that now is the time for them to step up. There is even Simon Nemec as a darkhorse candidate to join the blueline in Newark. However, relying solely on young, inexperienced players to make up depth on defense could be a problem if the player is not ready, struggling with the NHL pace, and so forth. There’s some value to having someone who knows their job is to come in, play some third-pairing minutes, understand it is not going to be every night, and do a decent job. Someone like defenseman Brendan Smith - whom the Devils just signed to a two-season, $2.2 million contract per Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff.
I will not fault you if your first reaction to this is “Who?” because he is one of those players who has been in the league for a while but has never been exceptional enough to warrant a lot of attention. Although, he did have a big moment scoring a shorty against Our Hated Rivals in the playoffs for Carolina. Then again, Carolina shamefully lost that series so that may be in the ether of memory. Anyway, Smith is 33, shoots left, stands at 6’2”, weighs 201 pounds, and has been in the NHL since 2011-12 with Detroit. He’s played in 571 total NHL season games and 56 playoff games for Detroit, Our Hated Rivals, and most recently with Carolina for 45 season games and 13 playoffs. Veteran and experienced defenseman? Check and check.
How is Smith on the ice? Not that bad, to be honest if his recent season with Carolina is to go by. With a career total of 118 points in regular season play and a season high of 19 points, do not expect this man to provide a lot on the scoreboard. Per Natural Stat Trick, do not expect him to play a lot of minutes either given his 12:42 per game average of 5-on-5 hockey. Still, his on-ice rates were very good on a Carolina team that was really good 5-on-5 last season. Among the eight defenseman who played at least 200 minutes in 5-on-5 last season, Smith finished third in CF% (57.26%) and second in SF% (58.38%). While he was near the bottom (or at the bottom) for scoring chance, high-danger scoring chance, and expected goal percentages, the Canes were still well above 50% in all three stats with Smith on the ice and the lower percentage appears to be a function of chances by Carolina rather than opponents getting lots of them. When Smith did play for the Canes, he did get some penalty kill time and, again, the on-ice stats for those were not that bad. All together, Smith has the numbers to suggest he is a pretty good, perhaps even reliable, defensive defenseman for a third-pairing. Check.
This is very much one of those signings that is not bad at all but not much to get excited about. Smith is very much a depth player, a #6 or #7 if you will, and those are players not worthy of getting hyped for. The 33-year old Smith is not likely going to push anyone out of the lineup. If Bahl, Walsh, Okhotiuk, and so forth are truly ready for the NHL, then I think beating out Smith for minutes should not be that of a difficult bar to clear. Could the Devils have gone a little cheaper? Maybe, but I do not think a $1.1 million cap hit is particularly expensive for this role. $1.1 million is not that much money in a league where $750,000 is the league minimum. I do not know if getting a player who possibly performed much worse just to save up $350,000 would be worth it. The Devils checked the boxes in this signing for the defenseman they probably needed with P.K. Subban and Colton White hitting the market and presumably not returning. That’s fine and that’s pretty much where my reaction ends.
With this signing, General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and his team can focus on other, potentially larger moves. Whatever that will be, we shall see. In the meantime, what is your reaction to the Smith signing? Do you like it or dislike it? Will we see a Comet jump past Smith in the depth chart? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Brendan Smith in the comments. Thank you for reading.