Brendan Smith’s utterly disappointing season came to a breaking point when the Rangers placed the defenseman on waivers Thursday, which happened to be Smith’s 29th birthday.
Smith, whom the Rangers acquired from Detroit last season for 2018 second-round pick and the Blueshirts’ 2017 third-round pick, signed a four-year, $ 17.4 million contract shortly before free agency officially opened after a stellar 12-game postseason. But he has struggled mightily in 44 appearances this season, becoming a healthy scratch on multiple occasions.
And the Rangers are unsure why exactly Smith’s game has declined so steeply.
“No, not really. (No) insight on why he fell off a cliff,” GM Jeff Gorton said. “He hasn’t played well. He just hasn’t been able to find his game.”
Neal Pionk, a 22-year-old righty whom the Rangers signed last May as an undrafted free agent, was called up from Hartford and will make his NHL debut Friday against Calgary.
If Smith doesn’t get claimed by another team before noon Friday he’ll likely be assigned to AHL Hartford, where Gorton believes Smith may be able to regain his old form.
“I do, based on what we’ve seen in the past,” Gorton said. “I think Brendan’s a good player that can play physical, that is a good skater.
“But really, those elements haven’t been there this year. This is something I think at this time, it’s best for him to go on waivers, see what happens and go from there.”
“We worked with him a number of different ways and he seemed to be having a hard time to find his game,” Alain Vigneault added. “So at the end of the day, this might be a little bit drastic here, but management and coaches felt this was the right move for our team right now.”