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Come July 1st, the Devils will be looking for defense, and it comes during an offseason where there aren’t a ton of upper-echelon defenseman available for New Jersey. Last week I wrote about Michael Stone being an option for the Devils in free agency, but would be best if they stayed away from him. Another option that would make much more sense would be Brendan Smith, who finished the season with 9 points in 51 games between the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.
Smith’s numbers may not be eye-popping, but there are a couple of things he does very well.
Although he may not score a ton, Smith’s numbers at 5-on-5 are very impressive. Over the last four seasons, he has a 54.3% Corsi For, which is good for eighth best in the league for defensemen with 1500+ minutes. On top of his good possession numbers, he’s also great at preventing scoring chances. Over the last three seasons, Smith has given up 23.2 scoring chances per 60 minutes (via Natural Stat Trick). For comparison’s sake, the Devils best defenseman, Damon Severson, averaged 26.7 scoring chances against per 60 over that time span. While Smith may not be racking up points, he’s doing his fair share to help his team when he’s on the ice by driving possession and limiting his opponent’s shots and scoring chances.
Speaking of limiting shots, a big reason for Smith’s success at 5-on-5 are his shot suppression numbers, which are some of the best in the NHL. Over the last four seasons, Smith has given up an average of 45.8 shot attempts against per 60 minutes when he’s on the ice; the second-best mark in the league for defensemen with 1500+ minutes. Because of those great shot suppression rates, the teams Smith has played for have been significantly better with him on the ice. He has a relative Corsi For% of +4.3%, which is the third-best mark in the league over the last four seasons.
The biggest knock on Smith’s game would be his offensive output. He’s averaged 0.66 points per 60 minutes the last four seasons and his career high for points is 19 (2013-14). Despite only having 9 points this past season, he’s been in double figures in each of the last two, and has averaged 18.3 points per 82 games for his career. While he may not be an impact offensive defenseman, he does enough to be effective, but don’t expect him to be a 40-point player.
Smith may not be Kevin Shattenkirk, but he may be the most under-the-radar name in this crop of UFA defensemen. When Smith was traded from Detroit to New York, it was rumored he was looking for a three-year extension worth $3 million a season, which is very reasonable. However, Larry Brooks, of the New York Post, reported two weeks ago that Smith may be looking for a 4-5 year deal worth $4 to $4.5 mil a season. There’s not much problem with that term, but going over $4 million a year might be a bit much for someone who isn’t a major contributor offensively.
That being said, Smith is a very effective defender. If he is willing to sign for 4-5 years with a cap hit of around $3.5-$4 million, I would sign him in a heartbeat. He averaged 19:15 minutes of ice time in 2016-17 and has averaged over 18 for his career. He’s one of the best shot suppressing defenseman in the league, can log a lot of minutes and play a top-four role if needed. He’s also only 28-years old, so he’s just in the prime of his career. If he hits the open market, he’d be a major upgrade for the Devils blue line.
All advanced stats are from Hockey Analysis, unless noted otherwise.