Each day over the next month or so, we’re taking a look back at the season that was by going through each player’s season. After Scott took a look at rookie sensation Dylan Larkin yesterday, I dive into Brendan Smith’s tumultuous 2015-16 season.
Smith’s name seemed to frequently surface on the trade market during the 2014-15 season, but he ultimately stayed with the Red Wings and signed a two-year extension last July. When Mike Green was added through free agency, Smith was knocked down a spot on the depth chart, but it took six months to realize how far he had really fallen.
The 2007 first round pick was the Red Wings’ fifth highest paid defenseman, but often found himself as a healthy scratch, particularly at the end of the regular season and the beginning of the 2016 playoffs.
Chart via Own the Puck
Smith’s ‘Hero Chart’ has the look of a sure-fire top-4 NHL defenseman with top-pairing upside, but head coach Jeff Blashill utilized him as a bottom-pairing defenseman for the majority of the season. Smith averaged 17:36 TOI per game, which ranked sixth among Red Wings’ defenseman. Alexey Marchenko was the only Red Wings’ regular who saw less ice-time per game on the Detroit blueline.
Data via. NHL.com
In 2009-10 Smith recorded 52 points (15G / 37A) in 42 games at the University of Wisconsin and Red Wings fans thought they had an offensive stud in the system. Now four full years into his NHL career, Smith has a career high of 19 points, but is coming off of his best points-per-game season. The 27-year-old had 15 points (3G / 12A) in 63 games, good for 0.238 points per game, which is nothing close to what many people expected five years ago. His offensive game may not be where the Red Wings hoped it would be, but he brings a physical style of play that their blueline seriously lacks.
Data via: cosica.hockey
Smith was the Red Wings’ best possession driving defenseman, leading the group in both CF% (56.93) and CF%Rel (7.67), meaning the Red Wings possessed the puck much more when he was on the ice than off of it. Analytically, Smith drove the most offence from the Red Wings’ blueline, leading them in CF60, but was also very strong in his own end posting a CA60 of 44.09. When you look at his numbers from this standpoint it seems nearly impossible to figure out why he was sitting in the press box on at the end of the year.
Some of those strong possession numbers can also be attributed to Smith starting 60.75% of his shifts in the offensive zone, versus someone like Danny DeKeyser, who started in the defensive zone nearly 15% more.
Data via: cosica.hockey
Smith’s possession driving impact resulted in significantly more goals when he was on the ice than when he was sitting on the bench. His 54.93 GF% and 7.07 GF%Rel led all Red Wings’ blueliners by a mile. He was equally as strong in his own end, leading all active Red Wings’ defensemen with a 2.03 GA60, especially when you look at his on-ice SV% sitting .922, which is second lowest—it pails in comparison to Jonathan Ericsson’s .933.
Data via: war-on-ice.com
The trend continues, the Red Wings were way better with Smith on the ice. Detroit had 55.71% of the scoring chances when Smith was on the ice, but as soon as he was on the bench they were looking at just 49.07% of the chances. With Smith on the ice, the Red Wings averaged just under six more scoring chances than their opponent per 60 minutes. Once again, the best among all Red Wings’ blue liners.
If the playoffs were any indication, the Red Wings need to overhaul this blueline and Smith will once again be one of the most sought after Red Wings by opposing teams. Kyle Quincey may have played his final game in Detroit, which moves Smith back up on the depth chart.
Smith arguably fits Blashill’s system better than any other defenseman on the roster and after you dive into the underlying numbers, he should play a much larger role in 2016-17. However, if 2015-16 was any indication, he will be vastly under-utilized.
Smith is capable of being a 25-30 point scorer, but his limited power-play role (0:36 PP TOI/GM) hinders his ability to surge past 30 points. Until he starts seeing more ice-time, expect to continue modest 15-20 point production from Smith. There is a lot to like about his game, it’s a matter of proper deployment at this point.
It was a disappointing year for Smith, but to little fault of his own. He was not given a fair shake, especially towards the end of the season. If there is any truth to the “Swedish Mafia” story, that could be the reasoning behind his benching, but there should be no question that Smith is a better defenseman than Ericsson.
It would be a mistake to trade Smith, but if any of their current seven defensemen does get dealt, it would likely be the 27-year-old, apparent analytics darling.
This might be a questionable grade, but he did as much as he could with the chances he was given. He set a new career-high in points per game and played well in the playoffs, despite sitting for the first two games of the series.