Subtracting Brendan Smith Would Be New Jersey Devils’ Biggest Addition

Letting Brendan Smith walk in free agency would boost the New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup odds more than any other move they make this summer.
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages

Defenseman Brendan Smith will be an unrestricted free agent when the new NHL year starts on July 1, 2024, free to sign with any of the 32 NHL teams. He’s been on a small hot streak as the Devils season winds down, with 5 points in his last six games.

There have been some who have advocated for the Devils to resign Smith this summer. With all due respect, anyone who advocates for Brendan Smith to be re-signed by the Devils hasn't been watching the same hockey as us.  

Re-signing Smith would be a catastrophic failure, one that would signal that the Devils have no clue how to assess the flaws that led to their disastrous 2023-24 season. It would be a DEFCON 1 signal that the Devils are doomed to repeat their failures next year. They would be better off letting him sign with any of the other 31 teams in the league. 

By pretty much any statistical measure, Brendan Smith was one of the worst players on this year’s Devils team. Unless otherwise noted, stats referenced are from

He ranked last among defenseman on the team in xGF%. Among NHL defenseman with at least 300 minutes of ice time, Brendan Smith was 175 out of 244 in xGF%.

He frequently sent his team to the penalty kill by taking completely unnecessary penalties because of his lack of positioning or lack of skill, or both. He took the most penalties per 60 and the second most minor penalties per 60 on the team.

Even his supposed prowess at the penalty kill, long used by his supporters as justification for why he should be in the lineup, regressed this season. Smith was just 11th out of 18 skaters on the Devils in xGF% percentage on the penalty kill.

The Athletic had Brendan Smith at a -8 Net Rating on the year, tied for the worst on the Devils with Nathan Bastian and Jonas Siegenthaler. This measure takes into account all aspects of a player’s on-ice contribution. The Athletic assessed that Smith is about eight goals worse than the average player across an 82-game season. 

For a snapshot of how impactful replacing Brendan Smith would be, Curtis Lazar was exactly a league-average player by this model. Replacing Brendan Smith with a league-average defenseman would be comparable to trading Curtis Lazar for Tim Stutzle (+8 Net Rating).

Yes, the Devils must trade for or sign a 1A goalie to pair with Jake Allen. Yes, having a competent goaltending tandem will help the Devils defense rebound from an all-around horrendous year. But no move will have a bigger positive impact than ridding themselves of the anchor that is Brendan Smith’s on-ice contributions. 

Smith does not even have a path to top-six minutes next season with all Devils defensemen returning healthy. The top six is likely to contain some combination of Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, and Kevin Bahl. That would leave Smith vying for 7th defenseman duties with a host of other Devils RFA and UFAs (Santeri Hatakka, Nick DeSimone).

Ideally, the Devils would be in the market for another top-four D— a move that would allow them to shift Bahl down the lineup or possibly look to trade Marino. Top UFA defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere and Brady Skjei are probably out of their price range with pending Mercer and Luke Hughes extensions, but others like Sean Walker or Brenden Dillon may be available.

But even re-signing Hatakka (53.04 xG%) or DeSimone (51.47% xG% since being claimed by the Devils off waivers) would be a vast improvement over going back to the Brendan Smith well at age 35. 

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, putting Brendan Smith in the Devils lineup over and over again and expecting him to look like an NHL-caliber defenseman is textbook insanity. Please stop the madness.