Thomas Vanek says he has enjoyed his time with the Red Wings. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Vancouver, British Columbia – For the Detroit Red Wings, this situation is uncommon, for sure.
In last place in the Eastern Conference and facing a trade deadline of Wednesday at 3 p.m., the Red Wings have begun selling their assets.
On Wednesday they dealt defenseman Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers for a 2018 second-round pick (Ottawa’s, from a previous Rangers’ trade) and a 2017 third-round draft pick.
By acquiring the Rangers’ third-round draft pick in June, the Red Wings now possess 10 picks in the 2017 entry draft.
“I’m happy for Brendan, I like him, he can skate and he’s competitive, and defenseman are at a premium,” general manager Ken Holland said. “It was a tough decision. He’s 28, but I felt we’ve been trading draft picks for so long, this was an opportunity to acquire some picks.”
There could be more draft picks, and maybe other teams’ prospects, coming the Red Wings’ way, as the Red Wings still have forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott – two potential unrestricted free agents – and they seem likely to be headed out of town, as well.
“I have decisions to make,” Holland said. “We’ll see what develops. We’ll see what develops these next 24 hours.”
Smith, 28, was a 2007 first-round selection, who never quite developed into the two-way defensemen the organization expected him to be.
In 33 games this season, Smith had five points (two goals, three assists), with a minus-1 rating, while averaging over 18 minutes of ice time.
Holland and Smith’s agent had been discussing the possibility of re-signing Smith beyond this season, but Holland made it clear he would be exploring trades and would deal Smith if he received the right offer.
Which the Rangers, who’ve been struck with injuries on defense lately, provided.
“I was up front with them,” said Holland with the Smith camp. “We have traded away so many picks over the years, and I knew I had to make a decision on it (today).
“This gives us more draft picks, and we can make moves after the season to make us a better team.”
Smith expressed optimism Monday he and the organization would be able to agree on a new contract. He is an unrestricted free agent July 1, and that played significantly in the Wings’ decision to move Smith.
Smith is earning $2.75 million this season. The Rangers have reportedly already expressed interest in keeping Smith beyond this season.
“I certainly wish Brendan luck, I hope he plays well for them,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “But our focus is on us trying to win a hockey game here (in Vancouver).”
The Wings played in Vancouver Tuesday night.
Blashill and players understood management’s decision to trade Smith, and possibly dismantling the roster.
“The reality of the situation is we needed a better record,” Blashill said. “But we have 22 games left, 22 games left for us to decide what this season is going to finish like, so we have lots left.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg understood management’s decision to trade assets.
“Everyone knows the situation we’re in,” he said. “We understand. It is disappointing, everyone is disappointed about that, but we still have 22 games left here to play and we have to improve every day. We still have a lot of talent in this room and just have to play hard and we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Holland’s work could be just beginning.
Vanek, arguably one of the biggest names available before Wednesday’s deadline, is likely to be traded to a playoff contender. Vanek, also an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has 15 goals and 38 points and would provide a big boost for a team looking for offense.
“Until I get a phone call, I’ll be ready to (play),” Vanek said Tuesday. “I’ve been through it before, so there are no surprises for me.”
Vanek’s agent and the Red Wings haven’t talked about any sort of contract extension, after Vanek signed a one-year deal worth $2.6 million last summer.
“It’s a place I’ve enjoyed and my family enjoys,” Vanek said. “This season hasn’t gone the way anyone wanted but I don’t think it will take much for us to turn it around.”
Also available is Ott, a valuable penalty killer, agitator and experienced locker room presence for a contending team.
“It’s an awkward situation because this team, this franchise, has never really been around this situation,” Ott said. “Being buyers and adding pieces for so many years, maybe it caused this, but it’s also gotten four Stanley Cups.”