Ty Smith’s impressive performance could be one of the best things to happen to the Pittsburgh Penguins when training camp opens next month.
Unless it’s one of the bad ones.
Smith, from New Jersey in John Marino Trade was one of nine NHL-caliber defensemen on the Penguins’ depth chart last month, and one of the most talented, offensively.
He is also the only player eligible to be assigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. There’s no telling if he’s the only one asking to receive a reduced salary ($70,000) in the minors compared to his NHL salary ($863,333).
Given that the Penguins are not required to have more than seven defensemen on the opening night roster and must balance a seven-figure salary cap before the start of the regular season – exactly how far over the salary cap they are depends on which players are projected to be in the NHL when the regular season begins – Smith At least for now, it’s an obvious candidate for download.
He certainly wouldn’t be the first young player to be assigned to the AHL — if not entirely — because he didn’t need to go through fouls to get there. That’s a good option for the front office when dealing with the pressures of actually trimming the roster or meeting the salary cap.
But it may not be as easy as it first seems. Especially if Smith didn’t let it happen.
Which is totally possible.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, after all, didn’t trade for Smith because they believed he could be a good guy when they were/are facing some tough decisions on the regular season roster. (Although that should have been a nice plus Ron Hextall.)
An excellent skater with strong offensive skills, he played well in 2020-21 to claim a spot on the NHL’s All-Rookie Team.
He’s still a work in progress at 22 years old, and at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he doesn’t provide any size or muscle the Penguins defense could use, but he has the ability to do it. At a high level for a long time.
Since, probably when he reports to camp.
Which could certainly complicate things for management if Hextall doesn’t sell a defenseman or two by then.
If Smith establishes himself as one of the Penguins’ three best left-handed defensemen — especially if he does so by a wide margin — sending him to Wilkes-Barre falls somewhere between mismanagement and malpractice. Competition for competition competition.
In more than a few groups Eastern Conference They’ve made significant strides this offseason, and any personnel move that costs the Penguins even a point or two could have dire consequences come playoff time.
There’s also the issue of the long-term ramifications an unauthorized trip to a minor could have on Smith’s development.
Now, Smith, who has never played in the minors, can use such a demotion as motivation, motivated to prove that sending him down was an error of judgment by the front office and coaching staff.
Then again, it could make Smith doubt his own abilities, a lack of confidence in the abilities that made him such an attractive addition.
Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll react too badly, but if the guy is projected to contribute significantly to your team for years to come — and if he’s eligible to do so by the start of 2022-23 — why take the risk?
Finding qualified players anywhere is a good problem to have for those building a roster. It’s far preferable to fill positions with guys whose hockey skills are better suited to, say, a drive-thru window.
Smith is definitely not one of the latter, and if the Pittsburgh Penguins are lucky, they will have a decision to make in early October. Or, more to the point, just leave them one logical step.