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Sending Smith to Wilkes-Barre is Easy Call … Until it Isn’t

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It’s no secret that, with training camp little more than a month away, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen.

That their 2022-23 payroll will have to be pared a bit to make them compliant with the NHL’s salary-cap ceiling of $82.5 million is common knowledge, too.

Just as it is that assigning defenseman Ty Smith to their farm team in Wilkes-Barre before the regular season begins could help the Penguins deal with both issues.

Although Smith, acquired in the trade that sent John Marino to New Jersey, doesn’t have a particularly bloated contract — he’s scheduled to make just $863,333 if/when he’s in the NHL during the coming season — putting him in the American Hockey League would nudge the Penguins closer to the cap’s upper limit.

And they could do that without fear of losing him to another team, because Smith is the only one of the nine defensemen expected to compete for a spot on the major-league roster who is exempt from waivers.

Considering all of that, it might not seem like a bad idea for Smith to spend the rest of this offseason apartment-hunting in the northeast corner of the state.

There’s just one complication: The people who will construct the parent club’s roster for the coming season seem convinced that Smith might not give them the option of demoting him. That he simply will show too much talent and promise during the preseason to make a trip to the minors practical, no matter what issues might be addressed by doing so.

A member of the Hockey Operations department, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that there are scenarios under which the Pittsburgh Penguins would have no option but to send Smith down to get under the cap ceiling, but was adamant that he is expected to fill a significant role with the Penguins this winter.

Smith certainly did that for New Jersey in 2020-21, his first season as a pro. He had two goals and 21 assists in 48 games with the Devils to earn a spot on the NHL’s all-rookie team.

He took a step back last season — Smith’s ice time and responsibilities declined, and he put up five goals and 15 assists in 66 games — but Penguins officials seem confident he will rebound from that disappointing sophomore season.

The Hockey Ops staffer suggested last season was an “aberration” for Smith, and that his struggles reflected those of the team around him.

It’s also worth noting that assistant coach Todd Reirden has been praised for the way he’s been able to develop young defensemen, and Smith definitely has a skills set that can be further refined.

Precisely where Smith might fit into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense pairings isn’t clear.

He is their most skilled left-handed defenseman, and could be used alongside someone filling a role similar to the one Brian Dumoulin has with Kris Letang. However, it also is conceivable that Mike Sullivan and his staff would try him with a righty who has a strong offensive game, such as Jeff Petry.

Of course, all of that is out of Smith’s control. If he thinks at all about who his partner will be this fall, it should be with the intent of not giving the franchise’s decision-makers cause to even consider pairing him with someone who will be working in the AHL.

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Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago

For a player that has demonstrated his NHL skills over his brief career, I’d think the other players should be made to compete with Ty for playing time (not the other way around). I love Ruhwedel (I’ve posted that elsewhere multiple times) but he was here before Hextall (so he’s not a Hextall pickup). Friedman was a Hextall pickup, so is Ty. And who knows what Hextall thinks of POJ? To me, it seems like an option to send one of our $4M contracts+POJ to another team for a low round pick, insert Ty and call it done.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

Giving the pens history with younger players, thats exactly what i expect from them. They rather play guys who are vets and no ceiling instead of letting these younger players play early in the season and see what they have. Going to WB -serves a purposes, but at times they seem to keep players there to the teams detriment. I would expect no change, sadly.

Kris
Kris
1 month ago

This whole discussion still rests on what are they going to to with “where’s my helmet” boy. Man if they could move Pettersson that not opens up cap space, but should allow both Smith and Joseph playing time.
Dumoulin – Letang
Joseph – Petry
Smith – Rutta
If either falter you have Chad “Super 7th man” to take a spot. Rutta could slide to the left side as he is listed as either. Time will tell

Biggus
Biggus
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

I would rather they stop pretending that POJ is going to develop. Trade that bust for future considerations

Ethan
Ethan
1 month ago
Reply to  Biggus

How is he a bust? Gotta let the kid play before you jump to conclusions mat. Classy name by the way

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

I’d play Canadian before TY

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

Chad before TY

Alan Smith
1 month ago

Does he knock others over or clear the net area when needed! No one hits anybody other than Letang maybe! Just got to score and keep on scoring! No 2-0 score is safe when they drop back and play defense! Multi-million dollar offense makes defense slim pickings! 100 games to the Cup final they will need all the defense they can muster!

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

I think he should be given every chance to stick. I think a trade is the key to fixing their cap woes

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

With them being so close to the cap i would be surprised if they send Ty Smith down. Having affordable, younger players on the roster is just what this team needs! How they work out the roster moves will be tricky. Moving Petterson somehow is still the best option for cap relief imo, but good luck with that!

moe
moe
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Its fairly easy to move MP. trade him for a pick, futures or bundled with another player for a usable forward. He is 6.4, responsible D, with 3 yrs at 4m. Nothing to sneeze at.

Brandon O
Brandon O
1 month ago

Keeping Smith up means waiving Friedman AND Ruhwedel (no chance they waive POJ). They already have to waive one of those players to be cap compliant. Potentially losing both would kill our defensive depth. This also means Smith has impressed enough to start. They wouldn’t keep him up just to scratch him. This would be a good problem to have. Thr question is, does anyone claim Ruhwedel and/or Friedman? They will have to waive atleast 1 to be cap compliant. The only other scenario would be waiving Pettersson to play Smith. He almost certainly would clear, and this would mean… Read more »