NHL trade grades: Rangers acquire Reilly Smith from Penguins

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers were very quiet for the first few hours of NHL free agency. With several of the top right-wing options already off the table by 12 p.m. ET, even more came off the board in the opening frenzy, leaving the Rangers in a tough spot to fill their biggest hole this offseason.

General manager Chris Drury sought to address the problem via trade instead, acquiring Reilly Smith from the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a 2027 second-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick.

After coming up short in the Eastern Conference Final despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy in the regular season, Drury has taken an aggressive approach to the offseason, waiving veteran forward Barclay Goodrow and seeking to trade captain Jacob Trouba in order to free up salary cap space.

With a glaring hole on the right side of the top line next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider and some disappointing postseason performances by New York’s stars, Drury was creative in trying to fill the hole.

Related: Have the Rangers found their Barclay Goodrow replacement in NHL free agency

Grading the Rangers trade for Reilly Smith

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Who won the Reilly Smith trade? Let’s break it down.

New York Rangers: B-

With names like Jake Guentzel, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Marchessault and Tyler Toffoli popping up as potential free-agent targets for the Blueshirts in the days leading up to Monday, trading for Smith feels like an anti-climactic result.

Granted, Guentzel (seven years, $9 million AAV), Stamkos (four years, $8 million AAV), Marchessault (five year, $5.5 million AAV) and Toffoli (four years, $6 million AAV) all got large contracts that would’ve been tougher to fit given the Rangers’ current cap construction. Smith comes at a far better price, but it’s less of an upgrade as well. Kane

The Vegas Golden Knights traded Smith after six seasons and plenty of success with the franchise to Pittsburgh for a third-round pick last offseason. He reportedly didn’t like Pittsburgh and struggled, falling off to 13 goals and 40 points in 76 games this past season.

He’s a clear upgrade over the top-line right wing options New York ran out last season, which included Jack Roslovic, an aging Blake Wheeler, and Kaapo Kakko. However, it’s not necessarily a move that fundamentally changes the projection of the first line.

Smith doesn’t grade out great at even strength, something Kreider and Zibanejad struggled at regardless of who lined up on the right. He’s surpassed 20 goals and 50 points once in the past four years, putting up 26 goals and 56 points in his final season in Vegas. Of course, that’s the season he helped lead the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup.

As he readies for his age-33 season, an uptick in production shouldn’t be counted out, but it’s not something the Rangers can necessarily bank on.

He’ll provide a better look as a legitimate top-six option, but ultimately, the Blueshirts will still have to rely on Zibanejad to drive the line’s play, something he struggled to do at even strength last season.

There’s only one year remaining on his contract at 25 percent retained, meaning he’ll hit the books with a $3.75 million AAV. That’s good for the Rangers, especially when you consider how many wingers got over $5 million annually on long-term deals when free agency opened. The one-year term is key too because the Rangers need as much space as possible beginning next year when expensive extensions for Igor Shesterkin, Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller must be negotiated.

At the moment, there’s still room for the Rangers to upgrade ahead of the trade deadline next season, so perhaps Drury waits until March for a major addition. As it stands now, they’ve got a reliable option for their top six, but it’s not one that’s likely to take their game to a whole new level.

A solid two-way player, Smith could also be a third-line forward for the Rangers if someone like Brennan Othmann or Kaapo Kakko steps up to grab that top-line role.

Pittsburgh Penguins: B+

The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins being sellers is an unusual sight, but one that makes sense given their current outlook. Crosby continues to produce at an All-Star level, but Malkin has lost a step and they just don’t have enough cap space remaining to keep up with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, it seems Pittsburgh is content to sell off pieces for future capital when it makes sense. This is one of those situations where it makes sense — though they did add former Rangers forward Kevin Hayes this past weekend.

Smith was not a good fit with the Penguins for whatever reason so moving him was the prudent move.

The Penguins retain $1.25 million, but they landed a pair of picks and move on from an unhappy player. By retaining some money, the Penguins probably got an extra pick or one in a higher round than if they didn’t help out with salary retention.

Plus, it’s a positive net after they gave up just a third-rounder to acquire Smith last offseason. The Penguins likely aren’t making the playoffs this season, but losing Smith won’t put them in the gutter. All things considered, they got pretty good value out of a rather expendable player.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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