DETROIT – The Wings view Brendan Smith as a top-four defenseman on their team.
On Monday, they gave him two more years to prove it.
The Wings re-signed Smith to a two-year deal worth $2.525 million, thus avoiding arbitration. Smith’s arbitration hearing was scheduled for a week from Tuesday, according to general manager Ken Holland.
Smith’s play was inconsistent throughout the year and a few of his mistakes were magnified more in the playoffs which prompted captain Henrik Zetterberg to take a little jab at him after a win in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said after the Wings’ 4-1 win. “He’s young, he’s still learning. He learns every game. It’s nice to see he had a bounce back game.”
Holland all but agreed.
“I thought he had a pretty good year,” Holland said. “With all young players it’s a little bit of a roller coaster, trying to figure out the league and how to play defense in the NHL. On a team trying to compete for the playoffs, sometimes the mistakes are magnified. All in all he had a good year.”
Despite his two goals and three assists in the playoffs, Smith, who had no goals and eight assists in 34 games during the regular season, was a minus-3 in 14 games.
“In college, he was playing to win,” Holland continued. “In pro hockey, you have to play safe. Young players need to learn that. He plays physical, plays with an edge and can fight. Sometimes when you compete, it backfires and the other team has a chance to score. We think he can develop into a top-four defenseman. The coach has a lot of confidence in him. He can be a minute-muncher.”
Late in the regular season Smith, who missed almost a month with a shoulder injury early in the season, found himself a healthy scratch for two straight games after Wings coach Mike Babcock wanted him to look after the puck better. Prior to his benching he had gone five consecutive games by registering a minus-1 rating.
The Wings eventually want Smith, 24, to make his way on a power play unit.
“Somewhere down the road Mike Babcock will give him time on the power play,” Holland said. “For now, Mike wants him to do more things on the defensive side of the puck.”
Smith, who was called on to play a huge role this season after the Wings lost Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (trade), was the Wings’ first round pick, 27th overall, in the 2007 draft.
The Wings’ other two restricted free agents – Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson – remained unsigned.
“They’ll be done by camp,” Holland said.