Ben Smith is as if every part of a sculpted, granite statue of a Greek god came to life, except for the hands.
There is no denying that Smith gave everything he had to help the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. He took every assignment from Mike Babcock without hesitation, and even at one point played despite suffering a broken hand. The level of fortitude he displayed was exceptional, and it is extremely commendable to see that level of effort and dedication come from a player.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Ben Smith
In terms of on-ice value, Ben Smith was arguably the least valuable player to put on a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform last season. Inexplicably acquired via waivers in October, Smith was instantly cast into the role of fourth line centre and faceoff expert. For the duration that Smith played on the Leafs fourth line, and specifically the centre position of which he played, he was the team’s single biggest positional weakness, aside from their defence.
To say that Ben Smith’s advanced numbers are not pretty is to sugar coat things. He drove possession at a glacial pace, evidenced by his 45.5% score adjusted CF/60 rating. Such a rating places him well outside the top 360 players in the NHL. That is, uh, not good.
Yet, for a player given such a substantial amount of defensive responsibility, his ability to suppress his opponent’s possession was non-existent. Smith’s 63.4% score-adjusted CA/60 rating is so low, it literally is off the charts.
Seriously, the lowest charted rating is 57.3, which puts Smith roughly six percent lower than the lowest benchmarked rate. To quote Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed”.
Smith’s impact on his teammate’s production cannot go unnoticed either. Every single player that played at least 34 minutes with Smith over the course of the season registered a positive score adjusted CF% when playing away from him.
Replaced at the Deadline
The acquisition of Brian Boyle at the trade deadline banished Smith to the press box, where he watched his old linemates put up significantly better possession numbers without him. The Smith–led fourth-line registered a 44.9% CF/60, compared to the 51.3% rating under the leadership of Boyle. While it is unfair to compare Ben Smith to Brian Boyle, as Boyle is the far superior player, the fourth line’s sudden success without Smith is telling to the lack of value Smith brought to the team.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 198 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: Sixth Round, 169th overall in 2008 by Chicago
Contract (via CapFriendly)
The Leafs, for reasons that are beyond comprehension, re-signed Smith to a one-year, one–way, $650,000 contract this summer. With the expansion draft looming, it is believed that the Leafs chose to re-sign him in order to expose him in the draft. By having Smith signed, it opened up a protection slot for Matt Martin.
With his skill set more suited for the AHL, the one-way nature of his contract dictates that Smith will be paid $650,000 even if he is placed on waivers and sent to the AHL. While he has been claimed before, it is unlikely that another NHL team will. One look at his production from the 2016-17 season should dissuade anyone from taking a chance on him through waivers.
Smith will likely pass through unclaimed. However, the Leafs will still be required to pay him his full NHL salary to play for the Marlies.
$650,000 can be easily buried in the AHL, yet it seems like an odd decision to have Smith occupy a valuable contract spot. Paying an AHL depth player an NHL salary does not seem advantageous.
It is unclear as to what Smith’s role in the organization will be for the upcoming season. The most common thought is that he will play in the AHL, providing a veteran presence on the Marlies. The Marlies are crowded at almost every position, including centre, however. With Frederik Gauthier, Adam Brooks, Trevor Moore, Chris Mueller and, potentially, Miro Aaltonen occupying centre positions, it’s unclear as to exactly where Smith will slot on their current roster.
Gauthier will miss at least the first half of the season due to injury. His absence could open a spot for Smith in the short term. However, Gauthier is a former first round pick. Once he returns, it would be unwise for Smith to be occupying his usual centre spot. Gauthier needs no further delay in his already stunted development.
There are more questions than answers when it comes to Smith’s 2017-18 season outlook. As an AHL depth player, there are far worse options than Ben Smith.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images