Updated December 9, 2021 - 4:22 am
He doesn’t read or listen or pay much attention to the chatter. That would just drive a guy nuts.
“I’d probably lose my mind,” Reilly Smith said.
That wouldn’t be good for the Golden Knights. Terrific doesn’t begin to describe what the right wing has been.
A week doesn’t pass without outside speculation that his days in Las Vegas are numbered. As a pending unrestricted free agent and with star center Jack Eichel’s massive contract on the way to play havoc with the team’s salary cap, Smith as an original member of the Misfit line is an obvious option to move.
Smith counts $5 million annually against the cap, and it might even take jettisoning another NHL-level contract to get where the team needs to be once Eichel is healthy and in the fold.
I suppose another injury or two near the trade deadline — it seems Chance is the only one not to have gone down at some point — could create some long-term injured reserve stints and solve cap issues. Maybe the Knights aren’t ever fully healthy until the playoffs.
It sure worked for Tampa Bay and the weird Nikita Kucherov guy.
But only management knows what it thinks of the option to trade Smith. The player can only try to make a statement with his game. Man, has he ever.
“You’re aware of the situation, but you can’t control the noise, so there is no sense beating yourself up over it,” Smith said this week. “After 10 years in this league, it’s easy to put all that stuff in the background.”
He entered this season with a heightened purpose to shoot more and generate offense. Smith said he wasn’t happy with his performance last season, when he managed just 25 points in 53 games during the shortened schedule.
He needed to be better. Needed to find the net more.
So as teammates and linemates and pretty much anyone you can think of continued hitting the injury shelf early this season, it was Smith who remained healthy and continued to produce. He entered Wednesday night’s game against Dallas tied for the team lead in goals (10) and has three short-handed points.
“I come in every year with a purpose,” he said. “When guys went down, I just looked at it as an opportunity to play more and do more for our team. It wasn’t just me. We had a lot of guys step up.”
He has never made this a secret: Smith wants more than anything else to finish his career in Las Vegas. Who doesn’t? Players are treated like royalty here.
He’s also 30 and said he might never again have an opportunity to play on this talented a team. Probably not.
Here’s the thing: The team that beat Pacific Division-leading Calgary 3-2 on Sunday can win the Stanley Cup. And it’s not even fully healthy yet. Eichel isn’t close to joining the team. Others are still mending.
Nobody is immune
Smith understands the business and that really good players are moved all the time. The Knights (correctly) traded fan-favorite Marc-Andre Fleury, for goodness sake. No one is immune to these things.
“There is no doubt that (trade rumors) can affect a guy,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “You never know what you’re going to get from those players. But his game doesn’t set up for that. There aren’t all the highs and lows because of Reilly’s consistency.
“He’s the perfect guy to play in a contract year.”
How much so? DeBoer said Tuesday that, without Smith, the Knights would be five fewer wins down the standings. F-i-v-e.
The chatter and noise can be deafening. Smith is human. You can’t totally block it out.
It’s just best to try when your immediate future is in the hands of others.
“If it’s my last year here,” he said, “I’m sure going to try and make the most of it.”
Better than losing one’s mind.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.