Brendan Smith's first full season in New York was challenging from the start, and on Thursday the organization opted to waive the defenseman and recalled rookie Neal Pionk for Friday's game.
"Everybody that's followed him since he's been here, there's no doubt that he has played better for us in the past," coach Alain Vigneault said of Smith. "This year got off to a slow start. We worked with him in a number of different ways, and he seemed to be having a hard time finding his game. At the end of the day, this might be a little bit drastic here, but management and the coaches felt that this the right move for our team right now."
Smith had been a healthy scratch several times during the first half of the season, most recently Jan. 7 and 13 against Vegas and the Islanders, respectively.
The 29-year-old, who arrived in New York last spring from Detroit, had a goal and seven assists in 44 games this season.
General Manager Jeff Gorton said the organization "tried some different things" to get Smith going this season, including scratching him. But ultimately, he and his staff felt this was the best option for Smith at this time after the blueliner failed to play the way Gorton and the team felt he could.
"Based on what we've seen in the past, I think that Brendan is a good player that can play physical, that's a good skater," Gorton said. "Those elements haven't been there this year. This is something that I think at this time, it's best for him to go on waivers and see what happens and we'll go from there."
Pionk, meanwhile, will get his first crack at the NHL Friday against the Flames after he practiced alongside Ryan McDonagh Thursday. The rookie, who was signed out of Minnesota Duluth last spring, also fits Gorton's desire to get younger.
"It's awesome. It's something you dream about as a kid and when you first sign the contract, it's something you think about a lot," Pionk said. "Now that it's finally here, I'm just trying to soak it all in."
Jimmy Vesey practiced on Thursday in a non-contact jersey, and said he's feeling better than he has at any point since sustaining a concussion Saturday in Nashville.
"I feel good, actually," Vesey said. "Today's the best day I've felt. I've skated the last two days, so hoping to be back soon."
Vigneault Vesey continues to follow concussion protocol, and would need at least one full contact practice before rejoining the lineup.