By Mitch Brandner, Staff Writer | Follow him on Twitter
In the 2011 offseason, the Phoenix Coyotes signed Mike Smith to a 2-year contract. Fans groaned at the decision and proceeded to panic when Maloney said he was expected to be the starter. Experts immediately started penciling the Coyotes into the 15th spot in the West in their pre-season predictions, despite the fact that they made the playoffs the year before.
Against the odds, Smith stayed focused and went out and proved the entire hockey world wrong. He went 38-18-10 with a 2.21 GAA en route to a Pacific Division banner. When the playoffs rolled around he got even better as he posted a 1.99 GAA and a .944 save percentage. He led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals before the whole team just ran out of gas. The question that everyone is asking themselves this offseason is: fluke or real deal?
Back in the 2007-2008 season, Mike Smith was a main piece in the trade that moved Brad Richards to Dallas. Back then, Smith was a highly touted goaltender who had a ton of potential. Unfortunately for Smith and the Lightning, he was never able to find his game in Tampa Bay. Maloney, as he’s done with quite a few players in his Coyotes tenure, brought him in to try and rekindle his career.
The move was sheer genius. Sean Burke worked wonders for Smith and he was able to find his game again and put up career highs in games played and wins.
Dave Tippett is best known for his defense-first strategy and it has been a big factor in Coyotes’ goaltenders putting up big numbers. It worked for Bryzgalov and so far it has worked for Smith. Add to the fact that the Coyotes have improved on an already stingy defense core and there is no reason to believe that Smith will not be able to repeat his performance of a year ago. He’s a big man who has great lateral movement and he is without a doubt one of the best puck-handling goalies in the NHL.
The Coyotes mentality has been lock-down defense since Tippett arrived and that is not about to change. After adding one of the best shot blocking defensemen in the league in Michalek, Smith will face fewer shots this year which could drop his GAA even lower.
The Coyotes have a lot of question marks surrounding the team heading into next season, including the ownership mess and the holes offensively. Mike Smith is a competitor who does not like to lose. He will, without a doubt, give Phoenix a chance to win every night. He is not one of those question marks.