This story cannot be told without first giving the reader a little bit of background on what the Coyotes have been going through the last couple of years. First off, the NHL has owned the team since 2009 because the original owner Jerry Moyes, had driven the team into bankruptcy. Moyes tried to sell the team to new ownership that wanted to relocate the team to Ontario, but that failed. It was rumored that the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers and their move to Winnipeg, the Coyotes original home, was put through to cover some of the Coyotes losses.
I think I might have talked about this before in another blog, but the Coyotes even with severe financial problems have been a playoff teams for quite a number of years. The problem has always been getting people to the regular season games. The Coyotes have continued to have one of the lowest average attendance in the NHL. This has really pissed off the people in Atlanta because Gary Bettman said, "We will fight hard to keep team in their current locations," (paraphrasing) but it seems that the NHL has fought much harder to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona.
Now that you have some idea of what has been going down in the desert, let's talk about how Mike Smith arrived in Phoenix. Smith would have never arrived into Phoenix but the former goalie Bryzgalov was traded to Philadelphia after the team and the player could not agree on a new contract. Bryzgalov was also quite vocal about his concerns that the team might return to Winnipeg, and he said, "It's too cold there." Smith, who left Tampa Bay would get his first starting job in Phoenix.
Smith who was the back up in Tampa Bay would have to take a huge pay cut to stay there. At the time of leaving Tampa Bay, Smith called it, "The hardest decision I ever had to make in hockey." He had been with the Lightning for 4 years, he had moved his family down to Tampa Bay. He just had his first child during all of this turmoil in his hockey career. He need to take this step though, he needed to become a starter, after spending so much of his career as the back up.
This has turned out to be a great decision to leave Tampa Bay for both the Coyotes and for Mike Smith. He started 67 games this year, before that the most games he played was 42. Smith posted 8 shut outs this season, that is almost more then all of his NHL years combined (9). His goals against average 2.21, is the best of his career. Not to mention his save percentage of .930 is also the best of his career. His 38 wins this season is 24 more wins than his previous career best. Face it, the guy is have a career year in the desert.
|Mike Smith's Goalie Mask|
To give you a better idea of where Smith is compared to his peers, his goals against average was good for 7th in the NHL this season. That save percentage of .930 tied him for third in the NHL with Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. The career high 8 shut outs also ties him for third in the NHL, with Lundqvist. So, I think you can get the picture from the stats, that not only is Smith having a great year compared with his own career he is having a great season compared to the rest of the NHL goalies.
Mike Smith's story is comparable to many veterans that are finally getting the opportunity to be a starter and seizing the moment. We can only hope that he continues to play at a high level, after he loses to the Chicago Black Hawks, just kidding. Season in the Sun, seriously wishes him all the best, because he is a great story for the NHL, in a city that has been a real thorn in the side of the NHL. You can see Mike Smith in action, Game 2 of the Phoenix - Chicago series is Saturday, April 14th at 10:00 EST.