When the Flames traded for Mike Smith, there was something they were looking for in particular: a proven starter. Ever since joining the Coyotes back in 2011-12, that’s exactly what Smith has been, with results varying from year to year: typically average, occasionally worse, elite one year.
He looked to be on track to replicate that elite year. But then the entire season played out as it did, the numbers inevitably fell, and… all in all, Smith still had a pretty good season.
2017-18 season summary
Smith played in every single game until he was injured.
That’s an exaggeration, but it certainly felt like it at times. Over the first 17 games of the season, Eddie Lack – the Flames’ designated backup – started one game. Smith was hurt for the 18th game of the season, so Lack started that one, and that was the last time he was ever seen in a Flames uniform. Things got better once David Rittich was called up and started playing games, but that may have been just because the Flames started getting more back-to-backs in their schedules; of the first seven games Rittich started, all were back-to-back scenarios.
Or, to put it another way: Smith started 46 of the Flames’ first 55 games of the season.
Then came game 56, and start 47. Well on the way to a last-minute win over the Islanders, with two seconds to go, Smith scrambled to preserve a one-goal lead and injured his groin in the process. The injury kept him out for exactly a month, leaving him to watch 13 games from the sidelines as his team fell further and further out of a playoff spot.
Before Smith was injured, he had been consistently a top 10 goalie, at worst, throughout the year, all while facing one of the heaviest workloads. After he came back he flat out sucked, and hastened the Flames’ demise.
|Games played||Save percentage||ES save percentage||PK save percentage|
The Flames would have been screwed without Smith. At the start of the season, when they seemingly couldn’t do anything offensively, he kept them in games, and allowed them to win a handful they probably shouldn’t have. Eventually, both he and the Flames hit their groove; though he was still one of the team’s MVPs, the skaters ahead of him started pulling their weight. It couldn’t last, though.
When Smith was on, he was on. Over his first 47 games of the season, he posted a save percentage above .950 in 14 of them, including two shutouts. Lower the bar to a respectable .920, and you get 26 starts that match that criteria (excluding a .919 game that doesn’t make the cut). Unfortunately, when Smith was off, he was very much off: in his first 47 games of the season, he had a save percentage below .900 14 times. He was hooked four times, only once due to injury.
In his eight games after returning from the major injury suffered against the Islanders in a desperate bid to help the Flames get back into the playoff race, Smith had a save percentage well below .900 six times. He had one heroic shutout and a good .944% effort in his season finale, though both good games came against Edmonton, a notorious bottom feeder. He was pulled due to poor performance another two times in that final stretch.
He was both the team’s saviour and its downfall, and he was absolutely overplayed.
Compared to last season
Smith played 55 games for the 2016-17 Arizona Coyotes, a team that had the third worst record in the NHL that season. He had a .914 save percentage – his average with the Coyotes was .916, so not too far off – but his team had a -63 goal differential. His even strength save percentage of .923 was pretty good, though, and about in line with how he performed this past season.
The Coyotes’ futility likely wasn’t on him, because there’s really only so much you can ask one man to do behind a lacking roster (sound familiar?).
He hasn’t had very clear career norms, though. Three times, he’s played over 60 games for a team in a single season, all for the Coyotes: 2011-12 (.930%), 2013-14 (.915%), and 2014-15 (.904%). Those years feature both his singlehandedly best season ever, one of the worst of his career, and one that was two ticks above average (his career average nowadays is .913%).
What about next season?
Is Smith an experienced veteran? No doubt; over the past seven seasons, he’s played over 3,000 minutes.
He’s also 36 years old now, though. The only goalies older than him that played in 2017-18 were Roberto Luongo (35 games), Ryan Miller (28 games), Craig Anderson (58 games), and Henrik Lundqvist (63 games). That’s not a lot, and very few have that level of endurance; basically, if the Flames’ plan is to lean on Smith for the majority of the games in 2018-19, they need to be praying he 1. doesn’t get hurt again and 2. can keep up his high level of play. Basically, they need to be praying Smith will be Lundqvist, and very few goalies are Lundqvist.
Smith has admitted that part of his problem in returning to action was mental, and with the fresh slate a new season brings, that shouldn’t be an issue for the next campaign. The physical wear and tear does warrant some concern, though – at least from those of us outsiders with no real clear idea of just how healthy Smith is now, and how healthy he’ll be in October – especially considering how disastrously his season ended.
Without any other established NHL goalies on the roster, though, the Flames may be heavily relying on Smith once again. Maybe it’ll pay off, but that might be getting a little too optimistic.
|#5 – Mark Giordano||#7 – TJ Brodie|
|#8 – Chris Stewart||#10 – Kris Versteeg|
|#11 – Mikael Backlund||#13 – Johnny Gaudreau|
|#15 – Tanner Glass||#18 – Matt Stajan|
|#19 – Matthew Tkachuk||#20 – Curtis Lazar|
|#21 – Garnet Hathaway||#23 – Sean Monahan|
|#24 – Travis Hamonic||#25 – Nick Shore|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#33 – David Rittich||#36 – Troy Brouwer|