Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

FlamesNation player evaluation: Mike Smith

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
55 .916 .922 .889

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


  • freethe flames

    The Flames really need a succession plan. Smith needs to play no more than 55 games. The question is are either Rittich or Gilles in the succession plans or should they pursue a different alternative. We have heard from commentators that it was bad goaltending that hurt BP’s Carolina teams; is it really that much better here?

    • Stu Gotz

      freethe flames…agreed. Don’t think they can enter next season with question marks in goal. Error on the side of experienced depth…get a Carter Hutton signed that can win you most of those 30-40 games. Then when Smith retires in a year he can potentially be your #1….As well Peters needs to make the call on games played…not Smith.

  • FL?MES

    Shore up the D while playing Smith less and there is no reason he shouldn’t be a top 10 goalie this season.

    The team also needs to do a better job protecting and standing up for Smith.

  • rusty_shakleforde

    It was interesting seeing his PK save % at .889. I’m not an expert on average or expected save % for PK for goalies in the league, but is this concerning? If so, is it Smith or our penalty kill?

    • cjc

      Not sure where they got their numbers from, but Corsica gives him a .885 on the PK. Either way, that is a decent number, top half in the league if not top 10. It’s also a lot better than his xSv% (.858).

    • Honkydonk

      Smith tends to get beat with lateral passes thus power play has many of that. As he’s a big guy moving from one end to the other causes him to be late.

      His second tendency is allowing goals from the point on PP but he seems fairly solid down low.

      My money is still on Gillies as the back up. Only thing he needs to really develop further is glove high and he should be a 906 to 910 goalie.

  • HAL MacInnis

    Without a doubt, Smith is a good goalie… but what he really brought to this team was a level of compete that outshone every other player. The emotion he brought to games was some of the best the league has ever seen.

    Smith’s aggressive nature was sadly wasted on this team. An emotionless coach, like Gulutzan, will do that though. I’m hoping Peters pours the coals on that kind of intensity and we really see a team that gets fired up, win or lose.

  • Boundsy

    Mike Smith is a perennial loser. He is and was a band-AID solution. BT made a horrible mistake by not trading for M.A. Fleury last year at the trade deadline when it was voiced by Fleury that he would come to Calgary. Smith over exaggerates too many saves, and is aldo to lose of a cannon for a goalie. Stop the theatrics and just stop the puck! Also, stay in your net,, Smith causes more bad than good trying to over play the puck. Yes, we understand Brodie cannot make a break out pass and niether can Stone, but at least when they give away the puck you are in the net. More Arizona garbage that should have never been broight in. As mych as I am NOT a fan of Elliot, at least he got the Flames to the dance..

    • piscera.infada

      Last time I’ll say this (I promise). The Flames were NEVER acquiring Fleury–not for lack of trying, either. He wasn’t ever coming to Calgary. Stop beating that dead horse.

    • piscera.infada

      when it was voiced by Fleury that he would come to Calgary

      Your source for this? It was widely reported he was not willing to waive his NMC for a trade to Calgary. The Flames also tried (reportedly) no less than three times.

    • Justeen Trudope

      How about the first half of the season when he was single handedly winning the majority of flames wins? M.A Flurey was also hurt for a chunk of the season he actually played 9 games less then smith, so the flames would have actually been in a worse position. With a solid back up and a decent defensive structure I’m willing to bet you jump back on the bandwagon.

      • Boundsy

        First half? No. Maybe the first month. How many games did he lose? I do not like Mike Smith. He is and is a band-AID solution. He does not have championship pedigree. He is an average goalie playing on a team that needs well above average goaltending. Fluery was hirt at the beginning, not when his team needed him. Where was Smith during the playoff hunt? Right, hurt. Smith is also too old and was horribly mismanaged. Fleury would have come to Calgary in my opinion. This Flames fan does not believe that the Flames are capable of much eith Smith as the netminder.

        • Justeen Trudope

          So your saying that winning games at the beginning of the year doesn’t equal the same points as winning at the end of the year? Fleury had a concussion at the end of the year and missed time down the stretch to. Smith won more games by himself then he lost the team. We get it your a Knights fan all of a sudden but without a solid backup Patrick Roy couldn’t get a team to the playoffs in 46 games. With the Defencman on this team you Shouldn’t need above average goaltending

          • Boundsy

            Actually I am going for Ovi to hoist the cup. No, points are points I definitley said that wrong. Watch Fleury, not just how he plays but in interviews and what team mates and personnel say about him. He is not just a great goalie, but an amazing person. The type of player you build a team around.

          • Cfan in Van

            Boundsy, the fact that Fleury is awesome has absolutely nothing to do with Smith or the acquisition of Smith. Fleury may have been an option before the ’16-’17 season started, but certainly not this season.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      The way I remember it, Rutherford wanted the 6th overall pick, which would have meant no Chucky.

      So, if that was the case then Brad made the right call in not trading for him.

          • Boundsy

            No Kevin R, Ben Bishop was traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the LosAngeles Kings for a 4th round pick at the deadline. Bishops’ contract expired after that season and he signed in Dallas.

          • piscera.infada

            He’s speaking to when the Flames inquired as to Bishop prior to signing Elliott–before the season you’re referring to.

            In any event, the trade-deadline you speak of ran concurrently to the tear Elliott went on towards the end of that season. Yes, he ultimately collapsed in the playoffs, but I’m not sure acquiring Bishop at the trade deadline would have done much. Outside of a two-season stretch in Tampa, Bishop hasn’t been that great. I’m content he wasn’t signed to the six-year contract in Calgary that he ultimately signed with Dallas.

  • Greg

    Think you just convinced me that trading for Graubuer would be a good move. Smith is good and all, but we can take be banking on him playing 60 games heading into next season. Neither Rittich nor Gilles took a big enough step last year that we can bank on one of them coming in and playing 30+ games either.

    Graubuer would be a great target because he could definitely do 30-40 games, and possibly more if he outplays smith. And since smith has only 1 year left, he doesn’t block any prospects either… just sends a message to those guys that if they’ve got another year to finally separate themselves and show they can do it, but that a spot isn’t going to be giving to them until one of them actually does that.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        I said in another thread I’d hope they’d take Rittich + Stone (with salary retained). They have just two right-handed shot D-men one of which is UFA Carlson. I really like the idea of adding Grubauer.

      • Greg

        My bet, given they are going to lose Carlson and still have Holtby, is Brodie. And I think there’s lots of combinations around that which would work for both teams.

  • buts

    There are some proven 1A-1B goalies like Grubauer out there that should be #1 on BT’s list as no more than 50 games should be given to Smith as his body can’t take anymore of a workload. Gillies is definitely not ready for the show and Rittich is ok if your starter can play 60 – 70 but Smith can’t so Rittich is a no. Pickard is available and Bernier is a free agent….there’s work to do. Is it me or the silence from the flames on hockey related moves surprising. If vegas can do what it did in 1 year the flames should be able to re-tool considering the base BT has to work with. Lets get to work flames management!

  • Rockmorton65

    I kinda hate to be THAT guy, but what’s the plan if Smith’s game falls off a cliff? Those goalies of similar age have all started declining at significant rate.

  • Off the wall

    The Flames wouldn’t have been in a postseason race if it weren’t for Smith.

    His injury is more indicative of his poor results than his capabilities. He was our MVP throughout most of the season.
    His overuse was part of the problem. 46 games out of 55, he was on pace for 65-70 games.

    I love his fierce disposition.
    Both Smith and Byng have that special no quit personality that winners are made of.

    Smith is our #1 goalie and I’m confident he’s going to do well under Peters.

  • Korcan

    If only due to Smith’s history of getting injured and his age, i would not mind if Calgary picked up a more proven backup (I.e. Grubauer) this summer who can act as a 1b to Smith’s 1a. Otherwise, I really like Rittich and would be fine with him as backup. Were Smith 5 years younger, Rittich backing him up would not be a concern, I’m just not confident, at this stage in his development, that he can pick up the slack when Smith inevitably goes down.

  • Squishin

    Cue kirby with a childish “I hate Smith” rant.

    I don’t have too many opinions on his play one way or another. His style is unique, and I think it can be effective if he’s mentally sharp. I like how he stands up for himself.
    The main issue lies with the defensive play in front of Smith. There were too many grade A scoring opportunities against. We shouldn’t have to say “What a save!” more than once in a game, but it seemed as though it was happening three times per period. Want an easy way to rest the number 1 goalie? Stop making him work so hard.

  • rusty_shakleforde

    Hope is a dangerous temptress, but I really do think Rittich can be a #1 in this league. Obviously that’s a long shot for the vast majority of goalies, but I see a lot of similarities in style with Bobrovsky when Rittich was on his game, which is nice to see. I just hope I’m right

  • ALowry

    Smith was dynamite to start the season. This is our last year that we can rely on Smith plus backups 2A/2B. Resigning Smith after this season makes no sense, and I doubt Gillies, Rittich, or Parsons show enough this coming season to instill the club with the confidence to go with them to start the next season sin Smith, but one can hope.
    I wouldn’t mind going for someone like Hutton, but that gives me a strange Brian Elliott vibe, plus that just furthers the logjam in the AHL, unless Tre doesn’t re-up one of Gillies/Rittich.