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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Does Mike Smith fit as part of a tandem?

Pending unrestricted free agent Mike Smith says he’d like to be back with the Flames next season. On the surface, bringing Smith back on a short, affordable deal seems like a viable option, especially with how he performed down the stretch and in the playoffs. Smith would have to be part of a tandem with David Rittich, though, who is younger and has a higher ceiling at this stage.

Based on a few things said at the end of the season, and how he’s historically performed with a smaller workload, I’m uncertain Smith is an ideal fit to be part of a timeshare.

Is it a mutual fit?

The one thing we know for sure is Rittich needs to be part of the equation next season. He’ll turn 27 this summer and presents Calgary’s best chance at a long-term number one, which is something they haven’t had since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.

Nothing against Smith, but Rittich has to be the priority going forward; he’s more than a decade younger and gives the Flames a shot at something they haven’t had in six seasons. That’s where things get complicated, because I get the feeling Smith has his eye on being a number one again next year, or at least being in a position to compete for that type of gig.

“I think you always want to be the guy,” Smith said at locker clean-out last week. “I’m a competitive guy, I’ve played a lot of games throughout my career, and you always want to play. That’ll be something that’ll be talked about. Ritter had a great season this year. Both guys want to play, so it’s a good problem to have.”

There’s nothing wrong with both guys wanting to play; internal competition is nice to have and theoretically pushes both goalies to be better. But if there’s an expectation to play a certain amount of games, or a frustration when that doesn’t happen, things can get difficult.

“I think after All-Star break I played some of my best hockey and most consistent hockey I had all season,” Smith said. “I think, to be honest, I probably didn’t handle not playing as well I should have. I probably wore it a lot harder than I needed to and it probably affected the way I played early on in the season.”

None of this is to say Smith wouldn’t be perfectly fine in a timeshare scenario, especially if other options don’t pan out. If that were the case, I think it’s something Rittich would be open to, because he spoke glowingly about his partner last week.

“When I came here I was so lucky he (was brought in by) the Flames last year,” Rittich said. “I can see him in the net and in practice and in the game. Every time when something happened to me in the game, if it was bad or good, he was always there for me to try to help me.”

By all accounts, Rittich and Smith were able to form a really strong bond despite all the outside noise throughout the year, which is something to keep in mind. Smith admitted he learned a lot this season, so perhaps he could be in a better spot to accept a tandem role for 2019-20. I may be somewhat skeptical, but I’d approach another year of a Rittich/Smith duo with an open mind.

All about volume

The other thing to keep in mind is Smith’s performance when he’s not playing all the time. Smith has a reputation of being more effective when seeing a high volume of starts and a high volume of shots. For the purpose of this article we’ll focus on the former over his career, which is tracked below (in the “GS%” column).

Season Team(s) GS GS% SV%
2006-2007 Dallas 18 30.0 0.912
2007-2008 Dallas/Tampa 32 39.0 0.901
2008-2009 Tampa Bay 40 48.8 0.893
2009-2010 Tampa Bay 36 43.9 0.900
2010-2011 Tampa Bay 20 24.4 0.899
2011-2012 Phoenix 67 81.7 0.930
2012-2013 Phoenix 34 70.8 0.910
2013-2014 Phoenix 61 74.4 0.915
2014-2015 Phoenix 61 74.4 0.904
2015-2016 Phoenix 32 39.0 0.916
2016-2017 Phoenix 55 67.1 0.914
2017-2018 Calgary 55 67.1 0.917
2017-2018 Calgary 40 48.8 0.898

While not a perfect science, it is interesting to see four of Smith’s five best statistical seasons come with him seeing 67.1% of his team’s starts or more. Likewise, four of Smith’s five worst years have come when he’s started less than half of his team’s games. The same trend popped up when looking at how things played out in 2018-2019 specifically.

Smith had a horrid month of October despite starting the bulk of those games, so we’ll leave that out of our sample size. It was at the beginning of November when Rittich started seeing more action, while Smith’s workload picked up again following the team’s All-Star/CBA break.

Stretch GS GS% SV%
October 30 – January 22 15 38.5 0.888
February 1 – April 19 21 58.3 0.914

As you can see, Smith was significantly better when he got the net at a higher rate. Smith started 15 of 39 games between October 30th and the break and struggled; that’s in stark contrast to how he played down the stretch, where he started 21 of Calgary’s final 36 contests (including playoffs).

Again, this is anything but iron clad science, but it gives some statistical backing to a reputation that’s already out there. It definitely adds to my uncertainty about whether Smith is an ideal fit for a 1A/1B type situation, or the more traditional one-two split.

Conclusion

I’m not trying to paint Smith with a selfish brush by any means. In fact, it’s just the opposite: he’s a proven veteran that believes he can play number one minutes at this stage of his career. The way Smith performed down the stretch and in the playoffs suggests he might be right. I don’t know if Smith’s turnaround this season will be indicative of the future, but I’m not going to write it off, mainly because of how driven and competitive he is.

What I do know, though, is Rittich needs to be in a tandem situation next season, at the very least; there’s too much promise and potential to not give him that shot. Whoever he ends up being paired with, Smith or otherwise, needs to be okay with an even split at best, or possible being clearly second on the depth chart.

If Smith is ready to embrace a role like that, I believe he’d be a good fit to return on an affordable, one-year deal. If he’s not, I wouldn’t begrudge him one bit; Smith has had a strong career and has earned the right to find what he believes is an ideal fit as a UFA. If he’s looking for a shot to get true number one minutes, though Calgary probably isn’t that situation.

  • Just.Visiting

    I love Smith’s compete level. The downside of that after he played better down the stretch and in the playoffs is the likelihood that he still sees himself as “the guy” for at least one more year. Our window, on the other hand, is such that I’d move on from Smith and see what we have with BSD and look for a suitable backup.

  • 谢谢兄弟,我爱你

    I really don’t think you can pull out any pattern from the GS % vs SV% table. His worst 4 seasons were under 40 games, but his next worst was 61 games which is only 6 games short of his career high. His 3rd best season came with less than 40 games too. If you were to plot that table, I don’t think you’d see a pattern. And, when you looked at this season, you took out about 1/6 of the data. None of that analysis is worth the code this website is run on.

  • Chucky

    When Rittich was hot his positional play was exceptional, the more he wandered from his net and played the puck like an extra defenseman the worse he got. The return of Smith would be a signal that the Flames will have an exciting season featuring breakaways for and empty net goals against, huge rebounds and spectacular saves.
    After this year’s early exit I would prefer to see a much tighter defensive strategy and sound positional goaltending tandem with the expectation that this approach is better suited to the playoff game.

    • MiamiRedhawks

      resigning Smith scares me in the fact that the flames will role into next year with one game plan and won’t alter it. Teams have figured the flames out. You are completely right about Rittich needing to stay in net. When he has to play BP’s aggressive system, he’s not a fit. Smith is. I have an idea that they should utilize Smith or a puck handler for one system, then use Rittich for another. That would make the flames very dangerous.

      • Loud_voices

        They actually already do this Wether it’s planned or not. When Rittich plays, the team tends to hold the box position in the d zone and block way more shots than when Smith is in net. When Smith is out there, the wingers are way slower to get back because they are waiting for the 100ft pass.
        Smith himself changes the dynamic of the team because of the way he plays, the amount of zone possessions he denies the opposing team is actually ridiculous when you count them.

  • oilcanboyd

    David Rittich is still an unknown. If a veteran like Smith isn’t signed to be part of a tandem, then you are relying on BSD to carry the load…and we don’t necessarily know that he can do that.

  • Kevin R

    Patty, I mentioned this on the mailbag thread but I think Leafs/Flames have a pretty interesting fit. Brodie & Gilles for Kadri & Sparks. Sparks probably had a year to forget & desperately needs a change of scenery. Would be an interesting backup for BSD.

      • cjc

        Dubnyk? His only wart was that he played for Edmonton. As soon as he made it out his life went back to normal (save a 2 game stint in Nashville). Edmonton traded the guy after he struggled for a half season, but before that he was great for them.

  • slapshot444

    Goaltending is such an absolute crap shoot. Last night McElhininney stepped up for Carolina in relief. I would have said never in a million years. You would have thought the Sharks were rock solid with the paid of Jones and Dell but guess what, that isn’t so. If you look at the rosters around the league some of the back ups are almost unheard of. I’m guessing that we will see Smith move on, I just cant see him getting better or at least holding steady as he gets older. Bad will be the starter for sure and likely a new back up good for 20 regular season games. Meanwhile they can dabble in grooming what we have; Schneider has potential.

    • oilcanboyd

      Too much reliance on BSD to carry the load. A slump or an injury (a Dec 31 injury bothered him the rest of the season?!) and the Flames could be humped…
      Be careful how you want the goalie situation to be playout. Posters and bloggers on FN said goaltending was a problem before the season started and during the season.

      Babcock was really pissed that Dubas dumped McElhenny and so Sparks became the number 2 goalie.
      How does Peters feel about BSD and Smith?? Are Peters and Tre on the same page wrt the goalies?

    • Loud_voices

      It’s not about Smith getting better… he’s already a proven #1 goaltender, it’s about him staying in shape and being consistent… We already know he’s good enough… He has over 500 games of NHL experience. I think the only way Smith moves on is if Calgary chooses to go a different way in net, or if they offer him too little money. For the first time in Mike Smiths career he’s finally on a solid team that has a bright future…. He has a chance to win the cup here and I think he knows that. So I think he will stay as long as he gets the right deal.

  • BendingCorners

    If Smith is still looking for a job during training camp, and if Gillies looks really bad, then Treliving might resign Smith. But his plan two years ago was to use Smith as bridge until Gillies was ready, and in the last part of this season Gillies finally started looking like the goalie they thought he was before his hip surgery. BT may change his mind of course, but I think that is still his plan going forward.

    • oilcanboyd

      On Sportsnet Central at Noon Burkie stated that Gillies was NHL ready and that was before Gillies really picked it up; one man’s opinion but let us find out at training camp…

    • Albertabeef

      You can’t really use AHL stats on a crappy team anyways, which the farm team have been the last 10 years. Put a solid D in front of Gillies at the NHL level and he might just prosper.

  • sathome

    Does Smith play better when he gets to play more, or does he get to play more when he plays better? I’m not sure you can tell the difference from looking at it like this.

    • ngthagg

      Exactly. Without further evidence one way or the other, I would assume Smith gets playing time because of better play, since every coach in the league will ride a hot goaltender. I’m not sure how you’d prove the opposite.

  • SouthernFlame

    I would have pulled Smith and Neal in game 4. Yes Smith was a beast but the way we were playing and the way the Avs switched up their play Rittich would have been a better fit. The flopping around after a save scares me. Like some of you have said Smith is good to move the puck up the ice when it’s dumped in the zone. Smith is not a long term solution and may not even be a temporary one. Plus with signing of that Russian I’m pretty sure we are not gonna sign Smith next year.

    • Just.Visiting

      The flopping around is so frequent that we call it the “scorpion” in my house. Even if we had made it past the first round, it was inevitable that we were not going to be able to ride Smith deep.

    • oilcanboyd

      Signing of the Russian KHL goalie is not a replacement for Smith. Oilers signed Koskinen as a replacement for Talbot..signed him long term small sample size and look how that turned out. The KHL goalie is on a look see low risk contract.

  • Toma41

    Smith moved the puck well in game 1. After that Colorado found out how to stop that. MacKinnon said so on camera game 3 or 4. Rittich should have been put in right after that.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Wow, amazing work Patty. What a good read. I always wondered if Smitty was just pouting this season because he wasn’t playing enough. There’s my answer. Jon has a one way deal next year, he’s gonna have to be waived to be sent back the the A. I wonder if Tre will just swing for an FA goalie in the off season .

  • IggyGirl

    NO
    DO NOT bring Smith back. People are quick to forget how many soft ones he let in last year. He also gave up 17 in 4 in the playoffs. Give big save dave the net.

    • Albertabeef

      Do you really blame him? Seeing an average of 50 shots a game, I think he stood tall and actually gave the team a chance. Can’t blame the goalie for 50 shots per game.

  • Jobu

    Never liked:
    the signing,
    the flopping,
    the wandering behind his net,
    the inconsistency,
    the death stares he gave his defensemen on screens,
    the gigantic five-hole,
    the constant shrugging of shoulders,
    the constant looks to the heavens,
    the fact that Rittich didn’t get his chance to play in the playoffs (though injury sounded like a part of it).

    The only thing Jobu did like was the toughness, but your goaltender is the one player on the ice that doesn’t need to be tough.

    Time to move on. Thanks for the effort and the memories, Smitty!

  • UpTkachuk

    Time to move on…
    Rittich should enter camp this fall as the number one. Let whoever is signed to contract or drafted have a chance to become the backup. Flames need the dollars from Smith’s expired contract to sign a certain UFA (or two) to a deal.
    Not just the Flames, but all teams, tend to play a tighter, structured (defensive) game around a less experienced netminder.
    Gillies, Parsons, Zagadulin and Schneider – all should have the chance to prove they have what it takes to play in the NHL.
    The Flames did NOT have the best goaltending in the league, but ended up in 2nd overall with solid team numbers that didn’t depend solely on one aspect of their game.
    How great would it be if the solution was already part of the organization?

    • MiamiRedhawks

      Don’t think the solution is part of the team. Won’t be surprised if 1 or 2 of them don’t get moved to clear up the ahl goaltending. I would like the team to be able to adjust and play more defensive minded, we would be watching them play SJ. Not only that, the numbers would improve and then I could see Rittich posting Vezina numbers. He was hung out to dry too much, esp after the all star break.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Here are a couple of crazy ideas.

    Fro and Hanifin for Sanheim. Doesn’t hurt to have two Travis’s on the top 4.

    TJ and Jank for Kadri and their 2nd. Leafs need help on the top 4 and Jank can toggle with Gauthier for 3/4 c. Kadri adds a bit of ruggedness to our roster and support for Backs. Sanheim, Ras, and Ham are our RD.

    Let’s do it Tre. !!!

    • SeanCharles

      Your first trade makes no sense.

      The second one might have a basis in reality however..

      It would be nice to snag Kapanen out of TO somehow though as we really need more RHed shots on our top 3 lines. Only having one in Lindholm makes us too one dimensional and easy to defend IMO. Ryan at 32yo and Hathaway/Czarnik as 4th liners/tweeners doesn’t really change the situation either.

  • SeanCharles

    I think its time to move on but I also would be fine if he was re-signed for 1 more year.

    If he wants 2 years you most definitely let him walk.

    Its time to let the youth play, Rittich (27 as a goalie is young), Mangiapane, Andersson, Valimaki, Kylington and Dube need to play important roles on our team next year. Its time to let these guys develop further in fulltime roles as its the only way we will continue to get better – offload expensive aging vets for cheap youth so we have the capspace to bring in upgrades in areas we are lacking (another top 6 forward).

  • Garry T

    Let’s evaluate the whole season. – Smith left a lot to be desired letting in a lot of soft goals and giving the puck away
    when pressured behind his net. He has had a good run. We have treated him well
    and can should move him if anyone shows some interest for a late pick. You never
    know until you make it known he is available. I am all for getting something for him
    by selling his rights if you can.

    Rittch : Came in and played well when Smith got hurt. We have to give him a chance. We
    have four goalies in the system , have just signed a Russian netminder. I think Tre
    has something in mind. Kevin R might have something in doing a deal for Kadri &
    Sparks for Brodie and Gillies.
    The Backup Rittich : Played well last season. Give him a shot. Let the other goalies assert
    themselves in camp and see who wants the backup or lead job
    the most. If someone blows your socks off great.

    Growing the team. Smitty is making $ 6,5 mill. You need that kind of dough for centers and wingers or for just establishing a better cap scenario so that we are not always strapped. Tre will make some more moves. I think he
    is happy with the D. There are tradable guys in Fanttenberg and Stone. Stone played well when he first came and I think
    he is a better D man than most guys on here give him credit for.

  • cjc

    My prediction is that Smith signs a 1-year deal for under 2 million. It’s a little higher cap hit because they won’t go for NMC/No-trade protection. If and when Smith falters they offer him a chance to mentor Parsons/Zaigidulin/Gillies (whoever isn’t called up) in Stockton. Smith says nope, he isn’t claimed on waivers, and the contract gets terminated. They will go Gillies first after that, and if that fails Parsons.

    There are other goalies on the market, but I don’t think Treliving figures goaltending is the biggest problem. Plus he and Peters have a soft spot for grizzled veterans, and they look at Smith’s playoff performance as validation of their intelligence.

  • He may have just said that in the interview that he is either going to play a lot or he doesn’t want to be here. Best of luck then. I would be okay with him as a #2 for a year but sounds like he isn’t.

  • buts

    No to any goalie flopping, deep in the crease and on his knees before the shooter even gets control of the puck and that includes Smith. It’s obvious he uses playing time to get out of a slump.