Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

FlamesNation player evaluation: Mike Smith

When Mike Smith was acquired back in 2017, general manager Brad Treliving described the netminder’s age as “a young 35,” which was meant to ease the concerns about the veteran goalie and whether he could still carry the load as a starter. A short two years later, it’s not unfair to say it feels like Smith is an old 37, and that his best days are in the rear-view mirror.

Despite getting hot at exactly the right time in round one, Smith’s regular season play may prove to be his swan song as Calgary’s hunt for their de facto #1 goalie lingers on for yet another season.

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2018-19 season summary

In the first four games of the season for Smith, he would: let in four goals to Vancouver and lose, let in four goals to Vancouver and win, shut out the Predators, and then give up five in a loss to St. Louis. This would be some fantastic foreshadowing of the upcoming season, which would end up being just the third time ever Smith finished below a .900 save percentage, and the first where he wasn’t the backup in Tampa Bay.

The biggest issue around Smith was his consistency. He only had two stretches where he had 3+ games in a row over .900, which is not a sentence you want to hear for a goalie who played in about half the games this season. Even worse, only one of those seven total games was against a playoff team, that being his win against Winnipeg on March 16th, with an unremarkable .905 save percentage.

His goals against average (not the best stat, useful enough here though) essentially stayed in line with his career stats though, so it would appear that the Flames as a whole did step up and win some nights in spite of Smith. The Flames brass seemed content though to let him work through his issues, especially once David Rittich was forced to play through an injury during the second half of the season.

Games played Save percentage ES Save percentage PK save percentage
42 .898 .906 .829

The pressure seemed to get to Smith in the early months, where he would give up untimely goals that looked like the emotional daggers that would sink the team in other years. His puck handling – a skill the team and others consistently went to great lengths to praise – was perhaps leaned on a bit too much, and pucks that definitely did not need to be played by Smith would be.

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Sometimes he would help start a counterattack, and sometimes he would serve up some nice assists to enemy players. Does the former justify the latter? It’s hard to say yes, especially when you hear coaches from other teams talk about exploiting it. It was these moments where Smith wandered away from his net that might be what Flames fans remember most, because while they weren’t as frequent as you’d like to believe, they often came at terrible times and would come under much more intense scrutiny for it.

This isn’t to say that the entire season was a disaster, as he would have some games that reminded us of his play in the first half of last season. Smith would regain his form more or less closer to spring, and start showing off the aggressiveness that his confidence brings. His play in February and March was also good enough to warrant him getting the nod in the playoffs, where he was one of the best Flames for five games. He also summoned the ghost of Miikka Kiprusoff and had his own scorpion save, which was fun.

However, five playoff games does not really erase any bad taste left from this season. Now, with Smith’s contract ending, there really isn’t any more sense of stability than when he was traded for.

Compared to last season

Last season, Smith played brilliantly until he got injured, and then didn’t look so good after returning while the Flames fell out of the playoff hunt. Still, he played the majority of the time before his injury (probably a bit too much, but a distinct Lack of a backup contributed to that), and more than carried his weight, showing why Treliving traded for him. He gave the fans palpable relief, such as when he shut out the Ducks in Honda Center to break the “Anaheim Curse”. He came away from the season with a .916 save percentage, which was slightly above league average, and really all you could ask for a 36 year old goalie. It was also his best year since his one elite year back in 2011-12 for the Coyotes.

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When he came back from his groin injury though, Smith admit that he had to adjust a bit mentally, which is definitely something that carried over to this year. However, with not too many options going forward and an overall track record that suggested Smith still had his mojo, he was still the guy coming out of 2017-18.

What about next season?

Smith’s time as a starting netminder is likely over given his last season and also his age. However, is his time in Calgary over? That’s tougher to answer.

Rittich will be back in Calgary next season, and should be given more responsibility right off the bat. Do the Flames like having Smith as a mentor/safety net for Rittich? It seems to be more appealing than any other in-house options at the moment, and given their cap crunch, free agency doesn’t look like a great place to find a backup plan for Big Save Dave.

Ironically, the biggest pro for Smith if he wants to return to Calgary is that Flames management know what they’re getting with him, at least off the ice. If he’s willing to take a much smaller deal than his last, there might be space for him yet at the Saddledome. However, it would be more surprising at this point to see a third straight season of Smith/Rittich, and it might not be a great idea to rely heavily on two players over 35 next season.

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2018-19 player evaluations

#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm | #33 David Rittich

  • freethe flames

    At this point in his career he should only expect short term deals. If he was willing to come back on a 1x$1m I would consider it but I doubt it happens.

    • Loud_voices

      1 year at 1mill? He’s worth more than that. If he signed for something like that I would be blown away. I would double those numbers up… Probably more like 2 years at 2-3 mill.

      • HOCKEY83

        Mike Smith is not in the drivers seat. If he doesn’t sign in Ca;gary his career is over so not sure why you think they would pay him that much for 2 years. 1 year at 1 mil seems like the only deal he would possibly get if he was going to get one at all. Hope it doesn’t happen though.

  • MDG1600

    IMHO the Flames need to overhaul their scouting/evaluation/development of goaltenders. Stockton was a full on dumpster fire in net and the organization has shown an utter lack of skill at identifying and developing goalies. I say they should skid Sigalet and offer the job to Mike Smith.

    • Sam Bennett for 1stLine Center

      Mike Smith is and was hot garbage. He lunged at pucks, played way to deep in his net and was horrible. Yes he had a couple good playoff games, but still, not worth it. He should NOT have played any playoff games, the Flames team in front of him played with no confidence in him. Arizona garbage that should have been left in Arizona, another one of BT’s bad moves. Move on from him.

      • Loud_voices

        Sorry but personal opinion and facts are 2 different things. Smith was an average to above average goalie on a very below average Arizona team. His first year in Calgary he was slightly above league average which is exactly what the flames wanted when they traded for him. His injury at the end of last season derailed his year and then with the adjustments to equipment it made for a very bad start for him. His last 15 or so games in the regular season I thought he played amazing. Like this article states, I also feel the team relied to heavily upon his puck playing skills (which is partially his own fault) and weren’t as aggressive in the defensive zone as they should have been when he was in net. Depending on who was in net, it was like watching 2 different teams. I thought this was a great move by BT and I still do … Hope they sign him back and we see him next year!

    • Beer League Coach

      It is very unfair to say Stockton Goaltending last year was a dumpster fire. A couple injuries to Flames D men resulted in the call ups of Andersson and Kylington. From that point on the Stockton defence had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. No goal tender would have saved the Heat with the D they played with last season. Gillies had good stats in the last 9 games of the season when he played several games in a row. We really need to find out if that is the real Gillies.

      • Sean Monahan to RW

        Totally agree. I think Gillies has the potential and very well could come in to camp and steal the #1 spot. Interesting to see what kind of contract BSD signs.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If not Smitty, who else?

    Rittich blew hot and cold again last season, and while he is positioned to be the #1 next season, the Flames really don’t know for sure if he is up to it.

    Ain’t nobody coming up through the pipeline to challenge Rittich, so that means if not Smitty, a FA–and Edwards should forbid Tre from signing any of those–or a trade. As well as getting another goalie who has skill and will fit within the tight salary cap, the guy has to be capable of being the #1 if Rittich can’t deliver the mail. On the other hand, he can’t be chomping at the bit all the time as would be the case with a frustrated backup who thinks he should be the starter but isn’t for reasons of “politics” as a guy like that quickly becomes as unnecessary distraction.

    Smitty on the cheap for a year might at the end of the day be the best fit considering the cap crunch and the lack of suitable talent available.

    Tre could go outta left field by designating Rittich as the backup and targeting an affordable starter like Varlamov or Pickard If nothing else, it would make the return of Smitty moot.

  • Cup hope

    I think there is not enough consideration to the difficulty Smith had in adjusting to the new equipment specifications. He seemed to perform much better after he built his own from various components. I think he would be excellent as #2 goalie.

  • Off the wall

    I wonder if it’s worth exploring Petr Mrazek. He’s another Czech, with decent numbers over his career. He’s close to Rittich’s age and we could have the Czech connection in net.

    He played 40 games, posted a .914 SV%. His contract was $1.5M last year.

    It would be worth exploring..

    • Loud_voices

      he’s probably going to ask for a raise even though he wasn’t that great in the playoffs. Which will probably put him out of contention for the flames.

  • oilcanboyd

    Smitty won more than 20 games in the regular season and was particularly good in the playoffs.

    Rittich was trending down in the second half of the season. The end of December injury may have been a factor, but did that become more mental than physical as the season wore on.

    If not Smitty, at a reduced contract, then who? We could wind up with another Brian Elliott at the same salary.

    • Loud_voices

      This is my thoughts exactly. Do we continue to play the Kansas city goalie shuffle (Karlsson, Irving, MacDonald, Ramo, Hiller, Ortio, Elliot, Johnson) or do we stick with a goalie that has already had success in the flames uniform? I mean at least we aren’t as bad as the Flyers who have has like 20 goalies this season alone😂😂

    • buts

      Gillies yes Kylington no. Kylington could be the next Erik Karlson as he has had very little nhl experience. Defence is thee hardest position to learn next to goaltending….patience is needed to find out who OK is. Gillies is just flat out not nhl caliber…..maybe one day but I doubt it.

  • Loud_voices

    I think Smith still has the ability to play decent hockey for a few more years. I also think the flames would be foolish if they didn’t even consider signing him again because the good goalies on the market are out of the flames price range and anything within our price range is garbage. Smith will probably want to stay with the team because he knows theres a chance they can go far and the fact that his play was less than stellar this season means we can probably negotiate a discount around the 2 to 3 range allowing some extra room to give Rittich a bump to the 2 to 3 range as well… I think this is the best case scenario.