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.
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|
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.
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.
Mike Smith did not do a good hockey play pic.twitter.com/jR7RWzPe5q
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 3, 2019
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.
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) December 3, 2018
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.
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.
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