The Arizona Coyotes' offseason moves have been hotly debated by fans concerned about the team's ability to produce offense. Yet even if Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro had remained in the fold, the only way the team has a chance at making the playoffs is if Mike Smith can deliver another solid season.
When Smitty replaced yesterday's Countdown subject Ilya Bryzgalov in the 2011 offseason, there was an understandable amount of skepticism at the ability of the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning backup to fill the void on a team that rose and fell by the quality of its goaltending.
Smith's 2011-12 campaign was not only the best of his career, it was one of the four best in the NHL. He posted a .930 save percentage (.935 at even strength) in 67 games, and a staggering .944 save percentage in the playoffs. It was on this basis that Smith received a six-year contract extension valued at $5.67M per season.
His 2013-14 campaign started shakily amid speculation regarding his future on the Canadian Men's Olympic Hockey Team. His season, and the Coyotes', was derailed late by a knee injury sustained against the New York Rangers while battling with the Stars for a playoff spot. Despite this, he finished the season with a .915 save percentage (.927 at even-strength).
Although Smith looked considerably better in the final ten games of the season (in that stretch he only posted one game with a save percentage below .90), there are still some question marks that need answering. His .927 even-strength save percentage was a full .10 below his 2011-12 total, and despite the injury sustained in late March, Smith only played five fewer games than he did in 2011-12. Had he been healthy, it is highly likely that Smith would have played over 70 games last season.
Which brings us to one of the chief concerns surrounding the Coyotes for almost five seasons now, which is Head Coach Dave Tippett's consistent refusal to play his backup goaltender for much of the regular season. Except for last season, no backup has played more than 19 games for the Coyotes under Tippett.
While Jason LaBarbera's career numbers may not have made him a dependable backup goaltender, Thomas Greiss certainly looked the part. With Devan Dubnyk, a large goaltender who has had starting experience in the NHL, on the bench for the Coyotes, it will remain to be seen if Mike Smith plays fewer games early on in the season in order to keep him fresher for the high pressure months in the second half of the year.