The 2017 NHL All-Star game is upon us at the end of January and the rosters have finally be released. This year the Arizona Coyotes have an NHL appointed selection, but it’s not the one that everyone expected.
Let’s face it, the Coyotes have struggled this season, but all teams are to be represented in the game. Yes, even the Colorado Avalanche are sending a player.
As usual, the All-Star game selections have created controversies on the Internet, . But the backlash of the Coyotes selection is a little surprising because Mike Smith deserves to represent the Coyotes.
Smith has kept the team in many games this season, taking them to overtime nine times. In those nine games the Coyotes won four of them. That is more than half of the wins that Mike Smith has this season. Yes, Mike Smith only has seven wins, but the team only has eleven total.
Smith was down with injury just two games into the regular season against the Ottawa Senators, which also started a pretty miserable road trip for the Coyotes. He came back against the Calgary Flames on the 16th of November, and that’s when his work load went into high gear.
From November 19th to December 15th, Mike Smith played in thirteen games, winning six of them. Yes, in that month long stretch he earned six of his seven wins. His first win of the year was opening night against the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime. Also during that time period Smith faced more than 40 shots six times, including the game against Columbus where he stopped 60 shots in a shootout loss.
Overall in that stretch of time, Smith faced 486 shots on goal and allowed 31 goals on a team that is still weak defensively. Yes, it is not very flashy, but his numbers still stand. He has kept the team in it when he can and some nights, they just hang him out to dry.
I had a chance to chat with former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch briefly about Smith’s season and his All-Star game Selection.
“I think he’s been doing pretty good. He’s slowed down, all the work and shots catch up with you eventually. He’s playing behind a team that in their mind they are not making the playoffs and it’s dropped off a bit.” Hirsch said over the phone. “When they played Columbus and he made 60 saves it was Vezina worthy. It was a special game.”
When asked about the slight controversy of Smith being picked over a goalie such as Cam Talbot, Hirsch said. “You’re team has to have a representative and Edmonton has theirs but everyone is deserving to go. Cam Talbot may deserve to go, but so does he (Smith.)”
There is no easy answer to the question of ‘who else from the Coyotes deserves to go.’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson hasn’t been his same Oliver Ekman-Awesome self this season, be it to injury, team chemistry, or some other issue. Max Domi is still out with a broken hand, Shane Doan has gone cold and the rookies are buried under an amazing class this season. The only other option could have been Radim Vrbata, but looking at the Pacific Division roster, there isn’t really a forward that should be staying home in favor of Vrbata.
By contrast, there’s no obvious choice over Smith for the second goaltending position. Cam Talbot, Peter Budaj, and John Gibson have all been okay, but none have had demonstrably better seasons than Smith. Chad Johnson has been good with the Flames, but would selecting him keep Johnny Gaudreau off the roster? With every team having to be represented, there’s no easy answer.
The All-Star game is a money grab for the NHL in the end, and is there to showcase to hockey in different markets each year and for fans to see their team be represented. It doesn’t matter who is picked for an All-Star game, just having someone there to say ‘Hey, that’s our guy,’ is enough. It’s not about the flashy pick or suspected bonuses for some players. It’s about having fun, playing the game you love, and making fans happy at the same time.
Mike Smith has been Arizona’s best player night in and night out. He deserved to be the Coyotes representative at the All-Star Game.