On the back half of his $34M, 6-year deal, many Coyotes fans expected another year of decline for the then-34-year-old goaltender, with visions of Louis Domingue taking over the crease dancing in their heads. But oh, what difference a year can make.
Playing behind a slew of new defensive personnel (Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn, Jakob Chychrun, Anthony DeAngelo, and briefly Jamie McBain), we knew it was going to be an interesting year, and Mike Smith never fails to disappoint in that regard.
So how did he fare?
When grading a player, one must consider not only performance but the expectations of them going into the season. For Mike Smith, this is tricky.
He minted his current contract during the days when his oft reminisced, out-worldly goaltending during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was still fresh in everyone’s minds. During that run, he dueled Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who signed an equally lucrative contract as a result. Unfortunately, that elevated level of play was only sustained for one of the two. If you’ve lived under a rock for the last several years, just click here. Oh, and here.
Here are Smith’s numbers going into the 2016-17 Coyotes season:
Mike Smith Career Numbers
Suffice to say, anyone who’s expecting elite goaltending is out to lunch. While the team in front of him often hasn’t been great either, an optimistic expectation of him this season would’ve been to get average goaltending. Oh, and to stay healthy.
Well, apparently he didn’t listen to that last bit. Just two games into the season, Smith injured his left knee against the Ottawa Senators, eventually returning mid-November. But when he came back, he came back with a bang, posting .915 or better save percentages in 7 of his next 10 games (including a .976 against our former basement-dwelling rivals, the Edmonton Oilers). While he finished the season with a losing record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average, that fails to fully represent Mike Smith’s season.
While the Coyotes still weren’t racking up wins, the play of Mike Smith seemed to be different this year. It seemed like he traveled back in time and found his confidence, being a much more stable and consistent force than he has been in the last few seasons. And while it’s hard to tell since we give up so many shots, he’s actually one of the best goaltenders when it comes to stopping high danger shots (see comparison to perennial Vezina candidate Braden Holtby).
Of course, the flipside of this is that he’s merely average when it comes to stopping medium and low-risk shots. Unfortunately, we give up a lot of those too.
If you want a better representation of what Mike Smith is dealing with in comparison to Braden Holtby, check out these shot-against heat maps.
So while we all love hanging Smith out to dry, apparently his own teammates do too. Fortunately, on a purely statistical level, he manages well. When it comes to the old eye-test, while I said earlier that he seemed more confident and certainly improved his play over years past (see here for his SAVE chart for 2013-2016), he still had his classic Mike Smith moments. Remember this?
While his ability to play the puck is certainly an asset to the team, in case we ever need him to do this again...
... his constant overplaying of the puck is a trend that continued into this season.
Numerous times he fired the puck into a teammate’s feet from just meters away, catching them off-guard and unable to fend off forecheckers. That’s not to mention the straight up giveaways that occur with concerning regularity. If he wants to be remembered as one of the better puck-handling goaltenders, he needs to remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. He doesn’t need to do something extraordinary every time he touches the puck, sometimes our biggest weaknesses are actually overplayed strengths.
Additionally, he still hasn’t completely shaken his habit of letting in soft, costly goals just when the Coyotes need him to make a routine save. He can stop high-danger shots all night long if he wants, but if he lets in the medium and easy ones, it’s all for naught. While the above SAVE chart indicates that he’s hovering around average in terms of medium and low-danger shots, I would have to say the sheer magnitude of shots he faces hides his propensity to let the team down at the most inopportune times.
To sum it up, it seems like we find ourselves with a Mike Smith 2012/Mike Smith 2014 hybrid. This was definitely a bounce-back season for him, and that he did it behind a new cast of defensemen (two of them rookies) leads one to be a little more optimistic of his play going into next season than they likely were going into this one. But unless he can tone down the stickhandling and ensure he’s making those easy saves, we may be in for another disappointment next year.
Taken as a whole, I’d have to give Smith a B/B- for the year. As a fan, this was the first season in a while where I actually had confidence in his ability to stop the puck, which is a sensation I had almost forgotten existed. Unfortunately, he burned that confidence now and again, which deflated his grade.
What did he do for you?
The grades of all the other Coyotes players can be found on our master post here.
What grade would you give Mike Smith?
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