Those trade rumors swirling around Mike Smith this week weren't rumors after all.
The Yotes' starter bid farewell to Glendale today, heading to Calgary in exchange for a conditional third-round pick, prospect defenseman Brandon Hickey, and the rights to Calgary backup Chad Johnson. The Coyotes will also retain 25% of Smith's cap hit and salary in the deal.
On the face of it, this is a strange deal for the Coyotes and indeed the Flames, too. Arizona loses their starting netminder for a relatively low return, but the Flames gain an expensive netminder when they already arguably had a starter in Brian Elliott.
Perhaps the deal could have been seen to make more sense, if the reports about Arizona continuing to look for a starter before the trade freeze came into effect bore fruit. However, as of now, the Coyotes pool in NHL goalies consists of two career backups in Chad Johnson and Louis Domingue and a host of untried prospects in Adin Hill and Marek Langhamer, with at least one of those having to be exposed in the expansion draft.
The jury is still out on Brandon Hickey, too. There is no doubt that he has potential as a two-way defenseman as he is consistently one of the best players on a very strong BU blueline, but he's likely returning to Boston University for his senior year, which means that any entry-level contract will only be two years instead of the normal three (assuming he even signs with Arizona after leaving college). In other words, he's not going to be seen in AZ for at least a season, if not more.
The conditional pick (the 3rd becomes a 2nd if the Flames make the playoffs) is...well, a pick.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this trade is the brutal economics of the Coyotes getting nearly 4-million-dollars-a-season worth of salary off the books that would otherwise be paid to a 36/37-year-old declining netminder through the 18/19 season end, an important move for a team looking to change and move into a new era.
Like it or not, the clock was ticking loudly on Mike Smith's time in Arizona, and with this trade, John Chayka has signaled in the strongest way yet that this team is going in a new direction. The trouble for fans may be that as yet, it's not clear what that new direction is.
This is why the Mike Smith trade can't be the only big one the Coyotes make this off-season. One would hope it's very much the curtain-raiser to a summer of dealing with the intended result of the Coyotes having a new proven NHL starter in the net come opening night, and not Louis Domingue or Chad Johnson.
It's also why it makes the trade difficult to judge in isolation. By itself, this is a trade that seems to leave the Coyotes on the back foot, but perhaps it's merely the opening move in a longer chess game, and Mike Smith is the pawn that needed to be sacrificed to capture a king later in the summer.
We shall see.