Perhaps the biggest reason why the Coyotes landed in the Western Conference finals this past season was goalie Mike Smith. Smith’s acrobatic saves, curious ability to draw penalties, and dogged work helped buoy Phoenix even when teams turned up the pressure late in games.
While he was stellar in the playoffs, he was arguably the team MVP all season long. Smith racked up stats unlike the kind he’s put up throughout his career. His .930 save percentage was by far the best he’s put up and was tied for third-best in the NHL with Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. His 2.21 goals against average was a career-best as well.
Of course, the biggest question facing Smith now is: Can he do it again? Many point to his success in Phoenix thanks to being both taught by goalie coach Sean Burke and being a part of coach Dave Tippett’s system.
While Tippett does have a defensive scheme in place, Jonathan Willis of The Cult Of Hockey says Tippett’s influence is a bit overstated. Goalie analysis blog Brodeur Is A Fraud (a divisive and awesome name, by the way) says Smith’s 2011-12 season is not likely to be repeated and a regression is likely. Good goalie? Yes. Consistently great goalie? Perhaps not.
That said, Smith’s defensive corps in front of him next season is set to be really good, and really deep. Thinking he’ll return to the kinds of numbers he put up in Tampa Bay that saw him wind up playing behind Dan Ellis would be a mistake.
For the second time in his career, Ryan Kesler is wearing an “A.”
On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks announced that Kesler would serve as one of the club’s alternate captains this season, taking over for Francois Beauchemin, who signed in Colorado this summer.
With the move, Kesler joins Anaheim’s existing leadership group of captain Ryan Getzlaf, and alternate Corey Perry.
“It’s an honor,” Kesler said, per the Ducks. “It’s special. I’m going to wear it with pride and lead by example.”
As mentioned earlier, Kesler has some experience as an alternate — he wore an “A” in Vancouver from 2008-13, but had it removed prior to the start of the ’13-14 campaign.
It’s not surprising Anaheim went in this direction. GM Bob Murray made a huge investment in Kesler this summer by inking the 31-year-old to a six-year, $41.25M extension.
Could Raphael Diaz be on his way back to Switzerland?
We’ll know in a month.
Diaz, who lost out on the Rangers’ final blueline spot in training camp, has reported to the club’s AHL affiliate in Hartford but doesn’t seem pleased with his current situation, per the Post:
The 29-year-old Diaz, who cleared waivers last Saturday after the Blueshirts opted to keep rookie Dylan McIlrath as the club’s seventh on the blue line, is interested in the European option if he is not in the NHL.
The Blueshirts have told Diaz they will revisit the situation at the end of October, but have not promised to release him or assign him to a European team at that point.
If Diaz, a Swiss native who represented Switzerland in the 2014 Olympics, does play in Europe during the season, he would have to go through waivers in order to return to the NHL.
Diaz’s agent, Ritch Winter, told the Post that Diaz signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Rangers “to play with the Rangers.”
And it’s understandable if Diaz — a journeyman offensive defenseman — isn’t happy with this situation.
While some believe McIlrath earned his roster spot on merit, some think it’s because of his contract status. McIlrath, who’s only 23 and a former first-round pick, would’ve needed to clear waivers to go back to Hartford, and it’s believed he would’ve been claimed by another club.