Mike Smith

Coyotes put their faith in Mike Smith


For years the Phoenix Coyotes enjoyed some stellar goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. When Bryzgalov left to sign a lucrative contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Coyotes found an economical replacement in Mike Smith.

Smith was coming off some rocky seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was willing to agree to a two-year, $4 million contract for a chance to prove himself as the Coyotes’ starting goaltender. Things couldn’t have turned out much better for the Coyotes in the first season of that agreement as Smith led them all the way to the Western Conference Final.

The 31-year-old goaltender followed that up with a hot-and-cold campaign and with his contract expiring, he came to the Coyotes with significant demands. Rather than watch another netminder leave for a bigger market, they signed Smith to a six-year, $34 million deal.

On a team with a strong defense, but questionable offense, their ability to make the playoffs — and go anywhere when they get there — will be largely dependent on what Smith does.

The team took a huge risk signing him through the age of 37 at that price and it’s the type of gamble that has the potential to burn a small market team. After all, when Philadelphia takes a chance and it doesn’t pay off, as happened with Bryzgalov, they at least have the financial muscle to change course.

On top of Smith’s cap hit, they don’t have a clear replacement starting goaltender in the pipeline yet and his understudy, 27-year-old goaltender Thomas Greiss, has never played in more than 19 NHL games in the single season. In other words, if Smith struggles, there are a couple different reasons why they will have a difficult time adapting.

Smith’s importance is all the more amplified because of where we are in the Coyotes’ history. They finally have a new owner and are tasked with proving that Glendale can be a healthy market for hockey. Winning is the best way to grow a fanbase and Smith will be the team’s starting goaltender through a key period of potential growth that could determine the course of this franchise.

They just have to hope that his 2011-12 campaign is an indicator of what the future holds.

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?