The Coyotes took a big chance when they signed goaltender Mike Smith to a six-year, $34 million contract in the summer of 2013. They were betting on him being one of the league’s top goaltenders and that’s not what he was last season.
Before making the trip to Arizona, Smith had struggled to establish himself as a starting goaltender, but he broke out in 2011-12 with a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage in 67 games. He was just as effective in the playoffs and led the Coyotes to the conference finals for the first time in their history.
He wasn’t nearly as effective in the shortened campaign though, which raised questions about whether his 2011-12 performance would ultimately prove to be an aberration. Clearly the Coyotes decided that Smith had more great seasons in him as the small market team locked him up.
The first year of his new contract wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t great either. He was inconsistent and posted a 2.64 GAA and .915 save percentage in 62 games before an MCL sprain ended his season.
“Goaltending through the middle of the season for me wasn’t where it needed to be,” Smith admitted in April, per the Arizona Republic. “I was kind of doing some soul-searching, and we lost some games because of that.”
Smith suggested that part of the problem was that the Olympics were looming and he wasn’t sure if he would make Team Canada, so that put extra pressure on him. While those exact circumstances obviously won’t repeat in 2014-15, it’s still fair to say that a lot will be riding on Smith this season.
The Coyotes might not be searching for owners anymore, but the team still needs to grow its fanbase in Glendale as quickly as possible to prove that hockey can thrive there. The best way to attract an audience is with a great on-ice product and whether or not the Coyotes are playoff contenders will largely rest on Smith’s shoulders.
If the 32-year-old goaltender is anything less than great in 2014-15, then this could be another problematic season for Arizona.
The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.
Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.
Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”
Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:
- He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
- Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
- The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.
Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.
Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?
Despite owning two Stanley Cup rings, there are a healthy number of people who aren’t wild about Jonathan Quick.
Those people might feel validated through the Los Angeles Kings’ first two games, as he followed a rough loss to the San Jose Sharks with a true stinker against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.
Sometimes a goalie has a bad night stats-wise, yet his team is as much to blame as anything else. You can probably pin this one on Quick, who allowed four goals on just 14 shots through the first two periods.
Things died down in the final frame, but let’s face it; slowing things down is absolutely the Coyotes’ design with a 4-1 lead (which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 win).
A soft 1-0 goal turned out to be a sign of things to come:
Many expected the Kings to roar into this second game after laying an egg in their opener. Instead, the Coyotes exploited Quick’s struggles for a confidence-booster, which included key prospect Max Domi scoring a goal and an assist.
It’s worth mentioning that Mike Smith looked downright fantastic at times, only drawing more attention to Quick’s struggles.
After a troubled summer and a failed 2014-15 season, Los Angeles was likely eager to start things off the right way.
Instead, they instead will likely focus on the fact that they merely dropped two (ugly) games.