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.
Former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore may have been coached by Mike Babcock, but that doesn’t mean he’s a fan of Mike Babcock.
Commodore played in just 17 games for the Detroit Red Wings during the 2011-12 season and that was enough for him to muster up some pretty harsh feelings toward his old coach.
As Babcock’s new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, were being embarrassed in Detroit on Friday, Commodore took to Twitter to show fans just how much he was enjoying his former coach’s struggles.
Things got especially interesting after Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin scored just 20 seconds into the second period to give Detroit a 3-0 lead.
“3-0 nothin Babs you posing arrogant piece of (bleep),” said Commodore via his Twitter page. “Welcome back to the rink where everyone that met you hates you.”
Commodore wasn’t done there:
And there was much, much more.
To get a look at all of Commodore’s Babcock-bashing tweets, click here.
Late in the third period of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, things were looking good for Columbus.
Brandon Saad, who the team acquired from Chicago this off-season, scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead with under four minutes remaining in the contest.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, that’s as good as it would get.
The Rangers responded with three unanswered goals from Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to spoil Columbus’ home opener.
“When something like that happens at the end, I think we’re gonna be a better team because of it,” defenseman Ryan Murray told reporters after the game. “It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s a good one.
Luckily for Columbus, they won’t have to wait very long to try and get their revenge.
The Blue Jackets and Rangers will finish off their home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, which might not be such a bad thing for Columbus.
“It’s good that we get another chance tomorrow,” Saad said after Friday’s game. “We were high on emotions (after the go-ahead goal) and they scored and it took the wind out of our sails, but we have to keep playing. We have to learn to keep doing our thing, regardless of the score.”