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.