Remember last year, when the Phoenix Coyotes traded Ilya Bryzgalov and they were expected to sink into the abyss of the Western Conference. Boy, how they fooled us all.
The Coyotes didn’t exactly ‘wow’ us throughout the regular season, but they continued to perform as steadily as they did in the past two seasons. Playing that defensive style of hockey that Dave Tippett is known for, it’s no surprise that they were able to make some noise on the postseason.
But of course, a huge reason for that playoff success in the spring was goaltender Mike Smith.
Smith proved to be a bargain on the two-year deal he signed last summer to become the replacement for Bryzgalov. For a guy who didn’t have an outstanding track record as nearly a career backup, the results came as a surprise to hockey fans, both inside and outside of the desert.
Smith posted a 2.21 GAA and a .930 save percentage. He kept them in several games throughout the season and proved especially huge in the first round of the playoffs. There’s certainly a case to be made that he was snubbed of consideration for the Vezina Trophy, and that’s probably the truth.
While some might be expecting a disappointing year for Smith after the season he just had, that’s not extremely likely. He may have somewhat of a dropoff, but between playing in Tippett’s system and Sean Burke remaining as the Coyotes’ goaltending coach, there’s no reason to think he could have continued success.
After this season, Smith is set to become a free agent. Another season like that, system or not, and he could end up pricing himself out of Phoenix. But the front office is unlikely to let that happen. Extension talks were expected to get underway this summer, but that hasn’t happened yet.
The main reason for that is obviously the Coyotes’ ownership situation, which hasn’t been settled yet. That’s also the reason that Shane Doan doesn’t have a contract at the moment, though he’s expected to make a decision within the next couple of weeks.
Once the ownership situation is taken care of, as most assume it will be, the extension talks should move forward for Mike Smith. They have the room for him, financially, and a deal will likely be a matter of “when”, not “if” once talks to do get underway.