Phoenix Coyotes: 3 Reasons They Need to Extend Mike Smith's Contract ASAP
When the Coyotes opened up the 2011-12 season, their goaltending position was an area that begged a number of questions.
Ilya Bryzgalov, the goaltender for the previous four seasons, had his rights traded from the Coyotes to the Philadelphia Flyers after the Coyotes refused to meet his contract terms for an extension. Bryzgalov went on to sign a lucrative contract (nine years, $51 million) that the Coyotes would never have been able to match.
During his four years in Phoenix, Bryzgalov averaged 33 wins and had made the playoffs in the final two seasons of his tenure in Phoenix.
In July of 2011, the Coyotes signed journeyman goaltender Mike Smith to a two-year deal worth $2 million per season. Many questions were asked of Smith going into last season. He couldn't beat out Marty Turco for the starting job with the Dallas Stars and he couldn't hold onto the starting job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so why would anything be different in Phoenix?
This was a goalie that averaged just over 11 victories a year in his six NHL seasons. His career goals-against average was a 2.68 and his save percentage was a respectable .904. Would this guy be good enough to get the Coyotes where they wanted to be?
Smith had an absolutely fantastic season last year. He won 38 games and posted a 2.21 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. If he can duplicate that type of season, the Coyotes should be able to duplicate their success.
He also succeeded where Bryzgalov failed: the playoffs. He led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals, further than the franchise had ever been before. He became a cult hero to Phoenix fans and earned a look at an extension to keep him in the desert for years to come.
This article will explore the three reasons why the Phoenix Coyotes need to sign Mike Smith to an extension as soon as possible.
3. Stability Between the Pipes
If the Coyotes want to succeed for years to come, they need a stable presence in net. Smith can provide that stability if signed to a long-term extension.
The Coyotes will have to pay Smith like a top goaltender if they want to retain his services. That means they will have to significantly upgrade his yearly salary of $2 million. A fair market value might be around the $5 million range. It reflects a reward for last season's heroics, combined with the fact that his past was not so stellar. I don't think a three-year, $15 million extension is out of the question for Smith.
If the Coyotes have to go any higher with his salary, then that is something that might throw a wrench into the future of the Coyotes' netminding plans.
Smith's role is vital moving forward. His backup, Jason LaBarbera, is a career backup and in no way, shape or form should ever be considered for the No. 1 role with the franchise. Plus, many of the youngsters that are waiting in the wings need more seasoning before they are ready.
Mike Lee (21) is going to get his first look at the AHL this season with the Portland Pirates. His career is just getting underway at the professional level and all looks promising (he played well in the NCAA with St. Cloud State and with the US Under-20 team), but he is still a couple of years away.
Mark Visentin (20) is also slated to begin the year at Portland. He is also getting his first taste of professional hockey after playing with the Canadian Under-20 team for the past two seasons. His play in the Ontario Hockey League had people abuzz with reports of superstar potential, but at the age of 20, his time is yet to come.
Louis Domingue (20) will start the year at Portland as well. He will also be getting his first action in the AHL after spending time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the past four seasons.
Finally, veteran AHL goaltender Chad Johnson (26) was brought in to give these youngsters a run for their money. Johnson played in 49 games for the Connecticut Whale last season, posting a 2.49 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage, both solid numbers for a fairly offensive league.
The battle royal in Portland for the starting netminder's job will be fun to watch and it should establish a pecking order in terms of who will be next in line to replace Smith down the road. One if not two will end up being demoted to the ECHL and the Gwinnet franchise that the Yotes are affiliated with. The future looks promising, but that future is years away.
With all of the aforementioned being so young and inexperienced, signing Smith to an extension should be a priority for the Desert Dogs to provide the stability necessary to keep the Coyotes playing at a high level.
2. Clubhouse Presence
Mike Smith relishes the role of a leader. It is something that he has been seeking since he entered the NHL. His play on the ice has pushed him into the role of the team's weight-bearing pillar of strength.
But it's the fact that he fits so well into the locker room that makes him very difficult to replace. Smith is an easygoing guy who loves to keep it light. His demeanor is a perfect fit into a locker room that has its share of young veterans and even younger first- and second-year players that need some levity when situations get difficult.
The sixth-year veteran netminder is happy now that his mentor and goaltending coach Sean Burke has signed a multi-year deal with the Coyotes. Smith felt that Burke's future would have a definite impact on his decision to re-up with the Coyotes when the time came.
A happy goaltender is one that you want in the locker room. Smith has received his chance to be the man in Phoenix, and he excelled in his first year. The Coyotes want to keep him long-term and have re-hired his coach to help try and bring him back.
These two factors, and the fact that Smith has claimed that he likes the Valley of the Sun and feels at home here, should be enough to get him to sign a reasonable deal moving forward.
1. Don't Let Him Test the Open Market
If Mike Smith has a similar year to what he put together this past season, many teams will be interested in securing his services for the long term.
Smith will be a cautionary case to some who will want to see how he does in Year 2 of being the man in Phoenix before splashing the cash on him. His history suggests that this past year may have been a fluke and will keep some teams in wait-and-see mode on the big goaltender.
The Coyotes need to use this to their advantage. If they can get Smith signed now or during the season next year, they will definitely save some money if Smith is the type of goaltender that they think he is.
If you look at what top-notch goaltenders make in today's NHL, you have to figure that if Smith plays like he did last season, he will want to be paid like a top-10 goaltender.
The top salary for a goaltender is Nashville's Pekka Rinne, who signed a seven-year deal worth $7 million a year. No. 10 on the list is Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, who signed a six-year deal worth $5 million a year. While I don't think that Smith should be paid $7 million a year, if the Coyotes take the chance on him now, there is a chance that he might sign for less than $5 million a season, which could be a huge windfall for the Desert Dogs if he proves to be a top-notch, consistent NHL goaltender.
If he does not play well, then you will have a lot of money invested in a goaltender over a longer period of time than you might want. It's a gamble for the Coyotes with the small budget that they have, but signing Smith for long-term now should be their priority.
Phoenix doesn't want big-market teams like Toronto (no established goalie), Boston or New Jersey (Thomas and Brodeur are old) getting in a bidding war for Mike Smith at the end of the year. That is a war that the Coyotes will not normally win.