Phoenix Coyotes: Mike Smith and Comparing His Value Around the League

Michael JenkinsContributor IIIDecember 20, 2012

Mike Smith's contract will become a distraction if the Coyotes and Smith cannot get together and agree on an extension.
Mike Smith's contract will become a distraction if the Coyotes and Smith cannot get together and agree on an extension.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Phoenix Coyotes are going to have a large problem on their hands very soon, and that is what to do with Mike Smith as his contract expires.

Phoenix has to be careful with the Smith situation. The 30-year-old netminder had a fantastic season last year, but can he replicate his performance over a long-term contract? He hasn't shown this level of play throughout his career, and if he can't consistently play up to this level, the Coyotes have to gauge how much they want to pay him to retain his services.

If you look at Mike Smith throughout his career, he had shown flashes of his potential with Dallas, but then struggled mightily in Tampa Bay. The question that needed to be answered was whether Smith could be consistently good on a nightly basis as a starter in the NHL.

After last season, Smith proved that he could be not only good, but elite. But after his fantastic season last year, I began to think about the number of goaltenders—who I could remember—that came out of virtually nowhere to lead a team to unparalleled success in that franchise's history after the age of 30.

The answer: not very many

From 2006-2008, Smith played in Dallas and could not unseat Marty Turco. He played well, winning 24 of the 44 games that he played in, posting a 2.35 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Marty Turco was a top-notch NHL goaltender during those two seasons, and there was no shame in sitting behind him when he was playing at that level.

Smith was eventually traded to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought Brad Richards to Dallas in 2008. Smith had every opportunity to win that job as well, but during his four seasons with the Lightning, his play suffered tremendously. Smith played in 118 games with Tampa Bay and recorded only 43 wins. His goals-against average was 2.85 with a save percentage of .902 during his time with Tampa Bay.

The Coyotes acquired Smith for the 2011-2012 season, and he was expected to start in net from the get-go. Once he was locked in as the starter, his play elevated to levels that he had never experienced before.

He finished with 38 wins (fourth in the NHL), a 2.21 goals-against average (seventh in the NHL) and a .930 save percentage (third in the NHL) during the regular season. His play got better in the postseason. He won nine of 16 starts, posted a ridiculous 1.99 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage to lead the team to the Western Conference Finals in his first season as a full-time starter.

The one thing that jumps out to me about Smith is his pay. He ranks 29th in the league, making $2 million a season. If Smith tries to cash in on his one year of glory, now would be the time to do it. It will be very difficult for him to repeat his heroic performances of last season.

If he were to sign now, the chances are that the organization might be able to get him at a bargain price, but only if he proves that last season was not a fluke. For $2 million per season, the Coyotes, though, are getting one heck of a deal.

If the Coyotes are prudent, they will wait until at least the middle of the season before they try to re-sign him long term. There is an inherent risk in that Smith plays extremely well and is irked by the fact the organization did not show faith in him, and his price skyrockets if he plays well. He could also decide to test the free-agent waters as retribution for not being signed early on. This will only drive his price up as well.

If both sides can come to an agreement to a deal in the $4-5 million per season range before or early in the season, both sides should be satisfied. This rewards Smith for last season, puts faith in him to repeat it, gives him a substantial raise ($2-3 million) and provides him and his family financial security. It would rank him in the top 15 goaltenders in the league in terms of pay.

If both sides cannot agree to an extension soon, it might get a bit dicey. It is a risk I think both team and player are going to take if they cannot agree on the years portion of the deal. Smith wants a long-term extension, something the Coyotes might balk at.

The other roadblock to a potential deal is If Smith wants too much money ($5-7 million per season). If that is the case, the Coyotes will have to seek another goalie elsewhere, as Smith would price himself out of remaining with the franchise.