I wanted to write this article before the preseason was underway so that no one would think I was jumping on the Mike Smith bandwagon. I certainly did not want to write this article the day after a 38 save performance in a Lightning victory over the New York Rangers.
Mike Smith was acquired by the Lightning at the NHL trade deadline last February along with Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, and a fourth round draft pick in 2009, in exchange for Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist.
At the time many experts wondered out loud why Tampa Bay, a team with goaltending problems, would acquire a backup netminder. They also doubted Mike Smith could be the
No. 1 goalie is the very near future or at all.
Over the summer Tampa made numerous signings and trades and all but revamped their roster. A closer look at the personnel immediately directs your attention to the fact that the Lightning hope to win many games by outscoring their opponents. Tampa Bay does not appear to be a place where a goalie could excel or prove to be a surprise.
But Smith may prove many of his detractors wrong.
He may not lead the NHL in wins or shutouts this season, but he is perfectly suited to backstop the potentially high flying Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a giant in goal with good mobility and he moves well laterally. His puck handling skills are comparable to that of the two Martys. Brodeur and Turco.
There will surely be growing pains for Smith this season, as there will be for the revamped Lightning. This will be the first full season for a goalie who has only played 57 games in his career; his 34 starts last season set a career high. He’ll have to prove he is physically capable of starting 60-plus games to qualify as a true starter in the NHL. Again, at his size I can’t see him not being able to handle a 60-plus game workload.
One factor that will bode very well in Mike Smith’s favour is the signing of UFA Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig will provide the Lightning with a solid backup insurance plan in case Smith stumbles out of the blocks. He is a true professional, as he proved by quietly transitioning to a backup role to Cristobal Huet late last season in Washington.
Kolzig will most certainly take Smith under his wing rather than compete and try to oust him from the starting job. Another factor that should help is that Kolzig will understand and be able to relate to Smith’s learning pains. They are built almost identically. Both are 6’3" with Kolzig out-weighing Smith by 10 pounds.
Any lessons that Kolzig has to offer will be very easy for Smith to understand and duplicate, as they possess the same skill sets and body type.
Mike Smith should capably backstop the Lightning to a return to the postseason in 2009.