Mike Smith: The Unluckiest Player in the NHL
The man has spent his entire life defying the odds to get to the NHL.
He was first drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round, 161st overall, in the 2001 NHL entry draft. Not exactly the best spot to be drafted.
After being drafted, he went back to the OHL to refine his game on a horrid Sudbury Wolves squad that made him look average at best. Giving him a losing record and a GAA over three goals.
Regardless, he still plugged on and the next season in 2002-2003, started out the year in the ECHL with the Lexington Men O'War.
Thats right, I said it—the Lexington Men O'War. Talk about humble beginnings.
Once again regardless, he plugged on, and after recording a solid record in the ECHL, he was called up to the AHL where he would stay, posting once again, a GAA of over three playing for a horrid club.
But, the next season came, it was a new season, where he would get every opportunity to turn a new leaf and start a new chapter.
As a back-up, only playing 21 games behind.
But it was a little better, seeing him get a 2.83 GAA meaning he finally cracked below the three mark.
Yay. Good for you.
But finally, when the 2004-2005 season came, it was his chance to shine. After showing he can play at a high level he was finally going to be shown the starting spot of an AHL club if not for one problem:
The 2004-2005 NHL lockout.
This basically meant that instead of showing his skills in a starting spot, he would be pushed aside by NHLers who had already achieved what he wanted.
Still, that season, he kept moving forward, and finished the year with the Houston Aeros with a 2.42 GAA and a .915 SPCT over 46 games. Finally showing that he may have a shot, oh yes, at cracking the NHL.
The next year finally showed Mike Smith something that he hadn't seen in a long time, some luck.
For the first time in his career, the 2005-2006 season showed him a good team and a starting role where he showed that he belonged. Where, in 50 games he posted 25 wins and 3 SO to go with a 2.50 GAA and a .917 SPCT for the Iowa Stars.
The Dallas Stars noticed this and decided that the kid finally paid his dues and deserved a shot at the NHL.
But it came with one catch.
He had to compete with another player for the spot—fellow AHL netminder and teammate Jason Bacashihua, who had also paid his dues.
Luckily for Mike Smith, he had a great camp and showed the Dallas Stars management that he belonged, making the Stars able to send poor Jason Bacashihua to the St. Louis Blues for a bag of pucks, and an autographed John Davidson picture. When he had hair.
So, for the next two seasons, Mike Smith was living the life as an NHL netminder, learning the ropes, behind a then great goalie in Marty Turco, looking like the next incumbent to take the thrown as the Dallas Stars' starting netminder.
Then, something catastrophic, something so horrifyingly bad that it would make people throw up just at the thought of it. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, in what would be a huge trade deadline deal sending Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to Dallas for Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, a fourth-round pick—and yes, Mike Smith.
But, it wasn't all bad. Tampa Bay has nice weather, he has people he knows going with him to Tampa Bay, and—well that's about it.
But unlike before, there was something that there that he did not have in Dallas—a starting role for him to take.
And he took it. But as well as he played and as hard as he tried, he couldn't finish off the season well. He ended the year with the Lightning of with three wins, 10 losses, and a not-so-impressive .893 save percentage
Then thank god, the offseason came, which brought so much light to an organization that had gone through so much despair the previous season.
Tampa landed some big-name free agents in Radim Vrbata and Ryan Malone. They picked up veterans like Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts. They also landed the first-overall pick in Steven Stamkos.
Finally, in what would be the turning point for the Tampa Bay Lightning, they landed the biggest mullet in coaching history by signing Barry Melrose to coach the Tampa Bay Lightning back to the promise land.
So everything was looking rosey again back in Tampaland. With a load of offense and a solid goaltender in Mike Smith, things were looking up.
But a dark cloud loomed in the distance—lack of defense.
What poor Mike Smith didn't know is that in order for a team to be successful, they need defense.
Something that Tampa Bay management seemed to forget about.
But regardless once again, the season started. With the Tampa Bay Lightning playing there first game of the season in Europe, and with a starting role waiting to be taken, Mike Smith had it all.
But, sadly, his bad luck came back to bite him.
And hard too.
The team had no chemistry. They had no defense. They had nothing.
Even though this season Mike Smith has been playing extremely well with a .922 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. The team in front of him has been horrid.
Barry Melrose was fired, Steven Stamkos has been—for lack of a better word—a bust, and Radim Vrbata hated Tampa Bay so much, that he opted out of playing there to play for a minor-league team in Slovakia.
Pretty much sums it up right there.
Sadly, it seems to be getting to Mike Smith too, with him telling the Tampa Bay Tribune that "I don't know if we're a dumb team, if we just don't get it or we don't deserve to be in this league, I don't know, but we are making the same mistakes we talk about game in and game out."
The poor bastard.
And with no end in sight, I see no relief coming to Mike Smith any time soon.
One thing I do know is that Mike Smith does deserve to be in the NHL. He is a solid goaltender who can start for any team in this league. Sadly, he has to start for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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