With news this week that an end may finally be in sight after a two to three-year saga between the Phoenix Coyotes and the city of Glendale — as the Glendale City Council approved a 20-year arena lease agreement to keep the team in town — members of the franchise are anxious to get back to the real business at hand: playing hockey again.
The NHL’s second work stoppage in seven years has now reached the two-and-a-half month mark and has already claimed over 422 combined games, the 2013 Winter Classic and the 2013 All-Star Game in Columbus.
While Coyotes players like Mike Smith are trying to stay in game shape despite the extended lockout, as the 30-year-old netminder explained to ESPN Insider Craig Custance this week, at some point enough is enough.
“I guess you could say [a missed season] doesn’t hurt me that much, but it’s not much fun going to the rink and playing shinny hockey every day,” Smith said. “You’re working toward the ultimate goal — winning the Stanley Cup. You don’t do that sitting out years. As players, that’s what we want to do. We want to be out there. We want to be playing the game.”
Smith, who is coming off a career year with Phoenix (38 wins, 2.21 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in the postseason), might be one of the more invested Coyotes in the on-going lockout negotiations, as his contract with the team is set to expire at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Under the new framework of the owners’ proposed collective bargaining agreement, players would not be offered guaranteed contracts past a five-year limit, essentially putting an end to the type of deal (nine-year contract worth $51 million dollars) the Philadelphia Flyers offered former Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last offseason.
“The contractual stuff is something that as players we’re not going to mess around with,” Smith said. “That’s our livelihood. That’s a big part about being a professional athlete. You have those rights. When you take all that away, it kind of makes us more like puppets than anything.”
One of the other big talking points between the owners and the NHL Players Association has centered around the sustainability of low-revenue markets like Nashville, Columbus and Phoenix.
Based on the latest development in Glendale, however, Smith is convinced that not only is the Valley a sustainable market, but one where the game could thrive for years to come.
“I really do believe there is a market here. We had a great run last year with the team; the fan support behind it was tremendous. I do believe it can be a spot that thrives,” said Coyotes goalie Mike Smith during a Wednesday evening phone conversation. “Sometimes it gets misconceived and sometimes it’s misleading that there isn’t hockey fans in these areas. I can tell you firsthand there is. The playoff run was outstanding. It brought out the best in our fans.”
For now, the closest fans in the Valley might get to witnessing Smith in goal this season is at the Ice Den in Scottsdale. The Coyotes goaltender, along with an estimated 40 to 50 other NHL players, have been training at Phoenix’s practice facility this week.