The most successful season in Phoenix Coyotes history was possible in no small part because of the play of goaltender Mike Smith.
Smith, who signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes, compiled a 38-18-10 record to go along with a 2.21 goals against average in the regular season.
Then, in the postseason, Smith elevated his game to another level. The goaltender led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final, allowed an average of 1.99 goals per game and posted three shutouts.
He was spectacular, and it appeared the Coyotes had an elite goalie on their hands, provided they could keep him around with a new contract.
In the midst of his second season with the team — one that has been solid but not quite as good as the first — an agreement on a new contract has yet to be reached.
“It’s a difficult situation, quite frankly,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo Thursday. “The level of contract he’s looking for, without an ownership in place, and the kind of term he’s looking for, it’s very hard for us to do right now given the flux of our franchise.”
Smith has battled with injuries and played in just 26 games this season, compiling an 11-10-3 record with a 2.83 GAA. Those are good numbers, but not elite.
However, at 31 with a track record of postseason success, should Smith become available on the free agent market you can bet there will be no shortage of suitors, some of whom might be able to offer more money and more years than the cash-strapped Coyotes.
“In Mike’s case, quite frankly, it’s the state of the franchise, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen in the future that has made him decide that he’d rather wait, to be 100 percent sure that the franchise is going to stay in Phoenix, that Dave Tippett is going to coach in Phoenix, that Sean Burke is going to be his goalie coach, the players,” Maloney said. “So all those decisions go into it, and if it was as simple as working on a number and a dollar figure we probably would have banged something out last offseason.
“But, obviously, we deal with it.”
The handcuffs of a shaky ownership situation have been limiting the Coyotes for years, so the idea that it could end up costing the team a valuable player is nothing new. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, for both the player, the team and the fans.
“So my message to Mike and his agent at the start of the year is, ‘you know what, run the table, get us to the playoffs, win a couple rounds and certainly we’ll get close to the number you’re looking for,'” Maloney said. “I thought Mike had a slow start, but really in the last month, six weeks he’s been fine, giving us quality goaltending.”
Indeed, you cannot place the blame for the team’s struggles on the goaltender, as Maloney said the Coyotes’ offense “has completely dried up.”
But with the Coyotes currently on the outside of the postseason picture looking in, Smith may not get a chance to take the team as far as he did last year.
“Time will tell whether we’ll be able to keep Mike or not,” Maloney admitted. “But at the end of the day, the first thought is to get him back.
“Because we know Mike, when he’s healthy and on his game, there’s few better in the league.”