The Phoenix Coyotes knew they were taking a risk when they parted ways with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and signed free agent Mike Smith before the 2011 season.
But that move couldn’t have worked out better.
“It was a calculated move, and it’s been nothing but a reward,” ESPN’s Barry Melrose told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo Thursday. “Mike played for me in Tampa Bay. Phoenix has a really good goaltender right there, and he’s actually playing himself into a spot on Team Canada.”
Melrose added that he thinks Smith is the NHL’s most exciting goaltender because of his ability to handle the puck, and said that move is just one of several that has the Coyotes among the league’s best teams through the first two months of the season.
“Phoenix has become a real good organization,” Melrose said. They’ve spent the money in the right spots, and they’ve had to because they haven’t had a lot of money. Phoenix is rock-solid everywhere. Drafted very well, made good trades, smart free agent signings.
“They’ve been a model of how to run a franchise.”
Two of those acquisitions — drafting defenseman Oliver Eckman-Larsson and signing center Mike Ribeiro — have been key cogs in this year’s team that sits two points back of Western Conference-leading Anaheim.
Melrose called Eckman-Larsson a complete package and said he’d be one of the league’s superstars if he were in a large media market like New York or Toronto, and said Ribeiro’s addition not only added a front-line offensive weapon but he also brings the type of skillset that makes everyone around him better.
“Phoenix is adding those guys and it’s one of the reasons they’re turning into one of the better teams,” Melrose said. “All of a sudden, you have two lines that can score and other guys you can put in situations if a guy is struggling. It rubs off on other players.”