Mike Smith has been loathed since signing a six-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes, which runs through the 2018-2019 season. It’s not terribly surprising, as most fans thought they were getting the Mike Smith who almost single-handedly dragged the then Phoenix Coyotes to the conference finals after posting a season worthy of a Vezina Trophy. The Mike Smith they ended up getting one who has been rather inconsistent and doesn’t put up flashy mainstream stats such as save percentage and goals against average. There has been talk of buying out Smith, or trading him for who or whatever they can get in return. While there is merit to gaining $5,666,666 in cap space, it might not be wise to speak of Smith as if he has no value.
What To Do About Mike Smith
Value is used sometimes as a blanket term in sports media and among fans, however there are many different branches of the larger value tree, in a complex cap league such as the NHL. Some of these branches include trade value, open market value and impact value. A player with high trade value might not have a large positive impact on a team, such as Kris Russell who was traded to the Stars for two prospects and a conditional 2nd which almost became a first. But this also works conversely, a player with high impact value, but a disproportionately low trade value. Former Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall is unanimously considered a top three left winger in the NHL, but only fetched under achieving defensemen Adam Larsson.
When we look at Mike Smith’s value, it’s important to observe different types of value. It’s apparent that Mike Smith’s trade value is low as he is 34 years old, coming off an injury filled season, making a rather large amount of money and popular opinion says he is not very good. It would probably be difficult to trade Smith. The Coyotes would likely have to take back a bad contract. This would not put them in a better position than they are right now. Trading Smith probably isn’t the best decision for Arizona.
The misconception when it comes to Smith is that he’s not a very good goalie. Smith had a pretty bad season in 2014-2015, but rebounded quite nicely. In fact, even when he is directly compared to some of the league’s top netminders, he doesn’t pale in comparison.
Performance and Advanced Metrics
One could even make a strong argument that Smith was as good if not better than Vezina winner Braden Holtby, when he was playing. The only 5v5 stat in which Holtby outperformed Smith was high danger save percentage, where his edge was only 0.28%. Now Smith did only play 34 games this season, but played very well when he was healthy. Smith is clearly still a net positive to his team. Smith was better than the average goalie this season at even strength, which accounts for the bulk of the game.
What Are the Options?
Trading Smith is a legitimate option to consider, if they are looking to clear up cap space or if the Coyotes wish to give Domingue a larger role and don’t want to pay close to $6 million for a backup. Any trade which involved taking back a bad contract with a long term remaining shouldn’t be considered. The Coyotes have plenty of great young players who will all want pay days in the next 1-5 years. Since Smith is a quality goalie who is likely to fetch a less than quality return, trading Smith probably isn’t the best option.
Buy him out
The Coyotes did miss the buyout window, but they will have another one because Michael Stone was scheduled for arbitration on August 4th. Even with a contract upon for Stone, the buyout window will remain. The clock is now ticking though. Should the Coyotes proceed with a buyout this summer, they will face a cap hit of $1,944,444 for the next six years. (The annual value of the buyout along with other contract details can be found here via General Fanager). That is a lot of money for a long time to pay a player just to make him go away. Alternately, if the Coyotes buyout Smith next summer, they will face 4 years of $1,833,333. On top of that money they would need to find a goalie to replace Smith which likely wouldn’t come cheap. This is probably not the best route for Arizona to pursue.
Smith is pretty good, and in terms of price for a starting goalie, he’s almost exactly average despite performing well above average. New Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen just signed a deal paying him $5,500,000 per year. Smith outperformed Andersen this year. Youngster Louis Domingue played very well this year in Smith’s absence, but faltered after a while. He may one day become a starting goalie, but for now keeping Smith is the Coyotes best option. There’s no good reason for the Coyotes to give up Smith for a negative asset. If Smith has a terrible season this year, it might be worth re-considering a buyout next summer.
The Coyotes shouldn’t be fooled by the poor press regarding Smith. He has been solid for them the majority of his tenure with the Coyotes and coming off his best statistical season in years. Keep him, and if he falters, give Domingue a chance to start and see how it goes. There’s no expectations for the Coyotes next season, which gives them freedom to experiment. If Smith continues his resurgence next year; he might become a legitimate tradeable asset to a team looking for a veteran goalie.
SAVE chart courtesy of Ian Fleming (@imfleming16), all salary data via generalfanager.com
NEWARK, NJ – OCTOBER 20: Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes tends net against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 20, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)