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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith Feels He Has A Lot To Prove

Mike Smith has played 766 pro games in his 17 year career. He played 27 in the ECHL, 132 regular season and 12 playoff AHL games and another 571 regular season and 24 playoff NHL games. He’s played in Lexington, Utah, Houston, Iowa, Norfolk, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Calgary, and he’ll wear his 10th pro jersey this coming season with the Edmonton Oilers.

In 571 NHL games, he has a .912sv%. He isn’t an elite goalie, but he’s had a long and really good career. His best season was 2011/2012 when he posted a .930sv% and a 2.21 GAA and finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. He was also incredibly good in the playoffs that year, with a sparkling .944sv% and 1.99 GAA in 16 playoff games as the Coyotes went to the Conference Final for the only time in franchise history.

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(I looked at his season splits this past seasons, and you can read them at the bottom of this article. It is interesting to note what his career sv%  (.912) is and how he performed last year.)

If Smith plays in 29 games this season he will become only the 52nd goalie in NHL history to play in 600 games. In 13 NHL seasons, he’s only had a sub .900sv% twice — 2011 with Tampa Bay (.899) and this past season in Calgary (.898).

Combine that number with his age and many wonder how he will perform this season. It is a fair question, and one Smith knows people are asking. During our interview on TSN 1260 Smith made it clear he is out to prove people he isn’t done. He still has the fire, and he will come to camp looking to not only support Mikko Koskinen, but push him for playing time.

Jason Gregor: How would you describe your season from start to finish last year?

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Mike Smith: The start was not what I was looking for. I had some things going on in my life that maybe hindered me mentally a little bit, but I’m passed that now.

After the All-Star break I felt like I was playing some of the best hockey of my career and obviously, it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to. You want to go farther in the playoffs than the first round, but I felt personally I played my best hockey at the most important time of the year and that’s all you can ask for as an athlete. You want to be in the playoffs and you want to play real good hockey when you get a chance to get in there and unfortunately that wasn’t good enough, but I’m excited about my new opportunity here in Edmonton.

Gregor: Ken Holland said he had heard that you are a really competitive guy and Mikko Koskinen is a really competitive guy, and he hopes that you can push each other. How do you ensure you push each other in a supportive manner?

Smith: You know what, I’ve been in a lot of different roles at my age. I learned a lot about being a good teammate and I’ve learned from the best. I had Marty Turco as a young guy who I really looked up to as a veteran player and he always told me, ‘You’re going to be in this position one day, make sure that you treat the young guys the way they deserve to be treated.’

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I’m going to come in and I’m going to push Mikko, but I’m going to do my best to help him as much as I can, too. We’re going to be on the same team and I’m sure we’re going to be a competitive as a one-two combo, but we’re all in it for the same reason and that’s to get back into the playoffs and to win a Stanley Cup. Whatever we can do to help each other out and to push each other, that’s what we’re going to do and help this team get to the next level.

Gregor: In a way, you’re kind of getting the band back together. You had head coach Dave Tippett and defensive coach Jim Playfair for six seasons with the Coyotes. What did you like best about Tippett as a head coach?

Smith: I obviously have a lot of respect for Tipp as a coach and as a person. I think I had a good relationship with him throughout my career, with early on in Dallas and obviously in Arizona where I spent six years and now with the opportunity in Edmonton. I think he’s just a straight shooter and you know where you stand with Tipp. And I think with athletes that’s all that you can ask for. There is no grey area with Tipp. He’s a systems coach who preaches work ethic and attention to detail.

And like I said you just know where you stand. So I think as an athlete you go out there and you just worry about what you can control and you worry about what your job is at hand and everything else looks after itself.

Gregor: Kevin Woodley from In Goal Magazine is on our show every week and he talks so much about having to trust the guys in front of you and knowing what they’re doing. Does that make it easier for you coming to a new team, knowing the verbiage or just what their approach to defence is going to be?

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Smith: Yeah, I think both Jimmy and Tipp preach to the importance of defence and defensive zone coverage. So I think more so it will be the communication between me and the defensemen and I’m always one to be a verbal guy and I’ve had good relationships with the guys in the past and I know different methods.

I’m a guy who can go behind the net and wants to help the D-man get the pucks out of the zone as quick as possible. So there will be a lot of communication, especially early in the season when there are new faces and a new goalie to get used to. All-in-all I’m looking forward to that challenge and this new challenge in my career here.

Gregor: Where did becoming such a good puck handling goaltender start for you?

Smith: To be honest I always was one to get out of my net, in junior and even in the minors a little bit.

Once I was drafted by Dallas and I saw how Marty Turco played, and how important it was it their success, I really took pride in studying his game and I watched a lot of tape. Then I just started implementing it into my game and practising it in the offseason trying to get better at it.

It’s something I really take pride in, and I really think it helps the defensive group out. The faster we can get it into the forward’s hands, especially with some of the dangerous guys that are on the Oilers, the better. It’s something that I’ll always continue to work at. It’s something that even at practice now, coaches that I’ve had have implemented that into their practice to really get used to me coming out and playing it. Anything I can do in that sense to help Mikko out, I’m going to do it. Anything for the betterment of the team is my main focus this year.

Gregor: You mention some of the dangerous players on the Oilers. Leon Draisaitl scored 50 goals, Connor McDavid had 116 points and is the fastest guy in the league. Can you almost be like a third defensemen moving the puck and you might be able to have a career high in assists this year?

Smith: (Laughs) I don’t think that they brought me in to get assists, but like I said, it’s a big part of my game, the puck handling part. Whatever I can do to help spark the offense is a bonus but more so it is to limit the times our defensemen are going to get hit. That just makes for longevity in the season and to limit the punishment that gets put on them is the main thing and the main reason why I want to get out there. Anything else after that that happens is obviously a bonus. I really feel like it helps the D out and limits their time getting pounded in the end wall. Hopefully they can get up the ice and create some offense also. Maybe the odd stretch pass (laughs). So all of those things benefit the team in general.

Gregor: When I look at your numbers, it seems you played better when you’re involved in games when you face more shots. Do you feel that way? Are you into the game more when you’re getting more shots?

Smith: I think any goalie will tell you that playing teams who like to shoot the puck from all over the place you can never let your guard down. So you’re always mentally in the game, you can never relax. I think with the puck handling part of it, no matter whether you’re getting 20 or 40 shots, I think you’re always in the game. You’re always alert because you’re wanting to move the puck around too. I think that part of it helps you to stay more mentally engaged in the game and whether it’s 20 or 40 you’ve got to do your job, whatever it is and give your team the best chance to win.

Gregor: What about a goalie coach at this stage of your career? You had Jordan Sigalet the last two years with the Calgary Flames. Prior to that you had Jon Elkins and Corey Schwab in Arizona. Dustin Schwartz is the goalie coach here in Edmonton. At 37 years young what are you looking for from your goalie coach at this stage of your career?

Smith: I’m a big believer that you can always get better, and you can always learn. No matter what your age. So just when you think you have it figured out is the only time you’re going to hit the locker room pretty quick and be in the shower. You’ve got to keep learning, keep improving your game, even at this age. And Schwartz, he’s already reached out to me and I’m looking forward to meeting with him and getting his take on my game. Anything I can do to improve a little bit at this point in my career, I’m all game for that. So, I’m excited about this new chapter and I can’t wait to get it started.

Gregor: Kevin Woodley wrote an article and in it you said early on last year in Calgary you didn’t deal the best with not getting to play as much when [David] Rittich took over, but you learned from that and were a lot better. What did you learn about yourself last year that is going to allow you to be better this year?

Smith: Like you said, you’re always learning. I think the mental part of the game is a lot of it. You obviously have to be a good athlete, you have to have a good fundamental base, but at the end of the day you have to learn to deal with different coach’s philosophies and different structure in front of you. There are a lot of things that go on through the course of the season that mentally you just have to will your way through it and there’s a lot of other things that were going on outside of hockey that just kind of built up and made it difficult for me to refocus.

But like I said, I’m always learning, I learned a lot about myself this year and came from a long ways down back up to a level I believe I can play at regularly. I have a lot left in the tank and a lot left to prove so I’ll be highly motivated this year to go show everyone that. I’m still for real and I’m not leaving anytime soon.

OFF THE BAR…

Apr 19, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith (41) watches the puck against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period in game five of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Smith mentioned how he felt he was much better after the All-Star break. The numbers back it up.

In 24 starts in October-January he had a .888sv% and a 3.04 GAA, while David Rittch, in 27 starts, had a .918sv% and 2.47 GAA.

After the AS break Smith had 16 starts and posted a .912sv% and a 2.28 GAA, while Rittich, in 15 starts, posted a .898sv% and a 2.89 GAA.

And then in five playoff starts Smith had a .917sv%. As he said, he was much better in the final three months of the season.

He mentioned he had some personal stuff going on in his life that impacted his play early, but says that is behind him now and his play over the final three months is the level he expects to play at this upcoming season.

In his first 24 starts he had an ugly .888sv%, but over his final 21 starts he had a .914sv%, which is right around his career average.

Can he be close to a .912% this year? The Oilers are hoping he can and Smith is confident he will be.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.

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  • elliotsmom

    Before the puck has even dropped, many of the nay sayers already have us counted out. People aren’t satisfied with the trades the were and we’re not made. I think that Smith will compliment Mikko quite well, and his experience and relationships with the coaches should show up in his game. I’m looking forward to the season to start. I’m sure the team will play with more determination and motivation.

  • hagar

    It’s nice that his outlier isnt a good season, his outlier is a bad half a season, followed by one of the best playoff performances ever. I dont think it is a bad choice bringing smith In. Dont have money for a sure deal goalie, might as well pay for one that has the possibility of being a top 20 goalie, at backup price.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      No, Smith is an excellent bet, especially in this goalie market. His playoff numbers have been all-time good, as Gregor alluded to in his article. His puck handling skills are excellent and now he has the fastest player in the league to work with. And to be clear, it was only the fans that hated his puck handling in Calgary: the players loved it (Calgary fans are impossible to please). I personally think he’ll be a better fit in Edmonton than he was in Calgary.

      The only knock on him is that he can be really intense, almost to a fault. I got the impression he didn’t really gel with Peters, which may have had something to do with it (along with his personal life) but his history with Tippett might be a balm for that.

      Jason, do you get the impression that the Oil were seriously considering other options in net or was it pretty much Smith from the start?

      • Jason Gregor

        They had some discussions with others, I’m told, but nothing serious. I think they felt Smith was a good fit due to his experience and Tippett obviously knows him very well.

        • TruthHurts98

          Oilers still have one of the weakest goalie tandems in the league. I don’t see how they don’t finish out of the bottom 5 in the league, other teams chasing the playoffs in the conference improved a lot except L.A. and maybe Anaheim. However the Ducks have a lot of prospects ready to push them into contention for a wildcard spot. Oilers did not address the lack of NHL caliber wingers and with Sekera gone the defense better not have injury problems. Oilers should get a couple more great picks early in the 1st and 2nd rounds in the next draft which is the best since 2015.

        • Serious Gord

          I sure hope those weren’t the criteria used to pick him (or any player for that matter). Such benefits should be considered as helpful but not relevant in what makes a goalie good or bad between the pipes.

    • Dave Marks

      LOVED the dude’s competitiveness & ability to play the puck better than any other tender but it’s all about his older age of 37 at this point. The Athletic recently completed a study of Smith vs 18 comparables. Smith didn’t fare well at all in most categories & feel there are better odds Smitty will be the worst goalie in the league than have a rebound year. The good news is that Holland structured his income with bonuses so if Smitty tanks as expected the Oil won’t feel the pinch as much … except on the ice of course. Nearly half of the deal’s potential value is tied up in signing bonuses, with $500,000 contingent on Smith playing half the team’s games and another $750,000 linked to playoff success.

    • Dave Marks

      Smitty is expected to make it until December or so with the Oil & by then his glaring deficiencies should be readily evident … even to Oil Nation. So how many times do the Flames/Oil meet before Christmas anyway … ?

  • Muddy

    This guy has always had some of the best masks in the NHL, that Vernon throwback last year may crack the top 5 of all time. Can’t wait to see what he has planned for the Oilers and yes I know I sound like a 6 year old. #masksarecool

  • GRC

    Tippetts systems tend to make goalies look better so that bodes well. I do like the fact that Smith can handle the puck…an additional option for an outlet pass will be a big help on this team.
    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Still Hate the Flames

    I don’t doubt players’ motivation or desire to play well. Lucic has had a lot to prove for a couple years now and hasn’t done it. The problem is ability, not determination. I won’t hold my breath on a great year from Mr.Smith, but I hope he has it.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Smith wasn’t exactly someone who was on my list of goalies, I would have looked for someone else, but he is with the team so have to hope for the best for him and his play. Still believe the Oilers should have gotten rid of Schwartz and hired another goalie coach

  • usetobewise

    Personal stuff? Unless I am told otherwise I think it’s fair to assume that means he had a bad case of chronic explosive diarrhea. Te he he……I can be such a child sometimes.

  • Spoils

    Tim Thomas, Hasek, Dwayne “ROLI” Roloson… the list goes on. very occasionally, later in life goalies can “game” the game.

    I had Sekera pegged to be our Giordano style old guy makes good but now that he’s picked up one year for $1.5M with the Stars maybe we can stick it DOWN the line to those horrible Flamers.

    Go Smith!

  • hungrytyler

    One thing I always liked about Mike Smith is that he is able to actually play the puck or make a pass. Marty Turco was always so good at that. I don’t remember the last Oil goalie in the last while who could at times act as a 3rd defenseman and make an outlet pass….

    Watching Talbot try to do that was legit painful to watch.

  • blobbo

    Roly was 37 when he took the Oilers to the final. Dare to dream 🙂 .

    Smith’s at that age where a goaltender’s career can go downhill hard and fast. The hope is that he has one more year left playing some kind of role with the Oilers.

    I dunno, I have that nagging feeling Cowgary got the better guy. Please, say it isn’t so.

  • The goalie position is the most unpredictable position sports. All we have to go off is his last performances and they were pretty good. Yeah they weren’t wins but he gave his team a chance. His puck handling is a bonus but there is going to be mistakes that most of this fan base can’t wait to comment on.