June 17, 2017. A day that ultimately saved the Calgary Flames season before it started, but was a day that brought more questions than answers. That was the day the Flames sent Chad Johnson’s rights, college prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional 3rd round pick to Arizona for 35 year old veteran goalie Mike Smith. I remember scratching my head at this deal and I wasn’t the only one here at M&G who wasn’t thrilled with the trade and with good reason.
Smith had played 12 seasons in the NHL before arriving in Calgary and the results were mixed to say the least. Smith’s best season in 2011-12 with the then Phoenix Coyotes where he started 68 games and went an outstanding 38-18-10 with a GAA 2.21 and a Save% of .930. After that season it all came crashing down in the desert. The Coyotes were bad in front of him and the W/L record took a massive hit. In 2014-15 Smith finished with a 14-42-5 record, by far the worse of his career. But if you dug past the wins and loss totals, you saw something: Smith wasn’t the problem in Arizona, the rest of the team was. Smith only had one season, the 2014-15 abomination, where his save % was below .910.
Fast forward to this season and I think those of us who weren’t excited about the older goalie from Arizona, who has some bad stats, can clearly admit we were wrong. Mike Smith was the EXACT goalie the Flames should have traded for and it looks like Brad Treliving knew what he was doing when making the trade. Smith has solidified the Flames crease and even this late in the season is one of the major reasons Calgary is currently holding on to a playoff spot.
Mike Smith has started 38 of Calgary’s 45 games and has a record of 20-13-3. His current GAA (2.46) is the second lowest of his career and his Save % is a rock solid .924, which would be the second highest of his career if the season were to end today. His 20 wins are good for 7th in the NHL. He’s 18th in Save %. His GAA is 23rd. His 1105 saves are the second most in the NHL, a mere 56 behind the league leader Frederik Andersen. He’s also second in the league in shots faced with 1196. If you’ve watched any of the Flames games you know the stats are great, but the eye test tells you all you need to know: the Flames aren’t sniffing the playoffs without Mike Smith.
It’s funny what a difference a calendar year makes. Smith and the Flames are rolling and there’s no talk of “who’s the true #1?” Last year at this time we were playing the back and forth game between Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. Johnson went on a 6 game run in late November-December, winning all 6 games and saving the season. He then lost the next 4 games he started. Brian Elliott popped in and got a win here and there to stop the bleeding, but it wasn’t until the Flames won 10 in a row and Elliott got 9 of those wins that the Flames looked like the had a real #1. Calgary would finish off the season like they had played most of the year, lose a couple, win, lose a couple win and then get the Ducks in round one of the playoffs. Brian Elliott would get the starting nod and it was brutal. Soft, early goals did an already over matched Flames team in and Elliott got benched before Game 4 and the Chad Johnson/Brian Elliott Experiment was over. The results were mixed at best.
So you can forgive Flames fans if they were skeptical when Calgary announced that their new #1 was a 35 year old, sometimes injury prone, goalie of a Coyotes team that hadn’t won more than 30 games with this guy in net in 6 years. But, we should all be “man” enough to admit that we were wrong.
Smith is carrying this team and the workload he’s accepted is unreal. Part of his needing to start so much is because the Flames other solution to their goaltending problems was Eddie Lack. Lack was acquired this offseason as well and he played in 4 games, went 1-2-0, had a GAA of 5.29, a Save % of .813, was sent to Stockton and then traded to NJ for a defenceman who will never see the Scotiabank Saddledome. So there’s that. Until the emergence of David Rittich, this was and still is “Mike Smith Or Bust.” Smith, barring some unforeseen circumstance, will easily eclipse Brian Elliott’s 49 games from last season and Jonas Hiller’s 52 games from 2014-15. Because the Flames don’t need Smith to start 70+ games (see David Rittich) he will fall short of Miikka Kiprusoff’s 76 games played in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
The Flames are in good shape between the pipes for the first time in over 6 seasons. It’s been a revolving door since Kipper walked away and even if it’s for just 2 seasons (Smith is inked through next year) the Flames can feel good about what they have in net. Smith will be a year older next season, so you have to watch the wear and tear, but Calgary has a solid backup in David Rittich who can slide right into the lineup and not miss a beat. There’s also 23 year old Jon Gillies in Stockton and rising prospect Tyler Parsons who’s taken over the backup duties with the Heat now that Rittich has become the full time back up in Calgary. It’s been a while since we could look at the Flames goaltending situation and sleep easy at night. No more Joey MacDonald’s. No more Jonas Hiller’s. No more Reto Berra. I’m not going to dog Karri Ramo, I have a soft spot for him, but the Flames are looking like the are in good shape in net and we can all thank Mike Smith for showing up and saving the day.