Throughout the offseason, Kurt Overhardt, the agent for goalie Mike Smith, insisted that his client would need to see the Coyotes’ ownership saga resolved before Smith chose to re-sign.
But while that situation remains in limbo, two things changed. First, the Coyotes re-signed coach Dave Tippett for five years, which was a key for Smith. Second, the Coyotes made Smith an offer he couldn’t refuse, which was just as significant.
Late Saturday, Smith and the Coyotes agreed to a contract extension that averages about $5.667 million per year over six years for a total of about $34 million. The deal also includes a no-move clause (can’t be traded without consent; can’t be waived) for the first three years, a no-trade clause for the next three and it is structured in a way to give the team more cap flexibility in the early years.
“Kurt asked me: ‘When you were 21, would you have believed you’d sign a $34 million contract?’” Smith said. “I said, ‘no way,’ so I feel very privileged and blessed that I am in this situation.
“Maybe this will help put the heat on Glendale to pass this deal and get the team sold.”
Smith’s deal closed the door on a vital negotiation just before the NHL Draft began in New Jersey on Sunday. The deal puts him in line with some of the NHL’s top goalies. Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick averages $5.8 million per year, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard averages a little less than $5.3 million per year and Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen averages $5.9 million.
With general manager Don Maloney and Tippett agreeing to new deals earlier this offseason, Smith was considered the Coyotes’ top free-agent priority. The Coyotes still hope to add a couple offensive pieces, but Maloney said that if they had lost Smith, it would have created a huge void.
“We have no chance to win if we don’t get top goaltending, so we just looked at this as our top priority,” Maloney said. “We feel Mike is an A-list asset, and we proceeded accordingly.”
The 31-year-old Smith, who was initially believed to be seeking a deal worth more than $6 million per season, would have been perhaps the top goalie available in free agency if he’d opted to test the market, with free agency opening July 5.
“Could I have gotten more on the free market? I don’t know,” Smith said when asked why he didn’t wait six more days to find out. “Maybe, but I really do believe in what this organization is doing and I believe in Burkie (goalie coach Sean Burke). He really helped develop me into a No. 1 goalie.
“After playing in the World (Championships), I had a strong belief I could play without Burkie, but he grew me into that player, and I really believe he has helped my game. Working with a guy like that carried a lot of weight in my decision.”
So, apparently, did a relocation option.
“Knowing that the two possibilities were Phoenix or Seattle, I had a good talk with my family, and we felt comfortable with either situation,” Smith said.
Smith is at an age considered by many teams — including the Coyotes — to be a goalie’s prime. He has the perfect body type and style to work with Burke, and in Tippett’s defensive-oriented system. During the Coyotes’ run to the Western Conference finals in 2012, he was as good as any player in the league. He posted a 2.21 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage during that regular season.
Smith had a disappointing contract year last season, finishing 15-12-5 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in the 48-game lockout-shortened season. He also missed several games with a groin injury.
But in his defense, the Coyotes rode him throughout much of the early season while many of the successful Western Conference teams employed a two-goalie approach during the condensed schedule to keep their No. 1s fresh in a conference in which travel fatigue is a much greater concern. Chicago used two goalies regularly. So did Anaheim, Vancouver, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
The amount and term of Smith’s deal will seem surprising and risky to some analysts given his limited resume of NHL success. With the Coyotes’ ownership situation still in limbo, it is also important to note that Smith’s contract will impact the team’s salary-cap structure next season and down the road.
The Coyotes want to add a couple forwards for more scoring punch, but in addition to Smith’s deal, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s six-year, $33 million extension, which he signed in March, will kick in this year. That deal is backloaded to allow more cap flexibility in the early years, but it still represents a significant increase over the estimated $1.75 million he made last season with bonuses.
“We’ll have to rearrange some chairs on the ship if we want to add the offense we’ve talked about,” Maloney said. “There’s a cost to adding that skill in assets and contracts.”
The team still intends to re-sign restricted free agents Mikkel Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski, and it would like to bring back center Boyd Gordon, but the money will have to work within their structure.
Regardless, coach Dave Tippett also felt Smith’s return was vital, and the feeling was mutual.
“You know how I feel about Tip. I really do believe in how he coaches the game and what he believes in. He gets the most out of his players,” Smith said. “I play for the best coach in the league, and I think we can draw some other players, some other free agents here because of that.”