Following Mike Smith’s outburst on Tuesday night, it led many fans to start thinking about how the Arizona Coyotes got here and why they are continuously being laughed at around the league. It also made it seem that Smith was the problem with the Coyotes over the last 4 seasons.
Let’s go back in time, shall we?
Led by Smith and a slew of veterans, the Coyotes made the playoffs back in 2012 as the #3 seed in the Western Conference, even though the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks had more points than the Coyotes. But by buying into the “Hockey The Hard Way” motto, they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, surprising the hockey world and putting the Coyotes on the national stage.
We all know how it went down from there.
The Coyotes lost in five games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings.
One of the reasons why the Coyotes were reaping the benefits of success was because of Smith’s remarkable play.
Remember the game back on April 3, 2012 when Smith made 54 saves in a shut out against the Columbus Blue Jackets? That game was when Smith and the team were looked at as serious contenders and were officially put on the map.
Dec 17, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Coyotes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Smith had a similar game this season against those same Blue Jackets, when he made a record 58 saves in an eventual shootout loss. Smith sounded off after the loss, as many understood his frustration with the club and their efforts up till that point.
Now let’s get back to reality in 2016.
He has had a resurgence so far this season, even though his numbers don’t exactly say the same. It has been said for 4 years that the Coyotes will go where Mike Smith goes. Now that Smith is playing at a level where he’s been expected to play since he signed his mega contract, why are the Coyotes still losing in the fashion they are?
It’s because he’s getting very little help from the offense and his penalty killers.
Allow the stats to make the case.
Since that year in 2011-12, the Arizona Coyotes have missed the playoffs every season.
They had a winning record in the 2013-14 campaign by seven games but still missed the playoffs. The last 2 seasons were trainwrecks that resulted in a combined 89 regular season losses.
Smith followed up his unforgettable season in 2011-12, with a 15-12-5 record in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season. He was 27-21-10 and stayed healthy for most of the season in 2013-14. In 2014-15 when the Coyotes suffered 50 losses, which was the most in franchise history, Smith was a disastrous 14-42-5. Last season, he missed more than half the season due to injury, playing in just 32 games.
Since the 2011-12 season, the Coyotes have finished 19th or lower in the league in goals scored. They have also finished 22nd or lower in penalty kill percentage. All those roads lead to the obvious.
Dave Tippett, being the defense first coach that he is, is not displaying what he is best known for.
Shane Doan is slowing down and appears to be with the Coyotes just to mentor the young players. Mike Ribeiro turned out to be another version of Kyle Turris. Sam Gagner turned out to be disappointing and is now lighting it up with John Tortorella and the first place Blue Jackets.
Management gave Connor Murphy a $23 million dollar contract when he had just 32 points in 3 seasons before signing that contract. The list goes on and on.
Notice the trend here?
Mike Smith wasn’t even mentioned in those problems, and those are only a few of the many.
So, when we step back and make an assessment of what’s going on, where should Coyotes fans point the finger and who do fans point the finger at?
It certainly shouldn’t be at Mike Smith.
Smith is single handedly putting fans in the seats and keeping them from being in last place in the whole NHL and ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
Max Domi going down with a broken hand as he was trying to be like his old man, Tie, didn’t help. Anthony Duclair having a treacherous start to the season doesn’t help. Dylan Strome getting sent back to juniors doesn’t help either. So why is Smith getting a lot of the blame and not the offense?
If the Coyotes continue at this pace, they could end up with the most losses in franchise history, breaking 50 in 2014-15.
When Radek Faksa slashed at Smith on Tuesday night and he responded by hurling expletives at him and dropping his glove and blocker, ready to start throwing hay-makers, it was Smith telling the Coyotes and their fans that he is clearly frustrated.
The $34 million dollar goaltender was trying to send a message to his young team and their fan base.
It is glaringly obvious that this team is not very good and he is losing his patience.
If the Coyotes don’t start making changes and improving their offense, Smith may want out of Arizona. Should Coyotes fans want a resurgent goaltender to walk out the door when he’s playing at a level that hasn’t been seen in 4 years?
There’s a question for Coyotes players and their fans to think about.