All Mike Smith needed was a chance to play for a contender, and all the Calgary Flames needed to truly become one was a strong goaltender. General manager Brad Treliving — who was a member of the Arizona Coyotes’ front office for 11 years — turned to his former organization and acquired a boost in net this past June.
Calgary gave up Chad Johnson, 2014 third-round pick Brandon Hickey, and a conditional third-round pick (that becomes a second-rounder if the Flames make the playoffs) for Smith.
That’s not an insane bounty to trade away, but it is a sizable package of assets for a 35-year-old goalie with a lot of miles on his motor. It was a calculated risk by Treliving, who saw an otherwise solid squad derailed by leaky netminding last season.
In 2016-17, among goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes, Johnson had the eighth-worst 5-on-5 save percentage in the NHL with a 91.57 mark. Brian Elliott wasn’t the answer the Flames had been hoping for either — his 92.17 even strength save percentage ranked 29th out of the 49 goaltenders with over 1,000 minutes played.
Smith was brought in to solidify Calgary’s shakiest position, and even though he was considered a wild card during the preseason, he has made the Flames a better team in 2017-18. No goalie in the NHL has seen more shots through Nov. 8, and no one has made more saves either.
Despite seeing all that rubber, Smith has the seventh-best 5-on-5 save percentage in the league this season. He’s performing at a level similar to Sergei Bobrovsky, Jonathan Quick and Brayden Holtby during evens, and the Flames are hanging tough in an insanely tight Western Conference because of his play.
Calgary couldn’t afford to start 2017-18 the way it started 2016-17. Smith settled in quickly and has kept the Flames in mostly every game he’s started. He got roughed up in his most recent outing against the Vancouver Canucks — he gave up five goals on 21 shots — but those games should be the exception and not the norm for Smith. That is a departure for the Flames, who never knew what kind of goaltending they were going to get from Elliott and Johnson.
Odds are good that they wouldn’t have been able to win games like they did last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins with that duo. The defending Stanley Cup champions fired 44 shots on Smith, but he allowed only a single goal. Somehow the Flames managed a 2-1 win despite getting badly outshot.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan said that “(i)t was one of the best goalie performances I’ve seen in a long time.”
Only four goalies have a better goals saved above average than Smith, and he’s been exactly what the Flames have needed him to be. They aren’t getting a lot of secondary scoring yet, and they tend to bleed shots against, but the veteran netminder has been stellar.
He rarely (if ever) received the respect he deserved during his time in Arizona and was a much stronger netminder than a lot of people realized in 2016-17. Smith has picked up right where he left off, albeit in a new city with a new team. Sean Monahan spoke to Eric Francis of SportsNet.ca about that earlier this month:
“I know how good he was in Phoenix – he made a lot of big saves on me. He’s such a gamer… He’s a great goalie and he’s kept us in a lot of games – night in and night out we’ve got to give him credit. He’s been our number one guy all year.”
The Flames traded for Smith with hopes that he could stabilize their net. He’s done that and then some through the first month of the season.