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Bonus structure a key element to Mike Smith's one-year pact with Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2019-07-01 Bruce McCurdy, Edmonton Journal
a group of people riding skis down a snow covered slope: Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith makes a save on a shot by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers during NHL hockey at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday, April 6, 2019. © Al Charest Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith makes a save on a shot by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers during NHL hockey at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

As speculated for some days and reported here yesterday by the Cult of Hockey ‘s David Staples, veteran netminder Mike Smith has signed a one-year, bonus-driven contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

As expected the base salary is $2.0 million,  with total bonuses coming in at $1.75 million, a bit less than the $2 mil floated yesterday. The lion’s share of the bonuses are based on simple Games Played, as outlined here and below by PuckPedia.

Unclear what the playoff bonuses are based on — simply making the playoffs? performance in the playoffs? some combination of the two? — but the regular season portion is $1 million, with fully half of that due only if Smith plays 40+ games.

Interesting comparison with former Oiler stopper Cam Talbot, who signed a one-year deal to take Smith’s old job in Calgary. One year, $2.75 million guaranteed, no bonuses. He too is coming off a rocky season. Which stopper will turn out to be the better buy?

The acquisition of Smith is apt to be a divisive issue in Oil Country, where divisive issues are a matter of course. The truculent netminder has earned many enemies in this city over the years, not least due to his persistent ability to win games vs. the Oil (career 17-5-1, .924) which included a mystifying run of success while a member of the oft-mediocre Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.

It was with the Desert Dogs where Smith was the main man for coach Dave Tippett for six years, thrice starting over 60 games. In recent times that workload has trailed off some, as he started 55 games in each of 2016-17 (Arizona) and 2017-18 (Calgary), before being scaled back to 42 GP with the Flames last year as he shared the crease with David Rittich.  He had an erratic season in Cowtown, posting an ugly .888 save percentage in 25 games prior to the All-Star break (somehow winning 14 of them), but soaring to .912 in 17 games thereafter. He played all 5 playoff games for Calgary as they got buried by the Avalanche, posting a .917 save percentage while twice facing over 50 shots.

Over his career Smith has a respectable .912 save percentage in 571 regular season games, and an impressive .938 in 24 playoff games.

The full range of the deal plus that of putative starter Mikko Koskinen (3 years at $4.5 million per) will place the Oilers’ 2019-20 goaltending budget between $6.5 and $8.25 million = roughly 8-10% of the salary cap.

Pros

Smith is an old pro himself at 37 years of age. He has a well-established reputation for fiery competitiveness, and for leadership.

The one-year term is a significant plus, as is the base-plus-bonus nature of the deal. Ken Holland’s approach seems to be “you play, we pay”. Meanwhile, the term leaves time for Shane Starrett to further develop in Bakersfield while leaving him a possible opening for a future NHL gig. If an experienced goalie had signed for 2-3 years that might have closed that door.

That Smith is well-known and trusted by Tippett is surely a positive. The netminder is very familiar with the Pacific Division, where he’s resided for the last eight seasons.

Finally, he’ll be an interesting player to watch. In addition to his in-crease antics (where the 6’5, 220-pound stopper doesn’t hesitate to engage physically and has been known to take the occasional dive), he is an, uhh, adventuresome puck-handler. Oilers fans haven’t seen the likes since the legendary Don “Smokey” McLeod also made the trip up the QE2 to join the WHA Oilers way back in 1977-78. (OK, maybe Grant Fuhr also belongs in this conversation, but it’s been a while since the Oil had a netminder so proficient at handling the disc.)

Cons

Smith is an ex-con himself at 37 years of age. (I’m kidding of course, suffice to say he has ticked off quite a few hockey fans in Oil Country over the years and I’m one of them.) There’s no doubt he’s nearing the end of the line and has shown some cracks in his game in recent years. His net .898 save percentage in 2018-19 was the worst of his 13-year career. As mentioned, he bounced back pretty hard in the second half but which Mike Smith will the Oilers see?

He’s an adventuresome puckhandler. Yes I know I just listed this same trait under “pros”, it is in fact both.

The pact has a No Trade Clause, which is curious but not that problematic given the one-year term.

___

Bottom line, while he was the first choice of few, Smith checks off a number of boxes in terms of team needs. He’s battle-tested, affordable, on the optimum term, and well-positioned to battle Koskinen for ice time be it in a platoon situation or a more well-defined 1A/1B role. Let’s just say I’ll be both surprised and disappointed if a single goalie is expected to play 55+ games in Edmonton next season, and hopefully the quaint notion of using the same goalie in back-to-back games becomes a thing of the past in these parts. Ideally the tandem of Koskinen-Smith is greater than the sum of its parts.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: Oilers re-up Alex Chiasson for 2 years

STAPLES: Oilers sign versatile Markus Granlund to modest 1-year pact

STAPLES: Buyer Beware in Free Agent season for NHL teams

McCURDY: How the Sekera signing changes the equation

LEAVINS: 9 Things, including why Sekera had to go

McCURDY: Digging deep into Holland’s shopping list

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