Yesterday Cassie made a case for the Lightning to keep Antero Niittymaki and today I'm continuing on the topic of goaltenders. Today we'll tackle the conundrum that is Mike Smith.
Mike Smith is still under contract for this year and is being paid $2.4 million dollars this year with a cap hit of $2.2 million as per nhlnumbers.com. Last year he was considered the starting goalie for the Lightning only to crumble and be outplayed by his backup Niittymaki. No matter how many chances Tocchet gave him he wasn't able to win with any consistency and when didn't play well, well he looked terrible. This year fans are wishing that they could get rid of him via trade or burying him in the minors, but is that a possibility?
As per NHLSCAP.com, Smith does not have a no-trade (NTC) or no-movement clause (NMC) in his contract (the only ones on the Lightning that have those are Vincent Lecavalier with a NMC and Martin St. Louis with a NTC). So the suggestion of burying him down in Norfolk to get his salary off of the cap is a possibility. Whether Vinik gives Yzerman permission to do that or not will be another thing.
Trading away Smith doesn't seem like a logical possibility. Yzerman may be a miracle worker if he can find a team that wants to trade for Smith. He's a player that had a concussion and took months to recover from it. Even in his return his play wasn't up to the potential people saw him have when he was playing back in Dallas. And with a year of inconsistent play with a $2.4 million dollar salary, well he doesn't have a lot going for him as far as market value especially with the huge class of goaltenders on the market this off season.
I think what happens with Smith will depend a lot on how much Yzerman is allowed to spend in payroll this year. If Yzerman does not spend to the ceiling of the cap then it really doesn't matter if they have Smith as a possible starter/tandem, backup or AHL goaltender since they will be paying his salary either way. Yzerman may decide to take the chance on Smith since they are paying him no matter where he is as a with a backup goaltender and hope that he can win the limited games that he starts.
But if Yzerman is allowed to spend closer to the ceiling of the cap and decides that Smith's time in Tampa is done, he may go after any one or two of the UFA's this summer and put Smith in the minors all year. Or perhaps a team might take a chance at picking him up at half price if he goes through waivers during the season. We'll see what the future of Smith will be in a few days when we see which new goaltender(s) ends up signing with the Lightning, but since we have a few days to debate it: what would you do with Smith if you were GM?