Lightning fans have got to be wondering just why Mike Smith is getting a load of starts as of late, with flashes of brilliance intertwined with inconsistencies and soft goals. With six starts in the past nine games, Smith has faced the most regular action since his concussion this time last year.
Both wins during that span were under Smith's watch, posting a shutout against the Isles and a near-shutout against the Rangers on November 28th. But for every great start, there have been follow up weak efforts by the team - no matter who is in net.
Two media publications in the Philadelphia area shed light on why Smith has seen so much action as of late: Brian Lawton may have been showcasing him for a potential trade.
According to the Delco Times (which is in Delaware County, PA for the uninformed -- such as myself who originally posted this as Delaware the state. Thanks to Travis Hughes from Broad Street Hockey for the correction.):
According to another organizational source, the Tampa Bay Lightning, ready to hand their starting job to Antero Niittymaki, contacted the Flyers to gauge their interest in goalie Mike Smith.
This report was repeated by Philly.com and invokes memories of Charles M. "Chuck" LaMar (former GM of the Tampa Bay
Devil Rays) in what was the supposed reason talks did not go very far:
"However, the Lightning’s demands for the average-at-best netminder was absurd, as they asked for either Claude Giroux or James van Riemsdyk in return, to which the Flyers told them to peddle their wares elsewhere."
Asking too much in return for someone middle-of-the-road or inconsistent was a mainstay of LaMar's trade negotiating tactics as GM for the Rays.
If the Lightning are indeed shopping Mike Smith, there's a bigger picture one has to realize beyond Antero Niittymaki becoming the #1 starter and remainder of the the 2009-10 season. It happens to do with AHL tandem Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski, and it happens to do with Lightning-alumni-abroad Karri Ramo who is currently in the KHL.
All three goaltenders are Lightning property and will remain Lightning property beyond the 2009-10 season unless moved. Antero Niittymaki is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, having signed for substantially less with the Bolts ($600,000) in order to prove his worth. The Bolts re-signing him long-term at a much greater cost, with steady netminding in the system, is questionable.
The system update I posted here at Raw Charge earlier this week shows that Ramo, Tokarski, Helenius and prospect Jaroslav Janus all have middling records with their teams, yet their personal save percentages and goals against averages have been sound, if not impressive. For the Lightning to look at moving Mike Smith is to suggest the team is confident in their young crop of netminders.
If the team cannot move Mike Smith, his contract lasts for one more season at $2.4 million dollars in salary. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in July of 2011.