NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first thing that stands out is the hair. Or lack thereof.
The curly, shoulder-length look Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had since arriving in Arizona two years ago, which was then repurposed to a "mullethawk" so famous it had its own Twitter account, is gone. He reported the news to heartbroken followers last week and unveiled the new 'do in a local pizza commercial before training camp opened.
"I'm 31 years old, I have two kids, just bought a house out here in the desert … I had to grow up sooner or later," Smith said. "It's sure a lot cooler, especially around here this time of year. The guys were joking that I'd lost some weight, but it's not body mass. It was all hair.
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"For the first time in my life, I guess I'm interested in looking a little younger."
Smith is interested in more than cosmetic changes. After carrying the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012, Smith struggled during the shortened 2012-13 season. His goals-against average rose to 2.58 (from 2.21), his save percentage dropped to .910 (from .930) and he was limited to 34 games by a succession of injuries.
Smith isn't one for excuses, but he was one of many NHL goalies who showed some rust when the season began in January. When Smith quickly went from not ready to not healthy, the Coyotes struggled out of the gate and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four years.
"Our team, myself included, just lacked the consistency that we had when we were successful," said Smith, who managed to share the League lead with five shutouts. "It was a different season with the condensed schedule and not much of a training camp, which is big for me because I'm a big proponent of preparation. Then came the injuries … it was frustrating without a doubt.
"But that's in the past, and I'm not going to look back too much. We have a very good team and now with stable ownership were in a good position to get back on track. We would be better just with the ownership part alone, but we also made some upgrades that will add positives."
As soon as the ink was dry on the agreement to purchase the Coyotes, new owners George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc signed Smith to a six-year, $34 million contract extension to keep him from free agency and prove that they see him as a cornerstone of the franchise. It may have been a bit of a risk given his performance last season, but the Coyotes feel they have the right man between the pipes.
Mike Smith," general manager Don Maloney said. "Last year, there were a lot of curveballs and he still had his moments. And as much as you can say the contract situation wasn't a factor, here is a guy who is being talked about as a Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic teams, 'And the Coyotes can't do a contract for me?'
"We feel like we have an elite goaltender and we proved it this summer. We think he will get back to top-10 level with a more normal year, and we're hoping with the additions we've made we won't need him to be all-world all the time to be successful."
Coyotes forward Brandon Yip, who was with the Nashville Predators when the Coyotes eliminated them in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, said Smith can be hard to beat when he's on his game.
"It was the worst. He stoned us in the playoffs and it's nice to be on his team for once," Yip said. "We gave him everything we had for five games and his numbers were just ridiculous."
Smith played a total of 83 games in 2011-12, the NHL's last full season, and he is in the goalie mix with Canada in the 2014 Olympics. The Coyotes feel they have upgraded the backup position by signing Thomas Greiss from the San Jose Sharks to replace Jason LaBarbera, but Smith isn't looking for extra rest.
He spent the summer with an off-ice trainer in Vancouver, working on strengthening his core muscles and reducing the chances of injuries that often befall bigger goalies. He's moved on to on-ice classes with Phoenix goalie guru Sean Burke, whom Smith credits for turning his career around.
"I'm starting this season healthy and with a good summer of work under my belt," Smith said. "I've changed my training regimen, more focus on injury prevention and getting good warm-ups in before I get on the ice. I want to give myself the chance to play as many games and feel good when I'm out there."