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YOUR FLAMES AUTHORITY: Biggest off-season question answered

Mike Smith excited to join Flames and finally play in a Canadian market

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Shovels, toques, booster cables, toboggans. No worries. Bring it on.

"After winters in Dallas, Tampa and Arizona,'' promises Mike Smith, "I'm ready for a little snow. A little cold.

"Can't wait, in fact.

"I knew Calgary was interested. I knew they'd been interested for awhile. But when it does happen, you kinda go into shock-mode. I've been in Arizona for six years, great years, three of my four kids were born there. You develop relationships outside the game.

"So emotions pull you in all different directions when you receive the call.

"But I'm really happy to be playing in a Canadian market, with fans that absolutely adore their team. That's the thing I'm most excited about.

"I hope to be able to play in my home country for the rest of my career. I've learned a lot about being a pro, about being a goaltender in pressure-packed situations.

"I'm ready for this.

"I'm just really, really honoured to be playing for the Calgary Flames."

In addressing their unsettled goaltending situation Flames/ GM Brad Treliving explored no end of options, but found himself gravitating towards local knowledge.

So Saturday, he acquired the 35-year-old Smith from his former employers the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for soon-to-be-out-of-contract puck-stopper Chad Johnson, defence prospect Brandon Hickey and either a second- or third-round draft pick, depending on the Flames' playoff-worthiness next season.

With incumbents Brian Elliott and Johnson set to become UFAs on July 1, the organization decided to go in a different direction.

Smith has two years remaining on a deal paying him $5.7 million per annum but the Coyotes agreed to pick up a quarter of that.

For Treliving, this is equivalent to adding an ace to his starting rotation or a proven top-level QB.

"Mike Smith,'' emphasizes Treliving, "has the ability to put a team on his back. 

"This is a guy who's highly competitive. As athletic as anyone I've ever been around. And really, really driven. I know this player, what he brings.

"So you have background. You've got inside knowledge on the player. You know the person. But you still go through the process.

"It's … everything.

"It's the (salary) price. The acquisition cost. It's the fact that he's been The Guy, a No.-1 guy. It's his skill set, his ability to play the puck. You play against Mike Smith, you game-plan how to play around him, with his puck play.

"We spent a lot of time looking at the market, what was available and at our guys. We felt this was the best fit for us."

The age issue is one the Flames considered carefully.

"You're cognizant of it, no question," says Treliving. "There's no question it's a consideration. One thing I'll say, Mike's an elite athlete. He looks after himself as well as anybody and if you look at his career, he was a late starter. He doesn't necessarily have the mileage some guys do at that age.

"So, yes, you're always conscious of it. The term of the contract made sense for us and sort of fit into what we've got coming (Jon Gillies, David Rittich, Tyler Parsons).

"(Age) was something we had a lot of discussion about but in the end it wasn't something we felt was an impediment."

When asked to recall a Mike Smith 'moment' that in his mind encapsulated him as a goaltender during their days together in the desert, Treliving answered with not one moment but a chain of moments during a memorable run.

"There were a lot. But I'd say that whole playoff run (of 2012). The team played well but there were moments in certain games, and quite frankly in different series, where Mike was responsible for us winning.

"So, a Mike Smith moment …? That run. At one point in time you wonder whether you're going to qualify and we wind up in the Final Four, and he's the main reason it all happened."

Over 474 regular-season games spanning 11 seasons, the Kitchener-born Smith has posted a 2.70 GAA and 913 save percentage. Internationally, he has in his curio cabinet gold medals from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2015 World Championships held in the Czech Republic.

"It's nice to have a guy with Mike's pedigree,'' says Treliving. "When you really dig into the numbers, the kinds of things we study, the shot volumes he's faced … we think we've got a guy who's going to fit with our group fantastically.

"Even talking to a couple of players after this thing went down, there's an excitement level. Players who've against him know what kind of goaltender he is.

"So is there some exhale here, yeah. But there's still a lot of work to be done."

Indeed. But let it be noted that THE question of the Flames' 2017 off-season has now been answered.

The Mike Smith era begins this September at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"I see a lot of upside with this group,'' Smith says. "I've had the chance to play against them a lot over the last six years. I've seen them grow over the past year or two to a playoff-calibre team.

"Their young guys are gritty, and seem to have jumped in right away and established themselves as good NHLers. And their veterans are guys know what it takes.

"For me, I come into an organization like this, in a Canadian city, makes me that much more excited to get things started."

So snow, toques, booster cables, toboggans or the scrutiny of a hockey-mad Canadian-city public? No worries.

Bring it on.

"I'll be thrilled to pull that sweater on for the first time,'' Smith says.

"To be a Calgary Flame … it sounds kinda surreal right now. I hoped, but I never thought I'd be playing for a Canadian team.

"I'll do everything in my power to help this team succeed."

 

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