Lawton: Smith is our No. 1 goalie
So much for the idea the Lightning lacked confidence in goaltender Mike Smith. Brian Lawton, the team's vice president of hockey operations said Monday that the No. 1 job "is Mike's job to lose," and that the two-year, $4.4-million contract extension was a way "to instill some confidence in him. ... We wanted to eliminate any doubt where we stand. We are behind him 1,000 percent."
Smith, 26, who will make $950,000 next season in the final year of his current deal, admitted he was a bit unnerved when the Lightning signed Ollie Kolzig, a former Vezina Trophy winner. But Lawton said he sees Kolzig as more of a mentor, who can spell Smith when he drops a few in a row.
Now, that is not to say if Smith is awful and Kolzig is great in training camp, things won't change. Smith even said as much.
"If you don't play well, you're not going to play. It's as simple as that," Smith said.
"It's not a gift," he said of the No. 1 job. "You have to prove you're the guy and hopefully I can come to camp and do that."
But going into camp, there shouldn't be a controversy.
Smith, 26, was 3-10-0 with a 2.79 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage in 13 games after being acquired from the Stars in the Brad Richards trade. Personally, I don't think you can truly evaluate Smith off those games. The guy had never been traded before. He went from a playoff team to a team that would finish last in the league with teammates who, like he said, "We didn't give up, but a lot of us were just waiting for that season to be over with."
Smith predicted he would be a much more consistent goalie and said, "As soon as (last season) ended, I was so pumped for the new season. Getting to talk coach coach Melrose, he sounds like a great guy to play for, and I'm looking forward to getting to camp. I said to (owner) Len Barrie when I talked to him, I said, 'A lot of us can't wait for camp to start.' All these changes have happened. I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Smith said whether he got the contract extension or not, he had come to terms with Kolzig's presence, and is looking forward to the collaboration.
"Ollie has been through a lot of stuff in his career, so I think it's going to help me be a better goalie, looking up to him and learning a lot from a guy like that," Smith said. "I'm excited to get to know him, and, obviously, he's going to be a great role model to mentor myself by. He's been through a lot. If there's something I haven't don, he's sure to have done it. He'll be a great guy to be around."