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Mike Smith says leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning "the hardest decision I ever had to make in hockey"

Mike Smith said he will stay in the Tampa Bay area for now. His wife Brigitte is due to give birth to the couple's first child, a boy, on July 15. But then Smith, a Lightning goalie since February 2008, will head to Phoenix, where he will be the No. 1 goalie for the Coyotes.

Tampa Bay wanted to keep Smith, but he would have had to take a huge pay cut from last season's $2.4 million salary. He also would have been the backup to Dwayne Roloson. Smith, instead, will make $2 million in each of the next two seasons as Phoenix's starter.

Smith took a few minutes on Monday to speak by phone.   

On perhaps staying with Tampa: My No. 1 choice would have been to stay in Tampa but obviously a chance arose that I could be a starter now. I had to take that into consideration. Obviously, it was a hard decision to make, leaving friends and a great organization. I have nothing but good things to say about what went on in Tampa and, obviously, wish the organization the best.

On being a No. 1 with Phoenix: I’m very excited. To get to work with (goaltenders coach) Sean Burke, who I have heard nothing but good things about; obviously him grooming (Ilya) Bryzgalov was a huge key point in signing there, and reuniting with (coach) Dave Tippett, who coached me in Dallas and who I think the world of.

On talking to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman: We talked a few times but I had a feeling there was a chance I could land a starting job somewhere else. I had to take that into consideration. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make in pro hockey. Obviously, there are a lot of great people in the organization. It’s going to be a change, but I don’t think change is a bad thing in my career right now.

Final words: I’d just like to say I really enjoyed my time here. It was a really tough decision. With Steve and Mr. Vinik (owner Jeff Vinik) it’s going to be a great organization to be part of for a long time. I’m going to miss a lot of guys here. But there comes a point in your career that you have to move on and take a leap and this is the best opportunity for me to do that.

[Last modified: Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:15am]


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