Who is Mike Smith?

26

February

Smith The Stars' backup goaltender is coming to the Lightning in a multi-player deal that includes center Brad Richards. Other than clearing Brad's $7.8-million off the books, which would help come free agent time (remember Dan Boyle's new cotnract only increases his salary by $3-million), the question has to be asked: Is Mike Smith the long-sought No. 1 goalie for whom Tampa Bay has been searching?

The reports about the 6-foot-3, 211-pounder have been good. Some reports out of Dallas have said he is as good handling the puck as New Jersey's Marty Brodeur. His stats are good but not outrageous this season at 12-9-0 in 21 games as Marty Turco's backup with a .906 save percentage, a 2.46 goals-against average and two shutouts. He also has been on a hot streak lately, winning his past three starts with a .938 save percentage (76 saves on 81 shots) and a 1.67 goals-against average.

For his career, Smith is 24-14-2 in 44 games with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

The question as with all backup goalies is, can they sustain their success over a long season. Johan Holmqvist certainly had stretches in which he looked brilliant, but he never quite got his glove (short) side strengthened sufficiently and his ups and downs helped the Lightning to the bottom of the league defensively. On the other hand, Marc Denis appeared to be able to handle the load as Columbus' starter, and we saw where that got Tampa Bay.

But this kind of deal, if it actually happens, will be even more closely scrutinized simply because it involves Richards. Say what you want about his past two seasons (and he has under-performed given his salary, though he has played with squat on his wings for two seasons), he has meant a ton to this franchise and was the MVP of the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. At one point, the character guy was believed to be the team's next captain.

And if Smith is acquired, what does this mean to Holmqvist? Do the Lightning go to a Smith-Holmqvist tandem so as not to put to much pressure on either? Is Holmqvist a backup and Karri Ramo sent back to AHL Norfolk for more seasoning. Will Holmqvist be traded before becoming an unrestricted free agent? Is a Smith-Ramo combination a good idea?

On the other end, without the weight of Richards' $7.8-million salary, the team could be freed up to be more pointedly active over the summer, especially if it sheds more payroll either through trade or allowing contracts to expire, and perhaps able to go after higher-level free agents and not doodle at the margins as it had to do last summer with Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac.

Lots of intrigue. The trade deadline is at 3 p.m.

(AP photo)

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]

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