The Edmonton Oilers and Mike Smith are constantly criticized over running with the same goalie tandem in net. Many believe Smith just had a lucky year and that he won’t replicate his stats this season, especially with the heavy criticism over the defensive changes. Instead, there seems to be an even greater drive to continue to prove people wrong and play the game he loves to the best of his abilities.
Some players don’t age the same as others. Some former NHL players have to retire in their early 30s, while others play well into their 40s. Some great examples of players around the hockey world doing that right now are Jaromir Jagr (49 years old), Zdeno Chara (44), who signed with the New York Islanders for this season, and Joe Thornton (42), who is playing for the Florida Panthers.
Smith Can Be the Best 39-Year Old Goalie in History
There have been many goalies to come before Smith to play well at the age of 39 in the NHL. It’s well past the prime of anyone’s career, but that doesn’t mean every player is just going to get worse. Last season, he had the second-best stats in any season of his 16-year career thus far. This season started no different, with him totaling a .947 save percentage (SV%) and a win vs. the Vancouver Canucks. We will get more into that below.
“To say Mike Smith is very competitive, that’s probably an understatement. He will use any motivation he can find. He loves to prove people wrong.”
– Marty Turco(“Smith proves hunger and drive still burn bright”, TSN, May 13, 2021)
As a 38-year-old, Smith had the second-best SV% (.923) and fifth-best goals against average (GAA) of 2.31 of goaltenders who played 20 or more games. In the SV% department, he was only outplayed by Roberto Luongo with a .929. Despite missing the first 13 games of last season, Smith still managed to win 21 games for the Oilers, ranking him sixth in that category.
As a 39-year-old for this entire season, Smith has the opportunity to be the best in NHL history. Some important stats to think about when analyzing 39-year old goaltender seasons with 20 or more games played:
- Only four goaltenders have played in over 50 games: Dwayne Roloson (63), Martin Brodeur (59), Curtis Joseph (55), and Johnny Bower (51).
- Six goaltenders have finished with a sub 2.50 GAA: Jacques Plante (1.96), Johnny Bower (2.11), Gump Worsley (2.26), George Hainsworth (2.32), Martin Brodeur (2.41), and Glenn Hall (2.42).
- Three goalies have recorded over .920 SV%: Jacques Plante (.940), Johnny Bower (.932), Gump Worsley (.920).
- Two goalies have won 25 plus games: Martin Brodeur (31) and Dwayne Roloson (28).
Smith’s production as a 38-year-old inspires confidence that those numbers can be replicated in 2021-22 while playing less against the highly offensive North Division assembled for 2020-21. The Oilers are able to play against teams like the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, and Buffalo Sabres that don’t have the elite superstars that teams like Toronto and Winnipeg have.
Smith has the opportunity to join each of those categories at his age and started off on the right foot. In game one of the 2021-22 season, he finished with a 1.85 GAA, and as mentioned above, .947 SV% and a win. He has a very real shot at recording the most wins as a 39-year-old after winning 21 of 32 last season.
Smith Has Confidence in His Abilities
The Oilers kicked off the 2021-22 season on the right foot on the back of their goaltender Smith, who stopped 36 of 38 shots. He played lights out until the Canucks finally broke through on a deflected puck over halfway through the third period. All night and into overtime and shootout, he showed that he still has the fight and the ability to make amazing desperation saves when the game is on the line. He speaks post-game about how he’s feeling and what he can bring to the Oilers this season.
“I’m a competitor. I feel like I still have a lot to give, and I want to be a big part of this team and why we have success. To do that you want to have a good start.”
– Mike Smith
Smith, who signed for another year after this to play for the Oilers when he’s 40, helped the team save their season last year. He’s available to start the season for them this year and is a big part of why the team can and will succeed in 2021-22.
“[The] offseason is a time to tweak your craft a bit and get healthy; kind of figure out ways to get better.”
– Mike Smith
Even this late in his career, Smith is still trying to find ways to get better each day. The Oilers will need it this season because in this day in age, you can’t win on offence alone; your team has to perform well in all areas. Look at last season for an example, Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoff MVP, recording a shutout in every series-clinching game. Performing to that level may be difficult, but providing the Oilers with numbers as he did in 2020-21 is very attainable.
Smith said he’s been hearing it his whole career, but other teams are always trying to keep the puck away from him specifically. His ability to play the puck seamlessly and make plays is unmatched in the NHL today (“Analyzing the impact of Mike Smith’s puck-handling abilities”, The Athletic, Feb. 7, 2019). Every chance he gets, Smith is coming out of the net to play the puck and make a pass. Many times he fakes out attackers, and his presence warrants opposing players backing off a bit from him.
“Knowing you’re facing teams that don’t want to give you the puck … it sets up well for a team that wants to play the majority of the game in the offensive zone. Whatever I can do back there to help out with that is a bonus.”
– Mike Smith
Time has only allowed Smith to learn and get better at handling the pucks and creating more confidence in his game when the puck is on his stick. We see it on a nightly basis when he is trying to get the puck up the ice as quickly as possible. A lot of these times it works great to catch the other team changing, especially with a long change in the second period.
He goes on to say, “It’s definitely a big part of my game that I feel like it’s a big part of helping our team out.” It does indeed help the team out, whether it’s creating a fast breakout and avoiding the struggle there or allowing time and space for the Oilers to get set up with the puck in their zone. The passing ability comes in clutch on the power play as well. As you saw above, he has the ability to confidently play the puck perfectly to the Oilers’ players waiting at the opposing blueline to break in for a good chance with a man up.
As the starter of the Oilers, a team looking very much improved from last season, he will continue to prove people wrong and play very well all season and into the playoffs.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.