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The Desert Dog Blog: Coyotes Addressing Needs via Free Agency

Saturday, 07.02.2011 / 11:51 PM / The Desert Dog Blog - by Dave Vest
By Dave Vest
GLENDALE – The Coyotes have picked Mike Smith to be Ilya Bryzgalov’s successor as the team’s starting goalie.

Smith is ecstatic about his new job and about again playing for Head Coach Dave Tippett.

Mike Smith played his first three NHL playoff games last season for Tampa Bay.
“I believe in his system,” Smith said. “It's very goalie-friendly. He plays a defensive style. Being a goaltender, you like a lot of shots from the outside, so his philosophies are right up my alley.”

Beyond his relationship with Tippett, the Coyotes pursued Smith because they like his size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and athleticism.

“He’s a great athlete,” Goaltending Coach Sean Burke said. “Anybody you talk to - including Gary Roberts who’s been his trainer for a couple summers - they rave about his athletic ability. In fact, Gary said he was the best athlete he was training. That’s not the most common thing for a trainer - to have a bunch of hockey players and for a goaltender to be the best athlete. His style is based around that (athleticism).”

Smith played for Tippett in 2006-07 and 2007-08 when Tippett was the head coach of the Dallas Stars. In fact, it was Tippett who gave Smith his first NHL start - against Curtis Joseph and the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on Oct. 21, 2006. Smith marked the occasion with a 22-save shutout.

Smith recalls having a bad case of happy feet early in his first NHL game.

“I remember falling down behind the net,” cracked Smith, who misplayed the puck twice behind the net in the opening six minutes. “It ended up being a shutout in my first game, which was a dream come true. But thinking back, I always remember me lying on the ice behind the net instead of being in the crease and stopping the puck that way.”

Smith plans to spend the summer in Tampa. He and his wife are expecting their first child. At some point before training camp starts, Smith said he would reach out to backup goalie Jason LaBarbera to lay the foundation for a healthy working relationship/rivalry.



General Manager Don Maloney described new Coyotes forward Raffi Torres as an "interesting" forward capable of playing on any of the four lines. He also described him as an abrasive player who keeps opponents honest and who knows how to play in the postseason.

Raffi Torres scored the only goal in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“Raffi's a guy who plays on the edge and our guys will tell you he's very hard to play against,” Maloney said. “He's a guy who drives to the net, scores goals and who can be effective in the playoffs, which is where we expect to be. We lacked the size, the weight and the production you need to have in the postseason, and Raffi will give us more of that dimension."

Torres is looking forward to becoming part of the community in Arizona. He’s Canadian, but his father is originally from Mexico and his mother is from Peru, and the thought of getting a chance to possibly use his Spanish vocabulary more frequently intrigues him.

“It’s exciting for me and I know my parents are really excited about me going to Phoenix,” Torres said. “It will be fun. I heard a lot of people talking Spanish when I was growing up and hopefully I’ll be able to use some of that when I get to Phoenix.”

I asked Torres if he spoke Spanish fluently.

“No," he said. "I can understand everything, but I’ll have to work on speaking it to perfect it."



The Coyotes signed center Boyd Gordon to fill the void left after center Vernon Fiddler signed with Dallas on Friday.

Boyd Gordon won 68.8 percent of his faceoffs in the 2011 playoffs.
Gordon, who has played his entire career with the Washington Capitals, is a solid penalty killer and a star in the faceoff circles. Last season he won 58 percent of his draws in the regular season and an NHL-best 68.8 percent in the playoffs.

“It’s an important part of my game and (success) comes with experience,” Gordon said. “You gradually get better at it. When you first start out it’s tough but you kind of learn things as you go… It’s a battle between two guys and you try to win the battle. It’s something I place importance on.”

Gordon is a winner.

In 2000-01, he won the Memorial Cup as a member of the Red Deer Rebels. Then, in 2005-06 he won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playing for the Hershey Bears.



Radim Vrbata
The Coyotes re-signed Radim Vrbata to a mutli-year deal on Friday. And while it may have gotten lost in the shuffle of the three new players coming into the mix, make no mistake: it is a significant signing.

Vrbata led the team in shots on goal (240) last season, and was second on the team in goals (19) and power-play goals (10). He also scored seven shootout goals in 11 tries. Only two other NHLers scored more shootout goals.

Plus, with alternate captains Ed Jovanovski and Fiddler now gone, Tippett may look to Vrbata to help provide leadership.



On Saturday, the Coyotes inked free-agent center Alex Bolduc to a one-year contract to provide depth at center within the system.

The search for help up front will continue.

"We're in the hunt for someone who is a nice fit," Maloney said. "But if that doesn't come our way, we'll have to step back and look to trade some assets for a front-line player. We'd still like to add another piece on a lower line as well."

He added: "We're in great shape financially to acquire somebody. It's just a matter of finding somebody."

• Click here to watch an interview with Maloney about the free-agent signings.

Reach Dave Vest at thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.
 
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