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Coyotes say they’re ‘married’ to struggling Smith

Arizona Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 14: Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena November 14, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

There’s a lot of chatter around Mike Smith this morning -- Yahoo just posted this, for example -- and with good reason. Last night, the veteran netminder was yanked after allowing four goals on 11 shots in an ugly 7-1 loss to Vancouver.

The hook was bad, but the circumstances under which it happened were worse. Prior to the Canucks game, Smith (5-15-2, 3.48 GAA, .884 save percentage) had been parked for three straight games while backup Devan Dubnyk got the nod -- a move, the Coyotes hoped, would help Smith “reset” mentally.

Obviously, that didn’t work.

These struggles have led to questions about Smith’s future, including a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger that suggested some were “wondering out loud” if the Canadian Olympian was a “movable piece.”

On Monday, Coyotes GM Don Maloney told PHT the club was sticking with Smith, adding that the 32-year-old goalie would remain in the desert for the long haul.

“He’s had one of these starts to the year where it seems that whatever could happen poorly, happens,” Maloney explained. “His numbers have gotten relatively [poor]. I think he’s been trying to chase that and it’s like a golfer always worrying about your score, instead of worrying about the process.

“But long story short, I still feel Mike is a top goalie in this league, and we’re married to him. So he’s not going anywhere.”

Marriage in this instance refers to Smith’s six-year, $34 million contract. He’s in year two of the deal, meaning the club is on the hook for another four seasons at $5.6M per.

Smith will be 37 when the deal expires. Add everything up, and you have a potentially disastrous situation at play given 1) the amnesty buyout window is closed, and 2) how Maloney responded to me asking if Smith was still Arizona’s No. 1, clear-cut goalie.

“We’re just trying to win games,” the GM explained. “It’s like anything else – if we think Devan gives us a better chance, he’ll play. With Mike, we know we need to get Mike back to the level that he’s capable of.

“That’s the job, assignment, goal we all have: How do we do that? That’s what we’ve been searching for, quite frankly, a while now.”

The Coyotes are as frustrated with Smith’s decline as they are with failed attempts to reverse it. There were already concerns about his struggling psyche and now, the team’s at a loss to explain why Smith looks great in practice, then awful during games.

“If you watched him in practice yesterday, he was excellent,” head coach Dave Tippett said following the Vancouver blowout. “We thought he sat out a week, he’d worked hard for a week, he’d jump in there and have a good game.

“It’s a tough situation for him. He’s going to have to work his way out of it.”