Best Defender in Sports - 2013
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
Let's face it, 6-foot-4, 220-pound Mike Smith was the main reason the Phoenix Coyotes made it to the NHL's Western Conference Finals two years ago. Which is why it was good to see the team give him what he deserved — a six-year, $34 million contract. To lose Smith, near the top of the goalie class in the NHL, would've been devastating to a team whose front-office woes have bled onto the ice. So, finally, the team got a respite with a guarantee of staying at least five more years in Glendale, and the Kingston, Ontario, native will be here through that time. Like Smith, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett is great at what he does, and Smith has said Tippet's presence helped seal the deal for him in the desert. Without Tippett, Smith might have tried his luck on the open market, where many teams were interested. Goalie, despite the fearsome masks, isn't a flashy position on a hockey team. You don't grow up hoping to stand in front of the goal and have guys slamming pucks at you. The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the business of making goals. Scorrrrre! And that's what kids skating on frozen ponds far from here want to do, too. When you notice a team's goalie is when he fucks up, which rarely happens to Smith. The stopper with one of the widest wingspans in the league has a save percentage of .913 — and a goal-against average of 2.56 in 263 career regular-season contests. Add to that 24 shutouts, and you have a crucial piece of the puzzle if the Yotes are to return to the playoffs and (now that they're not worrying about the franchise bolting) go deep.