It's no secret the Phoenix Coyotes' fate this season is tied to the play of goaltender Mike Smith, just as it has since he signed with the franchise in 2010.
But after carrying the 'Yotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, Smith's play took a downturn last season and the team's playoff hopes dropped with each goal given up.
Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney blamed the lockout-shortened camp and season for Smith's struggles.
"In Mike's case, he had a little injury coming in to camp, there was no time to rest and every game is life or death. He had, in our expectations, an average season.
"It's a totally different story now," Maloney told Arizona Sports 620's Doug & Wolf on Wednesday.
Maloney said Smith has what it takes to become a top 10 goaltender in the NHL and the team plans on riding his coattails for a while.
"We think we can win a championship with Mike Smith," he said.
And that championship -- or at least an expectation of success -- is something the Coyotes are trying to instill in both its organization and the Valley ahead of Thursday's season opener against the New York Rangers. With the support of new owners, Maloney said both he and head coach Dave Tippett are "so motivated" to show the desert can support a hockey team.
"There's lots of very positive things going on with us."
While some are concerned the Coyotes may lose a bit of hunger given a sense of stability for the first time since 2009, Maloney said the franchise has something else in mind
"We've got an opportunity now to show people this is a top-flight franchise and that's the job of management, coaching, players and trainers."