November 23 2012 11:39AM
As Ryan Pike illustrated in detail recently, the Calgary Flames suddenly have a lot of goaltenders in the system (even though, technically, Danny Taylor and Barry Brust are only on AHL deals currently.) Irving was chosen in 2006 in the first round and will turn 25 years old in April. He has seven NHL games under his belt but is currently the third goaltender in the rotation down on the farm.
The assumption is he will nevertheless duel for the back-up position in Calgary when and if the season 2012-13 season begins, but the real question surrounds Irving's long-term future in the system given the club's plethora of options.
Of course, that wholly depends on what Irving's true talent level is. If he's better at stopping the puck than the rest of the hopefuls, the crowding in the crease is irrelevant. If he isn't, however, then this will likely be his last season as a Calgary Flame prospect.
Irving in the AHL
Perhaps the best way to illustrate establish talent levels is to look at Irving's AHL work versus both his current and past peers. First, here are the career AHL SV% of Barry Brust, Danny Taylor and Leland Irving:
|2012-13 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||4||1||240||105||0.25||0.991|
|2010-11 Regular Season||Binghamton Senators||52||126||2986||1549||2.53||0.925|
|2009-10 Regular Season||Houston Aeros||15||31||756||305||2.46||0.908|
|2008-09 Regular Season||Houston Aeros||28||65||1548||673||2.52||0.912|
|2007-08 Regular Season||Houston Aeros||43||90||2380||1016||2.27||0.919|
|2006-07 Regular Season||Manchester Monarchs||18||38||951||458||2.4||0.923|
|2005-06 Regular Season||Manchester Monarchs||35||89||1971||971||2.71||0.916|
|2012-13 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||4||12||245||109||2.94||0.901|
|2011-12 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||39||97||2177||894||2.67||0.902|
|2010-11 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||61||132||3437||1386||2.3||0.913|
|2009-10 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||35||85||1851||806||2.76||0.905|
|2008-09 Regular Season||Quad City Flames||47||99||2658||1020||2.23||0.912|
|2012-13 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||7||12||425||183||1.69||0.938|
|2011-12 Regular Season||Abbotsford Heat||33||67||1815||849||2.21||0.927|
|2011-12 Regular Season||Springfield Falcons||10||22||512||234||2.58||0.914|
|2010-11 Regular Season||Springfield Falcons||4||9||230||118||2.35||0.929|
|2009-10 Regular Season||Syracuse Crunch||9||24||397||207||3.63||0.896|
|2008-09 Regular Season||Manchester Monarchs||15||33||744||329||2.66||0.909|
|2007-08 Regular Season||Manchester Monarchs||23||51||1275||592||2.4||0.921|
I gave each guy a generic label so the results could be looked at with an unbiased eye.
As you can see, two of the Heat's current goalies have AHL career SV% of .920. The third has a career best AHL SV% of .913 and an overall average of .909.
Of course, the two guys with superior AHL career save rates are also the two journeymen with AHL only deals in Abbotsford. Danny Taylor (Goalie C) is less established with only 2500 or so shots against, but his last 50+ games have been above board. Brust (Goalie A) is 30 and probably a tweener for life, but his worst AHL season (.908 over 15 games) is pretty much on par with Leland's career average so far.
So Irving probably isn't as good a goalie as the either of his Heat teammates currently. Of course, he has a few advantages over Brust or Taylor: he's a former first round pick, he actually has an NHL contract and a he's only 24 years old. The first two issues speak to opportunity - first round picks typically get more at bats at a high level because of their perceived ability/value and it's clear given his usage last season that Irving is going to get another go behind Kipper should hockey return (it has helped that Henrik Karlsson has stunk since being acquired).
The only pertinent factor to the question at hand, however, is Irving's age and whether the team can reasonably expect him to take a very real step forward. Goalies are odd creatures and much more dofficult to predict than skaters on the whole. As we've investigated before, it's not impossible for a puck stopper to suddenly figure things out in his mid-20's and become a useful NHL starter.
As mentioned in that Irving Comparables piece, though, assuming Leland will be another Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne or Mike Smith is problematic because that analysis suffers from suvivorship bias. Meaning, for every Pekka Rinne in the AHL who figure things out and make the leap, there are probably 10 Barry Brusts or David Shantz's who never turn out to be anything more than replacement level or worse.
It's therefore much more likely at this point that Irving isn't going to be a goalie of note. Especially because he has to meaningfully improve in order to be as good as Danny Taylor or Barry Brust (who are AHL journeymen), let alone his competition at the NHL level.
Irving vs Back-ups
One issue I've heard raised is that Irving has played behind a lot of lousy Flames affiliates over the years, which has caused his SV% to crater. I am dubious there would be such a pronounced an effect on a goalie's SV% as a result of team quality, but decided to look at Leland's peers and back-ups during his 4+ seasons in the league so far anyways. If Irving's save rate has been sunk by bad teams, then we would expect other Flames minor league goalies to be as a bad or worse.
Not a lot of support for Irving there either. Even though this sample includes the shaky AHL debut of Joni Ortio and the blandly poor play of Matt Keetley, the average save percentage (.911) is still slightly ahead of Irving's average with the same teams over the same period.
Irving Going Forward
It's not unfair to say that Irving's pro career up to this point has been, uh...undistinguished. The reason Troy Ward has him third in the rotation on the farm right now is pretty plain - evidence suggests he is the third best goalie available.
Leland's only saving grace is his ever shrinking window of opportunity (unfortunately endangered by the on-going labour dispute) - if he get some starts as Kipper's back-up and plays well enough to render his AHL performance up to this point moot, he may have a shot at sticking around. Anything beyond consistently sterling performances in the NHL probably means the Flames walk away next summer, however.