July 10 2012 10:34AM
The Flames lone remaining RFA is goaltender Leland Irving. A first round pick in 2006, Irving has played four seasons in the AHL and had a handful of contests in the show. At the onset of the off-season, he was the guy many were penciling in to be Kipper's back-up this coming season, but the longer his contract negotiations stretch out, the more it seems his future with the organization is jeopardy.
Back in May, I compared Irving to a list of 10 comparable NHL goalies. The inquiry didn't really cast the Calgary prospect in a flattering light: he had the lowest pro SV% of all but one of them (Corey Crawford) and had already appeared in more AHL games than all but Jimmy Howard and, again, Crawford. At times he's been a stalwart in the AHL, the backbone of the team, but he's also lost his starters role to journeymen signees twice in the last four years.
Needs and Conflicts
So his results have been mixed at best. The Flames have been rather guarded with Irving, granting him a lot of opportunity to establish himself for the minor team and then recalling him aggressively last year when they lost confidence in Henrik Karlsson once and for all. On the other hand, the club only re-signed Irving to a one-year $600k contract when his ELC expired and is, again, apparently playing some hardball with the kid this summer.
In addition, Feaster and company have gone about collecting a number of other puckstoppers over the last year or so. Laurent Brossoit and Jon Gillies were picked in each of the last two drafts, while Karri Ramo was acquired in the Rene Bourque deal. This prospect camp also features a couple of goalie invites as well.
Add in Joni Ortio and you have an increasingly crowded crease behind Kiprusoff.
Irving's merely modest successes in the AHL and the growing stable of other options may be making the team hesistant to commit to him in any major way (for instance: one-way deal or guarantee of NHL playing time). Afterall, even absent the org's growing depth in net, NHL back-ups are generally cheap and easy to find.
As a result, Irving and his agent may be looking at other opportunities. After four years in the minors and now drifting ever farther away from the protective "prospect" label, Irving likely feels he has to start establishing himself beyond the AHL to have any sort of future in the game. If the team doesn't want to guarantee that sort of opportunity this summer, his gaze may be drifting to pro leagues overseas. On top of all that, being Miikka Kiprusoff's back-up is an unsavory outlook for a kid who wants to move a few pegs up the ladder - playing 10-12 games a year is a pretty thankless job for a youngster.
There's still a chance the two parties come to an agreement and Irving gets his chance to make an impact in the NHL for the Flames going forward. The delay in getting a deal done and Irving's closing window of opportunity is suggestive, however.