Meeting Karri Ramo and Setting Expectations

Christian Roatis
May 27 2013 09:53AM

 

Karri Ramo
pic via Resolute, wikimedia commons

 

(Christian Roatis is the FlamesNation's newest contributor. He has previously written at The Hockey Guys and Future Considerations. His debut post on FN is an in-depth look at Karri Ramo.)

Ever since Miikka Kiprusoff established himself as the star goaltender in Calgary, both management and fans have been on the lookout for a future replacement. Flames drafted Leland Irving 26th overall in 2006, hoping he'd evolve into a suitable successor to the crease Kiprusoff has dominated for almost a decade. After seeing him develop, especially over the past few seasons, I think it's safe to assume he's not going to work out.

There was also once a promising young goaltender by the name of Curtis McElhinney who had put up good numbers in both College and the AHL and looked to be tracking as a potential replacement. That is until he reached the big leagues and found puck stopping in the NHL to be a totally different animal (ie, more difficult).

Now, with the possibility of Kiprusoff's retirement becoming more of a certainty, management and fans alike have crowned yet another promising young man to be successor to the Flames crease - KHL star, Karri Ramo. But who exactly is he and what's to say he won't continue the trend of potential usuprers busting once they reach the bright lights of the NHL?

The Early Years

Following their Stanley Cup win (by way of cheating because that Gelinas goal was totally in), the Tampa Lightning put an emphasis on defence at the subsequent entry draft that year. Of the eight picks they made, four were defensemen, three were hardnosed defensive forwards and one was a goaltender. The goaltender - selected in the 6th round, 191st overall - was Karri Ramo.

Ramo spent the bulk of his draft eligible season with the U20 Pelicans of Finland's Jr. A SM-Liiga, playing 19 games and putting up a mediocre .907 save percentage with a mouldy 3.31 goals against average. As a result of some sketchy play early in the season, he also saw some time in Finland's Jr-B league. Ramo's plerformance after that picked up however and he highlighted his season with a three game stint in the SM-Liiga, Finland's top men's tier. Nothing to really catch your eye but Jay Feaster and Tampa management deemed him to be worth the gamble at 191st overall.

He would follow up his average draft year with a stellar sophomore campaign split between Jr. A and the SM-Liiga. In Jr. A over 21 games, Ramo posted an impressive 1.70 GAA average and even more stellar .947 SV%. Due his strong play combined with his parent clubs' goaltending issues, Ramo was called up mid-season to the Pelicans SM-Liiga squad and was named the starter. Considering the circumstances, he performed admirably and on some nights bailed out the leagues weakest team.

He would spend one more season in Finland putting up good numbers before crossing the pond to join the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Springfield. Ramo's success in Europe made experts and fans alike wonder if he could be the answer in net for answer TampaBay.

He wasn't.

The move would mark the beginning of the statistical nightmare that was Ramo's stay in North America. He would remain in the US for 3 seasons, making appearances in 77 AHL games and 48 of the NHL variety. When Ramo finally left NA at the end of the 08/09 season, he took with him the experience of 125 pro games, a combined Goals Against Average of 3.93 and Save Percentage of .884. Not exactly saviour type numbers.

Off to the KHL

Karri Ramo, HC Avangard, 2011

His numbers were not exactly indicative of his actual play during his time in America, however. Both in the AHL and NHL, he stopped pucks for the worst team in their respective leagues. He faced shots in bulk and rarely was the word quality not used to describe the scoring chances he faced. Ramo had always been fundamentally sound and as a bigger goaltender showed an ability to use his size to thwart scoring chances, especially those in tight.

When he left for the KHL, he left many wondering if one day he'd make a comeback to the NHL. Ramo seemed to have all the tools necessary to succeed and all he need to was refine them and to mature into his game. Mark Giordano would be the first to tell you, sometimes a break from "the best league in the world" can be extremely beneficial to a players development.

Ramo spent his first season away from the Tampa organization with the KHL's Avangard Omsk (also the former team of Calgary Flames superstar Roman Cervenka). He started 44 games and seemed to have rediscovered his game, posting a 21-17-4 record with a 2.11 GAA and .913 SV%. He led Avangard to a 5th place finish in the Eastern Conference and a playoff birth. Ramo would unfortunately falter in the playoffs and saw his team get swept in the first round. 

Ramo would return to Avangard for the 2010/11 campaign in top form and produce a stellar season. He would go 33-6-4 with a 1.97 GAA and .925 SV% on his way to securing Avangard the top record in the KHL. However, playoffs again would prove to be Ramo's Achilles heel. After barely sneaking out of the first round in 7 games, he would drop his second round series in 7 as well. Playing all 14 playoff games, he boasted a modest 2.14 GAA and .914 SV%.

Ramo played 2 more years with Avangard putting up excellent numbers. Excluding his first season, his GAA never rose above 2.00 and his SV% was .925 or better - culminating at a career high .929 this past season. During 2011/12, Ramo overcame his playoff questions and lead Avangard Omsk to the final of the Gargain Cup, only to fall in a hard fought 7 game series with Dynamo Moskow. Overall though, it would appear that Karri Ramo has put his career back on track and has earned a chance to ply his trade - again - in North America.

Going Forward

A chance to "ply his trade" is exactly what Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames appear to be giving Karri Ramo this upcoming season. Ramo was brought to Calgary in January of 2012 as a part of the Mike Cammalleri deal (Calgary also gave up the 37th selection in this years draft in that deal). Ramo cannot be signed until July 5th, but is expected to do so with any problems.

At the time of the deal, Jay Feaster called Karri Ramo the "best goaltender not in the NHL" and has reiterated this recently (although now he refers to him and newly acquired goaltender Reto Berra as the "two best goalies not in the NHL"). Of course, Flames fans are all too familiar with the "best not in the NHL" tag since it was tied to Roman Cervenka when he arrived. We all know how that ended up.

If we ignore his very brief stint in the show as a youngster, Ramo isn't exactly getting his shot at a starting position young. According to QuantHockey.com, the average age for a goalie to make his NHL debut since 2000 is around 23.  Ramo will be 27 this year with the Flames, one of the oldest goaltenders in the last decade to do so:

While Ramo won't be technically a rookie, he'll be pretty close since he hasn't played on this side of the pond since he was 23 and has only 48 NHL games under his belt.

Another factor Ramo will have to overcome is that the NHL game is considerably different than the style of hockey played in Europe. Pekka Rinne for example - a annual Vezina Trophy candidate - left for the KHL during the lockout and his performance took a 180 degree turn on Russian ice. The NHL All-Star calibre goaltender turned in some of the worst numbers in the entire KHL during his tenure there: in 22 game with Dinamo Minsk he put up a 3.08 GAA and .897 SV%. This from the guy who dominated some of the worlds best shooters just a season previous.

When the lockout finally ended, Rinne returned to Nashville and continued to struggle, so the different style of play of the KHL probably can't be solely to blame for Rinne's poor season. On the flip side, goalies who come over to NHL after dominating top European leagues sometimes find it hard to adjust and tend to struggle. There do exist some exceptions to this rule, namely Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, whom had no problem with the transition and were able to make a difference and perform well right from the get go.

 

Goaltenders that played first 20+ games straight out of Europe at/over age 25 in the last 7 years

Name/ Age at the time of NHL debut

Team/ League Previous to NHL

GAA in Season before NHL

SV% in season before NHL

GAA in first NHL season

SV% in first NHL season

Games Played in rookie NHL year

Total NHL games to date

Jonas Hiller/26

Davos/NLA

2.60

N/A

2.06

.927

23

276

Viktor Fasth/30

Tingsryds AIF/Swe-1

1.68

.941

2.18

.921

25*

25

Fredrik Norena/32

Linkoping HC/ SEL

2.16

.913

2.78

.904

55

100

Johan Holmqvist/28**

Brynas/SEL

1.95

.927

2.85

.893

48

97

Jonas Gustavsson/25

Farjestads/ SEL

1.96

0.931

2.87

.902

42

114

 * lockout shortened

** played 119 previous minutes with NYR

All five goaltenders on that chart - except Jonas Hiller - saw their numbers drop once they reached the National Hockey League. Besides the shot quality that increases in the NHL, the overall level of competition is higher than any other league in world. Every single player on every single line has the ability to burn an unsuspecting goaltender and quality scoring chance are also more common.

The best comparable situation to Karri Ramo's would be that of Johan Holmqvist's. After putting a few solid years in Sweden post-draft, he gave North America a shot, even drawing into some NHL action with the New York Rangers. Like a younger Ramo, he struggled to adjust to the North American game and failed to turn in consistent performances on a nightly basis. As a result, Holmqvist returned to Sweden to try and rekindle his game. Much like Ramo, he was able to do just that before being given a shot at a starting position, with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortuantely, the story though for Holmqvist was the same, struggling to keep a SV% above .900 with his play marred by inconsistency. Holmqvist was ultimately dealt two years after his NHL comeback and played just 80 more minutes of NHL hockey before abandoning the league for good.

Conclusion

Ramo will find himself in a similar circumstance, having already failed once at adapting to the North American game. The one difference between him and Holmqvist is that Ramo has played four solid seasons, while Holmqvist had only one good year before returning to the NHL.

Ramo will come to Calgary as an older, more accomplished goalie. During his time in Russia he's matured both as a person and a player and is better suited now to overcome whatever adversity he's faced with than he was early in his career. His being a consistent top tier goaltender in the world's second best league no doubt will be a source of confidence that he'll carry coming to Flames camp this fall.

Whether or not Ramo will step up and be the goaltender everyone forecasts him to be is yet to be seen. At this point, it's fair to say he is better suited to fulfill the expectations set out by fans and management than any other past netminder assigned the task of being successor to Kirpusoff's crease.

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Christian Roatis is a European by birth, Calgarian by heart. Other than writing at FlamesNation, he writes about and scouts NHL Draft Prospects at Future Considerations. Follow him on Twitter @CRoatis!
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#1 BurningSensation
May 27 2013, 11:18AM
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If Ramo can come over and deliver even league average goaltending, Feaster deserves credit for a huge win. The Cammalleri for Bourque portion of the deal is pretty lopsided in our favour by just about any measure (age, production, contract, etc.), and you would still call it at worst even when you factor in the 2nd rnd pick (and a failed prospect) we included.

Adding what might be an actual NHL caliber goaltender entering his prime to our side of the equation would make it highway robbery.

One of the crtiticisms of Feaster that I think is somewhat legit, is that the fanbase doesn't want a GM to just chip it up and off the glass all the time. What the fans really want is a GM who can occasionally unleash a slapshot for a big score. This can be via trade or draft, or FA signing, it really doesn't matter how - but score some big goals.

If Ramo turns into anything more than a backup, then that trade with Montreal is turning the red light on.

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#3 backburner
May 27 2013, 10:20AM
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Does anyone know much about his playing style? Is he more of a butterfly goalie or use his size?

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#5 Craig
May 27 2013, 10:49AM
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I have a good feeling about him, he was very young for a goaltender in his first NHL stint. The consistency in the KHL and the fact he is just entering prime goalie age are good signs.

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#6 Double Dion
May 27 2013, 11:26AM
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Hey, no matter how he plays he'll be better than Kipper was last year. I like that the Flames are giving some hungry (or at least guys who should be hungry) players a shot. I finally feel like the meritocracy comments have a chance to become reality. Of course Feaster could go sign some 2nd liners to 5 year 5 million per deals this summer and once again we become a country club. Hopefully the organizational thought process has turned a corner, if it has, we won those trades this deadline.

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#7 Purple Hazze
May 27 2013, 11:40AM
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I think we should take Johan Holmqvist, and Ramo's time with Tampa with a grain of salt. After all, since losing Dan Boyle, they've had one of the worst D's in the league, and its the same organization that gave up on Mike Smith as being washed up.

Tampa like Philly seems to be a place where goalies go to die.

Being a fellow Finn I wonder if Kipper has any interest in staying around next year to mentor this guy.

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#8 Double Dion
May 27 2013, 11:51AM
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@Purple Hazze

Ugh, please no. I don't want Kipper back at all. Out with the old. Keep quality vets who will still be contributing in 2 years. Names like Glencross and Giordano. Kipper can go run his team in Europe. Kipper was a top goalie 6 years ago and has been average since. He turned the corner from average to bad last year. He also doesn't strike me as the mentoring type.

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#9 SmellOfVictory
May 27 2013, 11:59AM
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@BurningSensation

I agree. Ramo's the biggest part of that deal (getting rid of Bourque is always nice too, although Mtl fans have liked him this season).

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#10 piscera.infada
May 27 2013, 12:03PM
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@Double Dion

Agreed. While I understand the sentiment in wanting to keep Kipper around, I really don't see him as much of a mentor.

Too closed off, and it seems (a per his post-trade deadline interviews) that his mind is no longer on the game.

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#11 Lordmork
May 27 2013, 12:26PM
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I wonder when Kipper is going to make his expected retirement announcement? Once playoffs are over? A part of me worries he plans to stick around after all. Under different circumstances I'd love to retain him, but not with so many potential goalies in the organization.

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#13 Rockmorton65
May 27 2013, 12:36PM
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@Lordmork

I think it could be a moot point. If he wants to continue playing, I dont see it being with the Flames. I can see them exploring two options - either they trade Kipper to another team, or if they are unable to, they will just buy him out. Either way, I think he's done with this team.

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#14 Kent Wilson
May 27 2013, 12:42PM
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If Kipper decides not to retire, the team can conditionally trade his rights to someone for a marginal return - the condition being, he plays. If he doesn't play, Flames get nothing and the receiving team loses nothing, but his contract is forfeit and he de facto retires anyways.

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#15 Parallex
May 27 2013, 12:44PM
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For some reason (The numbers in the 2nd best league in the world probably) I have a good feeling about Ramo.

Realistically my expectations are pretty mild. I expect league average goaltending... I don't expect or require him to be great to pass, I'd like it if he is but all I demand of him is to stop pucks at an average rate.

Looking at the stats on NHL.com for the last 4 years that would be a sv% of .910-.915. That seems reasonable to me... and coming off Kippers .882 a marked improvement.

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#16 Rockmorton65
May 27 2013, 03:11PM
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@Kent Wilson

If the contract is forfeit, does that mean the Flames would be off the hook for a buyout?

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#17 Kent Wilson
May 27 2013, 03:29PM
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@Rockmorton65

Yes. If a player chooses not to provide services, then he is essentially suspended - ie, he is isn't living up to the terms of agreement and you don't have to pay them anymore.

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#18 Kent Wilson
May 27 2013, 03:32PM
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@Parallex

Yup. That's what every team should realistically expecting when buying goaltending - a .920 ES SV% give or take 0.02 or so.

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#20 SydScout
May 27 2013, 04:41PM
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Two worrying things here:

1. Ramo won't be playing in front of a particularly strong D so his numbers and confidence could suffer, and

2. If he doesn't pan out, as doesn't his mate Yogi Berra, Feaster will look like a goose after those statements.

While not wishing to turn this into a Feaster bashing exercise (I don't think he is a necessarily terrible GM), if the above pans out which is likely, his position becomes unstable. Thus the team becomes unstable. And I'm with the departed Whitney Houston in believing that children are our future, where instability anywhere in the team can damage their development. And the rebuild is founded on kids. Hey just look at what the (losing) culture crisis up north has done to a talent laden team.

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#22 Baalzamon
May 27 2013, 06:58PM
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Christian Roatis wrote:

Ramo was just .05 higher in the KHL so it's likely he'd drop to just below that, at least to start the year.

Kent was talking about ES (even strength) SV%, NOT overall SV%. Important distinction. A league average overall SV% would be more like .916 or something.

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#23 exsanguinator
May 27 2013, 07:43PM
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I have no problem with Ramo as a starter. Goalies generally enter their prime not too long after his current age, he has playoff and high level competition experience, and he has had a taste of what it takes to win in the NHL.

These things make me confident in his ability to backstop the current team to a playoff berth. Even if he could make them a bubble team again I would be happy.

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#25 SydScout
May 27 2013, 10:15PM
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Christian Roatis wrote:

Well the KHL is primarily an offensive first league so the care his Defenceman take of their own zone may actually be an upgrade for Ramo

Fair call, lets hope so!

Great first article BTW

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#26 Chris Fairfield
May 28 2013, 12:14AM
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Purple Hazze wrote:

I think we should take Johan Holmqvist, and Ramo's time with Tampa with a grain of salt. After all, since losing Dan Boyle, they've had one of the worst D's in the league, and its the same organization that gave up on Mike Smith as being washed up.

Tampa like Philly seems to be a place where goalies go to die.

Being a fellow Finn I wonder if Kipper has any interest in staying around next year to mentor this guy.

While on the topic of former Tampa goalies, what would be the interest in going after Mike Smith in the off season?

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#27 Parallex
May 28 2013, 11:37AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Yup. That's what every team should realistically expecting when buying goaltending - a .920 ES SV% give or take 0.02 or so.

.920 Is actually above average. That 0.005-0.010 is the difference between 50th percentile and 25th percentile... one of the many reasons that goalie shouldn't be an area where you contribute significant cap resources. The difference between average and above average is just so small that you better off taking the price difference between the two and using it to upgrade other parts of your roster.

Edit: Oh ES SV%... yes that sounds about right. I missed the ES part.

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