July 29 2014 09:00AM
A lot. Probably.
I suppose that needs more explanation.
There's three main reasons the Flames were a bottom-5 team last year (besides, you know, not having a ton of talent):
1.) The first half of the season. A period during which Hartley spent experimenting with his roster and tactics, resulting in a precipitous drop down the standings. Calgary's second half of the year was actually quite respectable from a record and underlying numbers stand point.
2.) A lot of injuries to key members of a thin roster (only 3 Flames played 80 or more games and one of them was Chris Butler).
3.) Worse than average goaltending.
We're here to talk about the third thing.
The club used four goalies last year: Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Joey MacDonald and Joni Ortio. Of the four, only Ramo ended up with a respectably mediocre save rate at even strength (.919). Berra (.903), MacDonald (.898) and Ortio (.878) were all replacement level or worse. Combined, the Flames puck stoppers managed a .908 5on5 SV%, tied for last in the league with Florida.
So we can establish that even a completely average season from Calgary's netminding in 2014-15 will be a drastic improvement. What are the chances that will happen though?
Actually, pretty good. I took a look at Jonas Hiller's last four seasons worth of work and it seems the tales of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Observe:
|Season||ES shots||ES Saves||GA||ES SV%|
Over his last 4500 even strength shots, Hiller has stopped an above average 92.4% of them. In two of those seasons, he managed near elite numbers (.931 and .936) and only one year did he dip below average (.915).
This suggests Hiller has a true talent in the .920-.925 range, absent some injury or age related step backwards. If we plug that average into last year's shot against totals and assume Hiller splits time with Ramo we get this:
|Player||ES shots||ES Saves||GA||ES SV%|
A combined .921 save rate and 155 goals against at 5on5. The Flames surrendered 182 5on5 goals last season. That's a theoretical gain of 27 goals, a massive difference. Add 27 goals to the Flames -32 goal differential and you have a team at least sniffing around the playoffs rather than hoping for the Ekblad ball in the draft lottery.
There are some caveats that need to applied here of course. Ramo might be worse than he was last year (unknown risk), the team may surrender more shots against this season (probably), we can't really be sure what the division of labour in goal will be and Hiller probably won't post a number exactly in line with his average SV% over the last four seasons.
That said, even if we assume Hiller mirrors his worst worst performance (.915), it would still represent an improvement over the Flames goaltending from last season (approximately 18 goal gain). Of those issues, the Ramo step back is the least problematic since that would just result in more time given to Hiller. The benefits of redundancy in goal, a luxury Flames fans haven't experienced since...uh...ever?
This probably sounds like bad news for those eager for the club to tank so they can draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. And while the addition of Hiller does improve the club's chances of sporting at least league average netminding next year, it wouldn't surprise me if the Flames possession and SH% take a hit as they rotate in a bunch kids at the NHL level. So don't let this analysis dampen your optimistic pessimism (or pessimistic optimism).
For the pollyannas out there, this means Calgary would be in a position to actually compete if everything somehow comes together and
the dark lord accepts our sacrifices Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertschi, TJ Brodie and Mikael Backlund are all suddenly above average NHLers. It's not something I'd call likely, but at least a sudden Cinderella turn wouldn't be hamstrung by Ty Conklin-esque goaltending were it somehow occur.