August 29 2014 10:15AM
I could have stopped 'em all, I could've stopped you. Up there, Burke's the law, out here on the ice it's me
- an especially badass Karri Ramo, vigilante and goalkeeper
You've patiently sat through an entire August of Reasonable Expectations, and you're still here reading this (good for you!), so today I thought I'd switch things up and give you a Reasonable Expectations piece - ON A GOALIE!
As far as Flames netminders go, this coming season is going to be the most noteworthy since way back to when Miikka Kiprusoff retired. The long time Flames faithful who can remember that far back know what I'm talking about. The battle to tend the cage is as open as it was last season, but with the caveat that what makes it worth mentioning this time is that Karri Ramo's opponents are not Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald. Nay, this year Karri has to go toe to toe with an actual NHL goalie in Jonas Hiller, and it's up to him to prove he's worth it.
And if he can't, well, he can always go back to killing lawmen who try to arrest him unjustly.
2013-14 At a Glance
a relatively quiet highlight reel save by Karri Ramo. Ramo is a strong positional player, so you don't see a lot of ten bell saves coming off his pads.
It was a roller coaster season for the native of Asikkala, Finland (home of the flying Asikkalas!), his debut in Calgary and first NHL action since making 48 appearances for the Lightning in the late aughts. After having to earn what should have by default been his starting job, Ramo had a few shaky outings and was then relegated to the cold, lonely pine chariot for games on end, forced to watch helplessly as alleged goaltenders MacDonald and Berra tried with vigorous aplomb to return the position to the Bill Ranford "reflex only" philosophy, out from its slumber and back into public consciousness in 2014. Results were less than mixed.
After seeing the light, and by light I mean gaping net left conspicuously open by an out of position Berra, Bob Hartley finally, mercifully passed the starter's mantle onto Ramo, who put together a string of average to good starts before injuring his knee ahead of the Olympic break, forcing him to miss 15 games. It was terrifying, but the team was also kinda bad, so nobody really noticed.
Karri returned to the Flames in a post Berra apocalypse, and vainly attempted to return glory between the pipes for the better part of what was a much improved end to the Flames season, an era highlighted by the demonstration that this team kinda knows how to play hockey. Ultimately it wasn't enough, but Ramo, much like his teammates, showed that there was stability to be had when coach Hartley finally learned how to utilize his players.
Not much in the way of charts and graphs that you've becomes accustomed to with the position players for these features, because as you know, the quest for useful stats on goalies is more or less in it's infancy right now. The only really valuable number we have to measure a keeper's contributions is save percentage, but I included all this other crap like GAA and Wins because it's a pretty sad looking chart without it.
Ramo played 40 games and finished with a SV% of .911 which is a shade under league average. Certainly not outstanding by any measure, but it does reflect the Flames as a whole, who in 2013-14 could reasonably be defined the same way: just below average. Karri had a pretty abysmal start to the campaign, but finished relatively strong when he was officially named as the everyday number one. As with anything, the highs and lows over the course of a season tend to correct themselves, and what we see is basically a league average goalie. (And at a cap hit of $2.75 million, the Flames are paying for what they get)
Which, frankly, is all you can really ask for from your goaltenders. If they're stopping as many pucks as the padded man on the other end of the ice, he's doing his part. It's up to everyone else to fill the net after that. There are maybe 5 or 6 "good" goaltenders around the league who might be able to hide a team's offensive shortcomings over a more sustained period (affectionately known as the Kiprusoff Effect), so as long as you're not actively Trefiloving out there, your team should be in decent shape.
Now obviously you'd like to have seen Ramo and co. stop just a few more pucks to get to the league average mark or above, but they didn't, and that's why Sam Bennett is a Calgary Flames prospect now. That's the slogan we can use for the 2013-14 Flames: They Just Didn't.
Ramo goes into the season knowing this is his contract year, but also that his new partner is on a 2 year deal, and the young protege trying to catch both of them will next year be on a one way contract. It's going to be a crowded crease, and Karri is likely aware that while he is once again fighting for the starting gig, beyond that he is auditioning for a job in the future, be it in Calgary or somewhere else.
This is a win-win situation for the Flames. Newly inked 'tender Jonas Hiller also has something to prove this season, as he tries to show everyone that he is still a capable starter in the NHL after a tumble from atop the depth chart in Anaheim. Joni Ortio, meanwhile, continues to climb towards NHL relevance before Jon Gillies arrives and really turns everything on it's head. There's a lot of competition between those pipes, and all three need to offer their best if they have designs on being the man who guards them.
But again, as long as Ramo and Hiller can provide league average puck stopping between them, ultimately they'll have done everything the Flames will need them to do. I would expect Ramo to more or less repeat his performance from 2013 (barring MAJOR regression, but I have no real reason to believe that's going to happen). I'm of the belief that Ramo is an NHL goaltender, and if he were minding the cage for a stronger team, I'd doubt we'd have the debates about that with the voracity we do now. And sure, while you would always like more information when assessing these kinds of things, over a thousand shots in a season is a pretty good barometer when it comes to judging goalies, which Ramo did indeed face, and generally handled it decently well.
Overall, the goaltending will just be better this year, because while he's maybe not the All-Star he once was, Jonas Hiller is better than Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald, so even if Ramo replicates his numbers, Hiller is going to be an improvement over the other two. Couple that with the Flames likely being better on all ends of the puck going forward, this should mean a few more of those one goal games ending up favourably on Calgary's side this time around.
And I know those of you in TankNation are crying at the thought of the Flames having better goaltending now, but let's be honest: while the Flames are bad, they'd have to be next level suck to compete with the likes of Buffalo or Winnipeg for the rights at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, and they just aren't realistically bad enough to do it. So with that in mind, we're all better off watching a young team progress as planned while getting a few saves from their goalies along the way.
Gosh, that sounds downright reasonable.