On October 6, the Calgary Flames raised a few eyebrows around the National Hockey League by announcing three netminders – Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio – as part of their 23-man opening roster.
Here was sit, five games and almost two weeks later, and the goalie situation has arguably become more confusing and muddled. The two established NHL veterans have eaten up all the starts, with 24-year-old Joni Ortio sitting in the press box because he’d surely be claimed if put on waivers.
Ramo to start. Hiller to back him up vs. Washington. Still no Ortio.
— Kristen Odland (@KristenOdlandCH) October 19, 2015
Let’s examine Calgary’s three-headed goalie monster, shall we?
The Flames arguably kept three goalies after pre-season for a couple reasons. First, they were sure that based on his previous NHL stints – especially last season’s red-hot road trip – Joni Ortio would get claimed off of waivers. I’m not 100% convinced – especially now that the Islanders claimed J.F. Berube from the Kings and Dustin Tokarski went through unscathed – but I can understand why teams would want a young, fairly talented, very cheap option in net.
The other reason is that none of the three goalies really stood out, aside from Hiller putting up slightly better pre-season numbers than the other two. Nobody crapped the bed, and nobody went on an absolute tear, so I imagine it was tough for management to really have passionate feelings for two of the three men.
And here we are now, and the two guys that the Flames would hope to move one of have both played fairly poorly, while the younger guy hasn’t even dressed.
Hiller started in Vancouver, at home against St. Louis and at home against Edmonton. He’s given up 10 goals over those three starts. He’s played 181 minutes and gone 1-2-0 with a 3.64 goals against average and a .872 save percentage. His even-strength save percentage is .886, which is amongst the lowest in the NHL.
So far, Hiller has lived up (down) to his reputation: he’s steady, he’s reliable, but he won’t steal games. He made an absolutely stunning save on Connor McDavid last game. He’s occasionally made nice saves, but typically shooters that get good chances on him will score if they get them often enough. Case in point: the game in Vancouver – Bo Horvat got several chances on a power-play to beat Hiller over the shoulder stick-side (and did), while Jared McCann got a great unimpeded look that he used to beat Hiller top-shelf.
Compared to Ramo, his save percentages are better at high and low danger scoring chances, but lower at medium-danger chances.
Ramo started the home-opener against Vancouver and the game in Winnipeg. He’s allowed seven goals through those two starts – including that absolute stinker in Winnipeg with 88 seconds left that cost them the game.
Ramo’s played 119 minutes and gone 0-2-0 with a 3.52 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. His even-strength save percentage is .883, slightly worse than Hiller’s, and he’s better at medium-danger shots than Hiller is but worse at high and low danger shots.
Ramo plays a flashy, battling style. He often pulls himself out of position by over-committing to shots, but is agile enough to compensate for that – most of the time – with sick sliding saves. He’s more likely than Hiller to make highlight-reel grabs, but also more likely to completely biff on a chance and give up “soft” goals – ala the Winnipeg game.
Both Hiller and Ramo are what they are at this point. They’re well-established, and probably won’t improve (or regress) much. And, to be fair, the team’s defense has been porous enough that you cannot put all of the blame for their shoddy numbers either on the goalies’ shoulders.
Ortio hasn’t even dressed for a game as back-up yet. I don’t understand why, particularly given that the Flames know much less about Ortio in game-action than they do about the other two. And it begs the question: WHAT WAS THE POINT OF KEEPING HIM UP IF HE WAS NEVER GOING TO PLAY ANYWAY? He’s doing the club as much good sitting in the press box during games as he would playing on another team (if claimed on waivers) or playing in Stockton (if he cleared). The Flames are the proverbial Scrooge McDuck in this situation; they’ve gone to all kinds of trouble to keep what they feel is a precious commodity in Joni Ortio with the organization, but they won’t expend any of that commodity to help them win any games.
PLAY ORTIO OR WAIVE HIM
Neither Hiller or Ramo are going to be players that any other team trades for, at least right now. If anything, the goalie rotation has prevented either guy (or Ortio) from finding a rhythm and actually developing some value in the trade market. So now the Flames have two cold goalies and a guy that’s sat upstairs for weeks, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to lose an asset for next-to-nothing. (Aside: Remember, they grabbed Hiller off the free agent market and let Ramo go to free agency last summer, so functionally they expended nothing to acquire either of them.)
It’s pointless to keep Ortio up if he’s not going to play. it’s been two weeks. The Flames are struggling. And tying up a roster spot on a third goalie prevents Bob Hartley from using the healthy-scratch hammer to motivate his other players. They need to either throw Ortio into the fray and allow him to help them win games, or throw him on waivers and put him somewhere – whether it’s Stockton or another NHL club.
This three-headed monster has to die.