Net Management

This weekend’s recall of goaltender Henrik Karlsson and subsequent assignment of Leland Irving to Abbotsford had many wondering what exactly the Calgary Flames were thinking.  Over the past months since Karlsson’s injury in Vancouver, Irving has proven himself more than capable as an NHL backup and has given the team a consistent chance to win, something Karlsson hasn’t done as consistenly.  There is little argument Irving gives the team the best chance to win when Miikka Kiprusoff needs a rest, so, why has he been demoted to the American Hockey League?

Well, not so fast.  I firmly believe Calgary will rest Kiprusoff three to four times in the final 23 games of the season.  I also firmly believe it will be Irving starting those three to four games when Kiprusoff earns his well deserved break.  Ideally, the Flames would probably like to have Irving on the big team full time, but then there’s the issue of Karlsson and him being on the first of a two year, one way contract.  Irving’s strong play has created logistic issues Calgary is working around.

I refer you to the 2010-2011 version of the Buffalo Sabres, who rode Ryan Miller as their workhorse goaltender to the tune of 66 games.  While Patrick Lalime played seven games that year, it was Jhonas Enroth who saw action in 14 games and ended up being Buffalo’s first choice as backup netminder.  What was odd about Enroth’s season?  He also played 41 games in Portland of the American Hockey League, interspersed with his time in Buffalo.  Between November and March of last season, Enroth was recalled on four seperate occasions by the Sabres when he was deemed a more capable backup needed to start.

Just as Enroth was a more viable option than Lalime last year in Buffalo, Irving is a much smarter choice in net than Karlsson if the Flames are to pick up the necessary wins down the stretch while also resting their top dog.  Karlsson has proven he can play in the NHL, and thus the team should have confidence in deploying him on an emergency basis as a spot starter or mop-up artist.  But when it’s time for a scheduled Kiprusoff rest, Irving should and likely will be the man getting the starts.

This serves two purposes. First and foremost, it puts the most capable goalie in net when wins and points are at their most crucial. But second, it also allows the 23 year old Irving to still play meaningful minutes just as a 22 year old Enroth did last year before serving as Miller’s backup full time this season.  Irving benefits some from NHL practice time, but he benefits more from a full slate of AHL games played at a very high pace in a top tier league.  It’s one of the rare circumstances where development and right now can exist harmoniously.

There is but one hurdle to this complicated plan.  While an NHL team has no limit on the number of recalls and assigments they decide to carry out for the majority of the season, a cap is applied post trade deadline.  The Flames (and the 29 other teams they play against) have a maximum of four recalls to use once Monday passes.  Using a bulk of those for this scenario seems irresponsible, especially knowing how invaluable the Heat system has been during this injury plagued season.

Ahh, but I have a plan!  By recalling Irving and making room on the roster for a third goalie prior to Monday’s deadline, the Flames would save one post-deadline recall by having him called up already prior to Calgary’s back-to-back set at the end of that same week.  If needed, he could be returned shortly thereafter and recalled prior to the Phoenix and Edmonton back-to-back on March 15th and 16th.  The same is true for the double bill on the 30th and 31st.

It’s not a perfect plan, and while ideally it should work in the remaining month plus of the season, it may have to be shelved if the team needs to utilize recalls at other positions.  Having a healthy Karlsson in the fold serves as a decent security blanket, but there’s no questioning the fact Irving truly is the best choice at backup, even if the method to accomplish this isn’t the most conventional.

  • Brent G.


    “Karlsson has proven he can play in the NHL”

    Karlsson has proven anything but he is even a decent NHL option, even as a back up. I appreciate your sentiment that Irving needs playing time because he absolutely does and getting it in the AHL is the answer but Karlsson’s career should be grounded before it has even taken off.

    He has played in 6 games this year and has posted 4 L and 1 OTL with a 3.48 GAA and 0.895 sv %. Mcelhinny has looked more capable than him a lot of the time.

    As you have stated, they are in the first year of a two year one way contract for Karlsson but regardless they could very easily have shipped him to the farm and I hope they would do that overlooking a stupid mistake made by Feaster in signing him; the salary they would be eating is minimal.There is absolutely 0% chance anyone would ever consider picking him off of waivers as well. He holds no value at all.

    If they only have 4 call ups post deadline and they are planning to use 3 of those on Irving, it sounds to me like a very dangerous strategy. I can picture it now. They waste all of those calling up/sending down Irving, some injured players come back, get re-injured (the teams seems to be made of glass this year), and they are forced to ice a roster less than complete (circa 2006). Imagine the disdain and atrocious management that would be exposed if that went down…

    • Cant fault Feaster for the signing, Karlsson had some pretty good games last year when Kipper struggled. I think they sit Karlsson down, & based on what they have done with the whole team, if you earn it you get to play & Leiland has earned it. I say send him down through waivers, if he gets picked up, too bad & if not, he plays in Abbottsford. That is the only fair thing to do & yes I know he will be getting the big league $$$ with the Heat but too much at stake to mess around like this. Better yet, maybe he can be part of a trade package but I dont even know who would be in the market for unproven backup goalies other than šŸ™‚ Philly. Whats with that team, its a goalie burial ground.

      • Vintage Flame

        Not exactly. Ramo said he wouldn’t play as a long-term back up. He knew that with Carey Price being as young as he is, that he would remain the back up for a longer period of time.

        Ramo also said on Twitter that he would be excited to play with Miikka. Probably because it would give him time to get accustomed to the North American game but he would also be getting his shot as a #1 sooner than he would with Mtl.

        • RKD

          Well don’t I appear quite the ass! That said, Ramo’s contract in Russia is up at the same time Karlsson’s is up here, so my initial statement stands, I think (despite the fact that I backed it with inaccurate information like a big dummy).

  • It’s a nice plan in theory, but based on the injury woes and the subsequent recall of half of Abbotsford, I think the Flames would be loathe to use those call up spots when there are two healthy goalies in Calgary.

    If Hank gets injured, can Irving come up an an emergency replacement and not count on that recall limit?

    Not that I’m suggesting Hank get injured! (I’m really not)

  • While I like the idea of having Irving play those games, not sure I like sending him down between each one and using that many of our roster moves on it.

    The way I see it playing it out is having him up before the deadline (like you said) to play next Friday, then send him down until the PHX/EDM b2b using 1 of your 4 call ups, and from there you just keep him up for the 2 weeks until the COL/VAN b2b.

    That way you still get him in for all 3 of those games, plus one during the 4 game week of March 18th, you’re only using one of your call ups, and Irving only misses out on 2 weeks of AHL starts.

  • Vintage Flame

    I would be very excited to have Ramo come, just tell him that the job is his to lose after kipper leaves. I think that’s reasonable. How would Ramo and Irving look? I don’t think Irving would be pleased if Ramo got the starting job. Maybe they should trade him.

  • RKD

    This is way out there, but maybe Irving is part of a trade package with a roster player and a pick for a top 6 forward. I seriously doubt it, but anything is possible. With all the goalies in the system who are they trying to groom: Irving, Ramo, Ortio, Karlsson?

    I would say it should be a progression plan to keep increasing Irving’s workload season by season.

    For Ramo, goalies mature late, he would have to wait a couple of years to be the starter.

    Unless the Flames trade Kipper, which I also doubt, then Ramo and Irving could co-share duties like Reimer and Gustavsson do in Toronto.

    • Vintage Flame

      Dont agree about age of goalie, how old is Schneider or Quick or Rinne or Bernier or Niemi or Crawford? If we feel we keep Kipper for the remaining 2 years, I would say bring in Rammo next year but then we have to trade Leiland. He’s almost ready in my eyes. That may be attractive to Columbus or Tampa, maybe a Leiland package can get us Carter. Personally, I would trade Kipper while he is red hot this summer & run with Rammo & Leiland. Washington just may give up those 2 first rounders for him. Will be a very interesting debate this summer. Isee both sides of the argument.

  • PrairieStew

    Karlsson, last year, posted the best backup numbers of any combination of backups for the entire Kiprusoff era. 5 games and an injury later people are writing him off. You send Irving down because you can, and because you want the Heat to win also. That team will be pretty competitive when the parent club starts getting healthy, and a deep playoff run for them would be great for the future of the Flames. I think you have to let Karlsson play, if for no other reason to increase his value and deal him in the offseason

  • RKD

    The Flames will make their decision between Karlsson and Irving based on whom they feel give them the best chance to win.

    It may be as simple as they feel that is Karlsson. They inked him to a two year contract last off season so they clearly had faith in him.

    They may also plan on recalling Irving. If so I expect they would do it after the trade deadline.

    This will give Irving a few starts at the AHL. It also keeps open options to explore trading Karlsson before putting him on waivers. It is even possible that they are considering trading Irving (i.e. package for Carter).

    Either way they don’t want to assign Karlsson to the AHL until they know what is what. Otherwise they have to risk losing him to waivers then re-entry waivers.

    Whatever they do I really hope Irving is the man to get the back-up starts. In my opinion he gives us the best chance to win. We also have to consider management of one our our top prospects.

    Irving has played almost 200 games at the AHL/ECHL level and was a first round pick in 2006. He is just now getting his taste in the NHL. He is an RFA this summer. His agent is Winter.

    If he has earned a back-up role in the NHL (and he has) then you have to give it to him. If you are going to let him rot in the AHL not only is that the wrong thing for his development, it is also going to impact goodwill come negotiation time.

    One thing that hasn’t been discussed is the free agency classes. I am no expert, but doesn’t the number of games played impact his RFA status this year? That could also be a consideration.

  • I think Ortio is out of the short term picture as he’s been sent back to Europe. So that leaves Karlsson, Irving and potentially next year Ramo. The other wild card is this Taylor down in the AHL who has played fairly well as well. But we’ll stick with the top 3.

    I don’t think Karlsson can be written off yet, he hasn’t had enough time inbetween the pipes. He still needs to work on standing up longer and not going butterfly so fast, thus exposing the top half of the net. But hopefully kipper and Malardchuk can get that sorted out. I’d like to see him finish out this season and then they can evaluate him on the last 3-4 games he ‘may’ start. After that you take his 9-10 games he’s played this season and decide whether it’s Kipper and Karlsson… or Kipper – Ramo or Kipper – Irving.

    I’ve seen 0 of Ramo…so I can’t determine whether he’s a capable goalie or not. But Feistie thinks he’s pretty good.

    I’d say next year if Karlsson doesn’t string together 3-4 wins it looks like a Irving as backup and possibly Ramo if he decides the KHL isn’t for him anymore. It’ll be an interesting training camp for the keepers šŸ˜‰