If I were asked to put money on which of the big names will be moved from Calgary this summer, I’d have to bet on Miikka Kiprusoff.
It makes sense to move Kipper from a number of angles – he’s coming off his best season in years (so his stock is high), his contractual NMC ends July first and he’s a bad bet to have a repeat performance next year (he’s 36 years old). Finally, Kipper’s real salary drops to $5M next season and then to just $1.5M in 2013-14, thereby reducing the actual, financial risk to any interested trading partner.
The primary barrier to dealing Miikka will be a mix of sentimentality and risk aversion. As I discussed for the Score last March, goaltenders can cause probability neglect in fans/managers – a psychological bias that causes people to overweight (and therefore overpay or to avoid) potentially high anxiety outcomes:
NHL GMs tend to be very willing to pay to lock-up a goalie who has seemingly proved to be effective, even if that proof is a fleeting spike in performance. Paying a little too much for a guy is certainly not an optimal use of cap space, but as Gardner notes, humans are more than willing to forgo efficiency of costs in the face of anxiety-inducing risk.
As such, it’s probable in many ways that GMs who make Mason or Leighton type overpayments are purchasing goalies who they perceive to be “not bad” rather than “good”. The distinction is a meaningful one: it means they are not necessarily seeking the most efficient solution, but merely looking to avoid the risk of the worst possible outcome. In this calculation, it’s much worse to be stuck with a terrible, bargain basement goalie than it is to be stuck with a average but over-priced one.
You see this sentiment expressed often amongst Flames fans – "Calgary would be 30th overall without Kipper" is a common refrain. This is an understandable, but hyperbolic, summation of things in reaction to Kipper’s Hasek-like turn in the middle of the season when the club was being routinely outshot. The truth, of course, is that his actual talent level is closer to average at than to elite at this point and the team would only lose significant ground if they replaced him with a well below average puck stopper.
There is certainly risk attached to moving Kipper – he’s at least an average goalie (which is better than a bad one) and he remains highly athletic and durable. There’s value there. So to move him, the Flames will not only have to be tempted by a nice offer, but they’ll also need to identify potential replacements to avoid being Steve Mason’d to the bottom of the standings.
We’ll start by looking at the organization’s internal goaltending assets –
The Existing Options
A good bet to move up to the big league no matter what happens with Kipper this summer, I personally continue to be rather conflicted about Irving. Aside from the Boston massacre, the kid showed pretty well when he was up with the Flames this year, including several 35+ save evenings.
That said, he has never managed an outstanding season in the AHL. In fact, this year his SV% fell to a wholly unimpressive .902 for the Heat, which is a below replacement level rate even in the NHL. In fact, journeyman back-up Danny Taylor is Abbotsford’s starting goalie heading into their upcoming first round playoff series. For good reason too – the free agent’s SV% was vastly superior to Irving’s (.927).
This is actually the second time in his pro career that Irving has been usurped by a no-name back-up at some point during the season. David Shantz took over as the Heat’s starter in 2009-10 with Irving even spending some time in the ECHL that year.
Irving clearly has some skill and was a workhorse for the Heat just last season, appearing in 61 games. However, I can count the number of goalies on one hand who never crested a .920 SV% in the AHL and went on to become a meaningful starter in the NHL (Irving’s highest SV% as a pro is .913).
As goalies go, Irving is still young at 24-years old, but it remains an open question whether he’s ready to be anything more than an occasional back-up in the bigs.
The organization lost faith in Karlsson this season, and for good reason – he’s not very good. Although huge, enthusiastic and capable of a highlight reel save or two, the overall game just isn’t there for the Calgary Tower. Karlsson isn’t terribly mobile, goes down too easily and stoppable pucks leak through him too often. His NHL SV% in 26 games so far is .905 and there’s little evidence he’ll evolve much beyond that range.
Karlsson has one more year left on his contract with Calgary, but I expect both parties will try to find a way for him to fly back across the pond this summer. If not, expect to see him sent down to the farm for the remainder of his deal.
It was a very rough North American debut for Ortio this year. Formerly a goalie who bounced around the various Finnish junior and pro leagues, Ortio was coaxed to join the Abbotsford Heat last off-season where he very promptly fell on his face. In nine appearances for Abbotsford, Ortio won only once and managed a ghastly .890 save rate. He was eventually sent back to Europe as a result.
The former 6th rounder landed with TPS in the SM-Liiga (Finnish Elite League) where he has since played 14 games, garnering a .908 SV%.
Ortio is three years younger than Irving and obviously a long way from becoming a factor in the Flames plans. If Irving indeed moves up to the parent club, Ortio might get another chance to prove himself at the AHL level.
Acquired in the Rene Bourque/Mike Cammalleri swap, Ramo is the closest thing the Flames have to a legitimately pro-ready puckstopper (aside rom Kipper). He will turn 26 in July and has been plying his trade in the KHL for the last three seasons, managing back-to-back .925 save rates in each of the last two years for Omsk Avangard.
Formerly a draft pick of Jay Feaster’s in Tampa Bay, Ramo was a sub-.900 goalie in both the AHL and NHL for years after leaving Finland. It’s only recently as a starter in Russia that he’s become a goaltender of any notable value.
It’s hard to say how well goaltending translates between the KHL and the NHL or the degree to which Ramo would have to re-adjust if he should ever come back to NA. In addition, Ramo has what is likely a pretty well-paying contract with Omsk that extends for one more season and has no NHL out-clause. If he plays well for that club again next season, they may choose to re-up him at rate that the Flames may be unable to compete with.
Given his performance in the KHL, Ramo would be a worthwhile gamble as at least a "1B" in the NHL. The problem is he may never abandon his Russian gig.
Calgary’s youngest puckstopper, the 19-year old Brossoit was picked in the 6th round by the Flames last summer after a fairly underwhelming rookie season with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Fast forward one year and Brossoit is the starting goalie for what is likely the favorite to win it all in the WHL. He finished with the 5th highest SV% in the league after the regular season (.914) and currently boasts the best numbers of any WHL ‘tender in the playoffs (8 wins, .941 SV%).
Those are some nice early returns on a late draft pick. Of course, one good junior season does not an NHL goalie make, so we’re many years away from knowing if Brossoit will be a capable pro or not. A guy to keep an eye on, but he’s not factor in big league decision making right now.
Other Options – Free Agents
There are lot of goalies set to hit the market this July, but only a couple are worth mentioning as potential starters – Josh Harding and Tomas Vokoun.
Harding has labored as the Wild’s back-up for years, but has consistently put up good performances in that role. He was a better than .920 goalie in the AHL as well and at 28-years old is already an accomplished pro (the Flames acquired Kipper at the same age by the way).
Minnesota has Niklas Backstrom locked-up to a big dollar deal, so there’s little chance Harding is going to usurp him there. That means Harding is a near certainty to test free agency this summer in the hopes to final land his own starting gig.
Tomas Vokoun was an elite guy for years in Nashville and Florida, but he fell down a bit this season for the Capitals with a rather average .916 SV%. Like Kipper, Vokoun is also 36-years old, so he could be approaching that inevitable point where guys fall off a cliff at the end of their careers. His signing is also a risk because cap hits to players 35 years or older tend to stick to organizations like glue (assuming those rules remain the same in the upcoming CBA).
Vokoun is a risk for those reasons, but he will also likely be cheaper than Harding to acquire as a result. Vokoun also managed three straight seasons of .920 SV% or above before his down slide in Washington, so there’s also a small chance he’ll rebound.
As mentioned, there are lots of reasons the Flames should investigate the market for Kipper this off-season. However, his absence will certainly complicate things in the crease if they manage to move him, assuming the club still wants to compete for a playoff spot. Absent a Ramo defection or a giant step forward by Irving, the Flames would have to hope to land one of Harding or Vokoun to realistically fill the nets.