Leland Irving Comparables


Most Flames fans recognize that this summer represents a big opportunity for the organization to trade Miikka Kiprusoff. The 35-year old is coming off one of his best seasons in years, his NMC goes away in July and his two remaining contract seasons are cheaper in dollars than they are in cap hit.

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All those things should help his value in the trade market. The problem for Calgary is they have no obvious replacements to step in and take Kipper’s place one he’s gone – Henrik Karlsson has proven to be mediocre at best at the NHL level, Karri Ramo is probably at least a season away and an unproven commodity in the league while youngsters Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit aren’t anywhere near being ready for the big league.

Absent signing Tomas Vokoun or Josh Harding this summer, the last apparent option for a Flames goalie is former first rounder Leland Irving. Unfortunately, the 24-year old has only had mixed results over four seasons as a professional (recently losing his position as the Heat’s starter to the undrafted Danny Taylor), so it’s an open question whether he’ll ever be able to make the leap from AHL regular to NHL starter. 

The High Road and Low Road

I’ve noted previously that there tends to be two paths to the NHL for puckstoppers – The first are those rare occassions when a kid jumps in more or less straight from junior and becomes a starter immediately. For example: Patrick Roy, Cam Ward, MA Fleury, Martin Brodeur and Carey Price all spent a season or less in the AHL before becoming their club’s crease incumbent.

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The second path is the long, hard road. Unlike skaters, who rarely become anything more than a fringe contributor if they haven’t made the leap by age 24, many goaltenders face an extended apprenticeship in the lower leagues before finally establishing themselves in the bigs. Kiprusoff himself spent multiple seasons in Finland, Sweden and the AHL before finally becoming a starter for Calgary at 28-years old.This is due to the fact that the stakes are higher for promoting a rookie to the crease (can’t hide a shaky goalie on the 4th line) and because they are very few spots available (two per team – starter and backup).

Leland Irving is obviously walking the latter path. 

With that in mind, I set out to find some Irving comparables – current NHLers who had spent significant time in the AHL but nevertheless went on to become starters in the NHL. I figured This would allow us to put his results in context and perhaps forecast his future as well.

The Comparables

To form a list, I focused on players who made the jump after the age of 24 and who spent more than one season plying their trade in the American Hockey League. I also limited the inquiry to guys who had proven they could be starting goaltenders to one degree or another in the NHL (so mediocre career backup types were excluded).

In the end, I settled on 10 names: Pekka Rinne, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliot, Mike Smith, Ray Emery, Ryan Miller and Josh Harding:

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Miikka Kiprusoff 87 0.926
Josh Harding 118 0.923
Ryan Miller 170 0.923
Ray Emery 154 0.919
Brian Elliot 82 0.916
Mike Smith 127 0.914
Craig Anderson 146 0.914
Jimmy Howard 186 0.911
Pekka Rinne 145 0.909
Corey Crawford 255 0.908
mean 147 0.915
Leland Irving 182 0.909

The table includes each guy’s total AHL games played (absent things like conditioning stints that occurred after they became regulars in the NHL) and their cumulative save percentage over that sample. The average games played and save percentage includes all 10 comparable players. Leland Irving is excepted from the mean, but his current pro results are included at the bottom for comparison and contrast.


There is only limited good news for Flames fans and management in this inquiry – two of Irving’s closest matches are Pekka Rinne and Corey Crawford. The latter has been okay in Chicago over the last two years while the former has unexpectedly developed into a star in Nashville. So on the bright side, it’s possible to have completely underwhelming outcomes in the AHL and still become a goaltender of value in the NHL.

The bad news is, Leland’s results place him right at the bottom end of the comparables list. The populations average was .915, clearly higher than Irving’s career pro SV% so far (.909) and only Crawford managed a lower save rate than Irving during his time in the AHL. Eight of the 10 goalies managed a SV% of .910 or higher and half of them were above .915. In addition, only Crawford and Howard played as many or more games than Irving in the AHL before becoming NHLers.

In addition, keep in mind this method of inquiry suffers from a survivorship bias – by only looking at the guys who managed to make it as NHL starters, I excluded the multitude of puckstoppers who toiled for years in the lower leagues, put up middling save rates, and never became a player of note. So while it’s possible to go from a .909 SV% in the minors to a .930 in the majors, the chances of any particular guy pulling a Pekka Rinne is probably vanishingly small. A more through examination would include all pro goalies over the last X amount of years to see how Irving compared to his peers who both succeeded and failed.

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Irving’s showing in his brief stint with the Flames during the regular season featured some outstanding performances, including a 45 save outing versus Ottawa in which Calgary was thoroughly dominated in every way but in net. It’s those sorts of glimmers that will likely keep the pending RFA in the fold this summer and a guy the team will continue to patiently groom in the AHL.

That said, Irving’s pro results just haven’t been noteworthy thus far. Even amongst unlikely ‘tenders who faced an uphill climb to make the show, his results are ho-hum. This also means, absent a sudden and sizable step forward, that he probably isn’t a player the team can bank on to step in and replace Kipper.

Not yet at least.

  • Gange

    Indeed. Don’t be fooled by a couple of nice outings. Leyland has struggled mightily in the AHL.

    Wasn’t he on the verge of going to the ECHL the year before last?

      • Whatever happened to Shantz? I recall him being pretty good, and he was signed to a pro try-out contract or something. Then the season ended and he just… disappeared. Not good enough to actually sign to a full contract?

        As far as Irving goes, I believe this will be the season to strut his stuff, so to speak. The Flames brass will eventually tire of him just being mediocre. He may only be 24 and not fully developed but I think they expected him to be more developed at this point than he probably is.

        Such a conundrum with 2 of our prospects playing in Europe and one of them possibly being the backup. Who tends the net in Abby next season? Karlsson and…? Irving and…? I doubt Ramo will want to play in the AHL.

  • Gange

    I would be intersted to see how those team’s did 5v5 as a way of showing the talent in front of the goalie as a way of further filtering the comparibles.

    For instance was Crawford’s admirals/icehog’s teams from his time in the AHL comparable to the Heat?

    • Unfortunately, the amount of data freely available from the AHL is pretty thin.

      That said, in pro hockey a teams effects on the goalies SV% tend to be relatively muted relative to what is intuitive. The spread of talent even in the AHL probably isn’t wide enough to turn a great goalie into a lousy one and vice versa.

  • Good stuff, Kent. I tend to be higher on Irving than most… but, the more his career drags on the more I think that belief is based more on my hopes for him rather than his actual output. Fringe NHLer seems to be his path at the moment.

  • Graham

    ‘This also means, absent a sudden and sizable step forward, that he probably isn’t a player the team can bank on to step in and replace Kipper’

    It’s back to ‘who’ could step in and replace Kipper, or at least, fill the starter roll.
    Irving isn’t ready, Karlsson is a marginal backup, Ramo is largely an ‘NHL’ unknown and a year away…

    Starting with Cervena, Backlund and Jones at center is risky, starting the year without an established starter or backup is almost beyond belief. Feaster indicates that he wants a competitive team, so if you trade Kipper, you have to bring in an established starter, or at the very least an established backup.
    While i would like to move Kipper, I’m just not sure that under Feasters ‘competitive’ mandate that Feaster ‘can’ move Kipper.

    • True. In the end, the decision will hinge on what he is offered for Kipper and how that balances with a wish to be competitive now versus a need to strongly consider the future given the club’s on-going decline.

      For instance, if CBJ comes knocking with a top-5 pick, there’s no way Feaster can turn them down regardless of other concerns. Im not saying that’s possible, but it’s an illustration of how a high value, future asset can trump the club’s wish to run in place.

  • I agree the sv% is probably the best way you have of comparing but in looking at a 909 vs 915 and what that represents in the reality of the situation the team talent may play a roll. Goals for might be one indicator as well. Irving’s Wins and Shutouts behind a fairly mediocre Heat have been pretty good.

    I think it was FN that looked at his stats with and without the Boston blow out and you see two radically different goalies.

    anyway interesting stuff.

    • Given the sample we’re working with (10 different goalies across multiple seasons and over 40,000 shots on net) it’s probable the differences between all the various teams talent levels is washed out. To assume the population mean being higher than Irving’s SV% was reflective of team effects is to assume all his comparables played behind superior clubs than the Heat/QC Flames in aggregate.

      That strikes me as unlikely, even given how medicore the Flames affiliate has usually been.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I will always pull for Leland, he is better than he showed in the AHL on boxscores, which is unfortunately all Kent has to really go on besides second hand accounts.

    I think he will be an ok starter long term, but no star, as he is prone to a bad goal or two.
    But then, who isn’t?

    • I don’t know JW. At some point the results have to reflect the reality, right? I mean, Irving has played 180+ games as a pro and he’s faced more than 4000 shots. He has been usurped as the team’s starter by free agent journeymen twice since 2009-10 and he’s never crested a .913 SV% in the AHL. A .913 SV% isn’t something worth paying much money for in the NHL, let alone the AHL – to say nothing of a career average of .909.

      I won’t deny he has some tools and that I liked him in many of his games in the show last year. Based on that, he’s a guy I would re-sign to see if he can take a step forward. Also, it’s clear that some guys struggle to be anything more than average for years before somehow figuring it out later on.

      But at some point the kid has to stop more pucks if he’s going to be a player of value to the team. “The team in front of him isn’t that good” only carries weight for so long.

  • jeremywilhelm

    That is true Kent, but as much as I don’t want to fall on the “he was playing behind terrible teams”, besides this season and his first, they were some of the worst in the AHL.

  • Trade Jokkinen for Harding. I’d see between Taylor, Irving & Karlsson in training camp who looks the most ready and keep him as the backup.

    If that doesn’t happen I would still trade kipper for an asset (even though I like him) and go with un proven goal tending until Ramo can come over…but he is also not NHL proven, but to me seems like our most solid bet until Ortio and Braussaut (spelling >.

  • First Name Unidentified

    All these “trade Jokinen for Datsyuk” theories…I don’t get it.

    Why would he waive to go to a team he doesn’t want to go for a couple of days if he already knows that Flames are not going to re-sign him? Why wouldn’t he just say “F#@$ you Flames, I’ll be a UFA and sign with a team that actually wants to pay me to play”?

    Didn’t know trading players who were not on your team was that big of a strategy in the league these days. In the stock market there is “short selling” strategy, just don’t know how that works in the NHL.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    @ First Name

    You’re comment made me chuckle 🙂 60% of what – Rinne’s save percentage? That would be pretty awful. Lets in 60% more goals – pretty awful. Has 60% of the mental toughness – would also be awful.

    To clarify – I know you were just making a point, so my comments aren’t meant to be critical – it just made me chuckle & I found some humour in it which will help me make it to the end of the work day.

  • everton fc

    I have this good feeling Irving might be a capable starter here. Then again, when it comes to Irving, I’m a bit altruistic…

    All that said, Taylor did have just-as-good stats as Irving on the farm. Which should eliminate Karlsson from any further discussions regarding a future with the Flames or Heat…

    We have what could be a nice stable of goalies in Ramo, Brossoit, Irving… Maybe Taylor… I don’t see Ortio as much. Harding might be a good fit here. Or Voukun, short-term, if you move Kipper.

    Kipper and Jackman to Columbus for the 1st, Bressard, and Dorsett. I could live w/this…

  • Graham

    @ First Name Unidentified

    I still look at the trade deadline as a missed opportunity to move some of our UFA’s. Gaustad returned a late first rounder, Jokinen should have returned the much the same. Maybe Feaster tried and Jokinen didn’t want to move, but if Jokinen does not resign with the Flames, a huge missed opportunity to add some decent draft picks. (and Mr. Feaster sir, please don’t resign Jokinen for more than 2 years, and $3 million per)

  • RexLibris


    Is there any reason to think that Howson would want to make that move, though?

    Given that he has resisted trading Johansen and is looking to trade Nash for young, near-NHL-ready players, I don’t get the impression that a 36-year-old goaltender with two years left on his contract is at the top of his list.

    I think the Flames have Ramo as their most NHL-ready goaltender for next season with Irving and Ortio probably more or less at the same stage of their relative development.

    Brossoit is probably about four years away. He’ll need a season in the ECHL and then some decent development time in the AHL, in all likelihood.

    Even once all that is said and done, he has had a great playoffs here in Edmonton, but will need to perform like this consistently to prove that he can sustain this level of play.

    If the Flames sign Vokoun, which is more likely: that Feaster will trade Kiprusoff or that he’ll try to keep both with Vokoun as the backup? I never know with this management group.

  • It’s hard to root against Leland considering what a nice kid he is and how far he’s come since he was younger, in terms of his health.

    That said, at some point he just needs to grab his shot. He’s never had a particularly good camp with the Flames and he’s frequently been out-performed by other netminders (Shantz, Karlsson, Taylor) in recent memory.

  • everton fc


    I only bring up Columbus, as they’ve been brought up here. If Howson wanted Kipper to get the team into the playoffs somehow, sooner than later, that’s what I’d take…

    But I see Tampa Bay as a more likely location.