The Flames Fifteen: #5 – Leland Irving


Many know I don’t have the highest opinion of Leland Irving when it comes to his NHL potential.

I stand by that opinion today, so it should tell you something that even though I’ve been thoroughly pessimistic when it comes to Irving’s NHL-level skill, I still have him ranked the second highest out of all the panelists surveyed for this project. What exactly is being said by those rankings is up for interpretation – but make no mistake, people are not as bullish on Irving as they were 6(!) summers ago.

Irving – selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2006 entry draft – was, from day one, thought of by some to be the heir to Miikka Kiprusoff’s throne. 

Irving… may eventually take over for ‘Kipper’. [Hockey News, 2006]

Regardless, he’s a lock as a future NHL starter. [Goalie Guild, 2009]

It’s no secret that goaltenders take longer to develop then forwards or defencemen, but given that people have been using the word “starter” around him for so long, you’d want to see a little progression, wouldn’t you? Well, depending on what numbers you like to use, you have seen progression. Not a lot, but a little.

Irving has gradually been increasing his workload in terms of shots against and was among the league leaders in wins for Abbotsford in 2010-2011, but he’s had a few missteps in his career – the demotion to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings in 2009-2010, being passed by Danny Taylor late in the season in Abbotsford this year and the Boston debacle are the big ones. Generally, he’s been able to climb out of the holes he’s dug for himself.

Player Kent Justin WI Scott VF Arik (not counted)
Leland Irving 6 5 8 3 7 6

 [HockeyDB] [EliteProspects] [Hockey’s Future]

*Reminder – The evaluators were asked to rank players, and we sorted the rankings via a simple point scale-number 15 on each list got one point, while number 1 on each list got 15. The criteria for who was included was pretty simple: players the Flames control who are 23 and under (excluding Mikael Backlund, since he’s already a bona fide NHLer). 

Irving – now 24 (23 when the list was compiled), meaning this is the only time he’ll show up on these rankings as a “prospect” – has had a rough go of things from a statistical standpoint in his professional career, averaging a .909 SV% over 5031 shots. Kent took a closer look at Irving’s SV% and how it/he compared to other goaltenders a while ago and the results were not, shall we say, spectacular.

Irving has a ton of physical tools and he seems to have that ice-water-in-his-veins quality that is always great to see in goalies. However, I’ve noticed little tics in his play; namely, his pads move in a funny way when he drops into the butterfly, leaving a pretty large five-hole. Other then that, though, his positioning is strong. Oddly, though, his lack of “girth” (i.e. he is skinny) is mentioned as a negative a couple of places around the web, as he doesn’t fill the net as much as his frame suggests.

Depending on what happens between now and the start of training camp, Irving may be slotted in to play significant minutes for the club come October. This makes me a little nervous, especially with the consistent beating of the “going for it!” drum. I do hope Irving proves me wrong for a number of reasons – obviously I want to see any member of the Flames system succeed – but as time passes I’m less and less convinced of his ability to do that.

The List 

Player   Kent   Justin   WI   Scott   VF   Arik (NC)   Final Rank
Leland Irving   6   5   8   3   7   6   5
Roman Horak   5   8   6   8   9   7   6
Michael Ferland   8   7   7   7   6   11   7
Lance Bouma   10   9   5   14   4   12   8
Markus Granlund   7   6   0   10   13   8   9
Bill Arnold   11   11   0   11   8   5   10
Greg Nemisz   9   13   0   5   15   15   11
Paul Byron   12   10   0   12   11   9   12
John Ramage   14   12   0   0   12   10   13
Chris Breen   0   15   0   13   0   14   14
Tyler Wotherspoon   0   14   0   0   10   0   15 

  • loudogYYC

    I think it makes sense for Karlsson and Irving to swap spots next season. Although Karlsson isn’t amazing, he’s not a sieve either. Let him play in the A and hopefully regain confidence while he shares the net with Danny Taylor.

    I gotta say, it’s not too exciting to see a 2006 draft pick ranked as the 5th best prospect in the system. The Dale Tallon approach to drafting has to start soon here.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    the thing about Irving is the problem has never been talent. It’s consistency. And maybe size, since, with his smallishness, and with how much his game depends on his positioning, if his positional game breaks down at all, he’s suddenly terrible. Look at his game-to-game sv%s last season. He fluctuated from ~94% to 89% on a nearly week-to-week basis, with almost NO middle ground AT ALL.

    Of course, his stats are skewed downward a lot by the fact that he spent the last couple weeks of the season bouncing between leagues, on the bus between Calgary and Abbotsford, on the plane, etc when he wasn’t actually manning the net. I don’t blame him for losing the starting job to Taylor, especially considering that, among all that bouncing around, he got a new kid too. Wild ride.

  • Stockley

    He showed some flashes of promise in his run in the NHL. He spent too much time riding the pine behind Kipper so of course he lost his spot as starter in the AHL. While he was in the bigs Taylor was carrying the Heat on his back. I think Irving spent far too much time sitting this past year, not enough actually playing. Like so many have said, it’s now or never for the kid. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t the backup next season, for better or worse. It isn’t sink or swim time, it’s time to throw him off a cliff and see if he can fly. If he isn’t the answer then we have Ramo coming over after one final year in the KHL and hopefully Broissoit rebounds from his underwhelming play in the Memorial Cup.

    Concerned would be the word I’d use for the state of future goaltending in Calgary. Not quite panic time yet but if one of these tenders doesn’t prove to be the answer then panic time will begin.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The jury is still out. Irving has shown some good play, but I’d really like to see a lot more from him before we know what the Flames have. It’s time to give the full time backup role and see how he does it 15 games or more. One thing is certain, I have more confidence in Irving than Karlson.

  • Stockley

    Pretty tough crowd. Jesus, I think considering he played so little when Karlsson went down, he played pretty good. If I was Leiland, I would be telling you guys that maybe let me play 15 games at the NHL level & not just the the 2nd game of a B2B before you start engraving my tombstone. If he played the whole year in Abbottsford, where he was doing very well, you still think Taylor would have taken the #1 job down there? Management and coaches have proven year after year they are not capable or prepared to lighten Kippers work load. Seems like we have to trade Kipper to give these kids a chance. I know we will be yearning for Kipper afterward but we either will draft our way out of this or a kid like Irving rises to his potential.
    Its like saying you’re a crappy driver when all you are allowed to do is back the car out of the garage.

  • Stockley

    You made it clear you don,t like him ,what,s not clear is Why? A bad game in Boston .A stint in the minors. A leaky five hole.HHHMMM.I,am pretty sure those things have been said about most elite goalies at one time.Not that i,am saying he,s elite . Does anyone know what an elite goalie looks like before he reaches the NHL?

    • All those things have been said of non-elite goaltenders as well. The non-elite crowd outnumbers the elite guys 100-1.

      I know people liked Irving during his time in Calgary and, hell, the site has him ranked as the 5th best prospect in the system. But Leland is 24 years old, 6 years beyond his draft and still not a regular in the league. And his SV% in the minors isn’t something you’d pay for in an NHL goalie.

      I liked what I saw from Irving in the bigs last year and the team obviously prefers him to Karlsson. But he has a lot of ground to cover before he becomes anything more than, say, Curtis McElhinney.

  • Stockley

    Not to ruin the rest of the selections, but pretty obvious Baertschi, Brodie, Reinhart, and Gadreau are left. Though perhaps not in that order.

    @Balzaamon I don’t think people are being critical because of his time in the NHL. By that standard he generally impressed, even if he didn’t have the wins to back it up.

    But he has been so so in the AHL. Including losing his job to Taylor. In part because of Taylor’s play and the circumstances. But also in part that Irving failed to step up when he had the opportunity.

    • Stockley

      my comment was about his AHL stats not his NHL stats… as in, the upper end of his game is well into the upper echelon of AHL goalies, but the bottom end is an average ECHLer.

  • Stockley

    Why are we worried about who we have in net next year or the year after? Kipper is great and we are out of the playoffs. Yes, without Kipper, we will finish 13-15 rather than 11-13. Move him for some future already. He will be very sought after and we could parlay Kipper and the 14 pick for a top 10 (5) pick, a player and perhaps a 2nd rounder, especially if we took back some salary for a bit. ( Komisarek as an example). By the time we turn the corner, Irving will either be established or gone as will Ramo and Broissant will be 21-22 and perhaps ready.

  • Goalies almost always take a long time to develop. I don’t see Canuck fans complaining that Schneider took until 24 to enter the NHL. He has been better and better each year, especially considering how much the Heat relied on him prior to this season.

    He seems ready for real NHL backup duty for a year.

  • I agree with you Kent. It,s time for Irving to step up and be consistent.I just think that goalies are harder to evaluate when they,re making the push into the league.A forward or defenseman coming into the league are given small roles that lead to bigger roles.Goalies don,t have that luxury.Irving has to come out of the gate strong this year to have a future in Calgary.