The Uncertain Future of Leland Irving



The Flames lone remaining RFA is goaltender Leland Irving. A first round pick in 2006, Irving has played four seasons in the AHL and had a handful of contests in the show. At the onset of the off-season, he was the guy many were penciling in to be Kipper’s back-up this coming season, but the longer his contract negotiations stretch out, the more it seems his future with the organization is jeopardy.

Back in May, I compared Irving to a list of 10 comparable NHL goalies. The inquiry didn’t really cast the Calgary prospect in a flattering light: he had the lowest pro SV% of all but one of them (Corey Crawford) and had already appeared in more AHL games than all but Jimmy Howard and, again, Crawford. At times he’s been a stalwart in the AHL, the backbone of the team, but he’s also lost his starters role to journeymen signees twice in the last four years.

Needs and Conflicts

So his results have been mixed at best. The Flames have been rather guarded with Irving, granting him a lot of opportunity to establish himself for the minor team and then recalling him aggressively last year when they lost confidence in Henrik Karlsson once and for all. On the other hand, the club only re-signed Irving to a one-year $600k contract when his ELC expired and is, again, apparently playing some hardball with the kid this summer.

In addition, Feaster and company have gone about collecting a number of other puckstoppers over the last year or so. Laurent Brossoit and Jon Gillies were picked in each of the last two drafts, while Karri Ramo was acquired in the Rene Bourque deal. This prospect camp also features a couple of goalie invites as well.

Add in Joni Ortio and you have an increasingly crowded crease behind Kiprusoff.

Irving’s merely modest successes in the AHL and the growing stable of other options may be making the team hesistant to commit to him in any major way (for instance: one-way deal or guarantee of NHL playing time). Afterall, even absent the org’s growing depth in net, NHL back-ups are generally cheap and easy to find.

As a result, Irving and his agent may be looking at other opportunities. After four years in the minors and now drifting ever farther away from the protective "prospect" label, Irving likely feels he has to start establishing himself beyond the AHL to have any sort of future in the game. If the team doesn’t want to guarantee that sort of opportunity this summer, his gaze may be drifting to pro leagues overseas. On top of all that, being Miikka Kiprusoff’s back-up is an unsavory outlook for a kid who wants to move a few pegs up the ladder – playing 10-12 games a year is a pretty thankless job for a youngster.

There’s still a chance the two parties come to an agreement and Irving gets his chance to make an impact in the NHL for the Flames going forward. The delay in getting a deal done and Irving’s closing window of opportunity is suggestive, however.

  • Stockley

    I remember several stories last year suggesting Irving might look for work overseas to further establish himself. Other than the debacle in Boston I thought he had a decent showing at the NHL level. Losing his job to Taylor was as much circumstance as a result of shoddy play on his part. RFAs don’t have much leverage outside of threatening to play in Europe however. Could be a game of chicken played between management and player/agent.

  • RedMan

    management has to keep the pipe full on both ends and in the middle. I don’t see this as a threat to Irving assuming he plays up to his potential. If he doesn’t, or if he bolts, there are others in the pipe.

    My opinion is that the flames are in fact very thin on legitimate goalie options outside of Kipper and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a goalie brought in to back kipper… hasn’t that become something of an annual tradition?

  • “On top of all that, being Miikka Kiprusoff’s back-up is an unsavory outlook for a kid who wants to move a few pegs up the ladder – playing 10-12 games a year is a pretty thankless job for a youngster.”

    I laughed at this line. Unsavory outlook? Irving should be happy! He makes $600K a year (which, by my calculation, is a much higher pay rate than is received by more “useful” members of society such as engineers) at the age of 24, and he really only has to play 10-12 games a season (he makes ~$60K per game, just to show up, win or lose). Also, he lives in a lovely part of British Columbia. I don’t feel too bad for him if he has to move on, be that to Europe or elsewhere.

    That said, I hope it works out for him. He’s been at the tipping point for a couple years now – it’s time to sh!t or get off the pot, so to speak. Stop letting try-out players like Shantz and Taylor take his spot and start channeling Tim Thomas. Otherwise, Irving WILL be on the next cattle drive out of Calgary.

  • loudogYYC


    I think kent was speaking in a relative sense.

    I’m not still not sure he’s that good and I wouldn’t really stress if the he and the flames can’t come to an agreement.

  • Well, I really think Flames are dragging their feet to see if they can get Ramo out of the KHL a year early. Feaster kind of hinted at that back at the feedback session. They already gave Karlsson a 1 way deal that has 1 year left & they know Irv wont sign a two way deal again, I dont blame him. This thing is probably going to drag out until late Aug or early Sept. To me its a no brainer, if Ramo plays in the KHL next year, expect Irv to be signed to a 1 year 1 way deal & lets throw him in the deep end. If Ramo gets his freedom, Irv either signs a 2 way deal or he is bye bye & expect the latter.


    If Irving doesn’t sign, is there a way to “lend” Karlsson to Avangard Omsk and ask them to release Ramo from his contract?

    I think this would be the best way to bring Ramo back to the NHL, under the guidance of The Kip. At least for a little while until Kipper becomes trade bait, if our season goes down the toilet.

  • loudogYYC

    i too would love to have a post that gives any kind of clarity to the “Ramo situation”. Is there any chance he could be brought in this season? Is it possible the Irving delay is a result of Feaster negotiating with Avangard Omsk?

  • kantsequentialist

    Either way, Karlsson is on a one way deal with one more year left. I see Karlsson remaining the Flames backup until Ramo is free of the KHL. It’s dissapointing, because I still think Irving will be a starter in the NHL, but I just don’t see him waiting behind Karlsson any longer.

  • Can’t we just sign Irving to a 1 year 1 way deal and stick him in minors if Ramo comes out as an insurance policy? I know if its a 1 way deal its a bit more money in the AHL rather than a 2 way, but its HIGHLY unlikely anyone is going to pick him up off of waivers.

    • kantsequentialist

      You’re assuming the player is willing to sign a one year one way deal that is easy to shove into the minors. Obviously he is not. Irving knows what’s up and he knows as long as Karlsson is here he’ll be waiting for an injury. I believe he wants to cut bait and get a chance with another club. Going overseas for a year is the fastest, and most lucrative way to do that. I’m not excited about loosing Irving, I just think it’s inevitable.

    • Vintage Flame

      I’m sure there are a few factors delaying the signing of Irving.

      I’m not sold on the Ramo-factor just yet. Although I would love to see him come over from the KHL, he is making a whack load of money over there and is the starter. It is also still unclear whether he has this “out-clause” in his contract. If he doesn’t then he isn’t coming for this season anyways, so I’m not sure that is part of the Irving delay.

      As Justin stated, I’m not sure he is the answer to the Flames back up issues either, and the Flames may not be sold on him as well. If they are trying to get Leland for as cheap as possible, Irving may be digging in his heels regardless of his stature within the organization.

      He has to know that the Flames have zero confidence in Karlsson and if you add in the fact that Irving now has a family, he may be trying to hold what ever leverage he can grab on to.

      It’s a calculated risk for Irving if that’s what he’s doing, but I can see where it may make some sense.

  • BobB

    It would be interesting to know what the hold-up is between the mgmt and agent/player getting a deal done.

    I firmly believe that the Flames need to aggressively begin pursuing a back-up/replacement option to Kipper. The Flames are not a playoff team, they should be playing Kipper no more than 60 games this year, if not 55. That would give the backup(s) 22-27 games, it’d be nice to see them even get 30.

    They need to live or die with their #2 goalie while they have Kipper as the #1, or they’ll live or die with whatever they have when they don’t have Kipper.

  • Craig

    I remember when Irving was lighting it up his agent was tweeting that Irving was the best goalie in Alberta, and would be the best in the NHL soon or some nonsense like that. I fully believe it’s the kid’s Agent that is stalling the negotiation.

  • RKD

    I think the Flames management need to decide 1) who will backup Kipper and 2) who they see can be a starter down the road after Kipper retires or is traded.

    Irving played pretty well last season, outside of the Boston debacle. However, Danny Taylor has now emerged in addition to Ortio and Rammo.

    I still think Irving could handle the backup duties just fine.

  • Franko J

    If Irving leaves the Flames for Europe and decides to ply his goaltending duties elsewhere this would be another first round pick wasted by this organization. Interesting that every first round pick from 2003 to 2009 has been a bust. No wonder this team has missed the playoffs for the past three seasons and maybe counting a fourth.

    Again if management doesn’t have confidence in Irving as a backup or potential starter cut him loose. I don’t think he is trade material. There are at least 3 or more goalies ( backup only) in the league who other teams go after before Irving.

    I don ‘t know at the time what it would have cost Calgary last season, but I think the team missed the opportunity to trade for a legit backup.

    • loudogYYC

      “Interesting that every first round pick from 2003 to 2009 has been a bust.”

      Backlund? Like him or not, he’s played 130+ NHL games. That’s not a bust.

      Nemisz could still become a decent 3rd line forward (maybe).

      Erixon is a top 10 prospect league wide.. with another team. And he’s also a prick, but not a bust.

  • Franko J

    I think its kind of mute speculation, if Kipper stays & Feaster & Hartley obviously want to be a playoff team,that translates to at least 70 games for Kipper. If they dont think Irving is a better backup than Karlsson, cut the kid loose, otherwise, sign him to a 1 year deal & cut Karlsson loose. Whatever, it’ll probably be the Kipper show once again. The only thing that can set the domino in motion will be Ramo coming over for next year, he’ll probably start as the backup, get 30% of the games & if that goes well, a Kipper trade next year. With the uncertainty of the CBA & probably the amount of $$$$ it would take to pry Ramo loose for 1 year, my bet is we will be seeing the Kipper show next year. Next summer however, all bets are off.

  • PrairieStew

    Lots of summer left. A summer in which Roberto Luongo may or may not be traded. The potential fall out of that action could result in some team ( Toronto, Chicago )still in the market for a veteran goalie. I still believe that with Kiprusoff’s no trade clause expiring, that Feaster should at least be kicking tires on what kind of return he could get. If part of a deal for Kipper returns another young goalie ( Reimer or Scrivens, or Crawford) then we could be looking at a radically different goaltending situation in Calgary.

    Irv’s performance at the AHL level has not shown the progress necessary to invoke confidence in him as a solution. His NHL work has been too small of a sample size. This is the same problem that Karlsson has – too small a sample. Certainly last year post injury the team had no confidence in Hank’s ability, but I think that was due to the injury, not his performance before that. I have said it here before and will again; Karlsson’s 10-11 season was the best statistical performance of any combination of backups in the Kipper era. I think he can return to that level and maybe even more, I wouldn’t toss him for nothing.

  • MC Hockey

    @Prairie Stew.

    Finally somebody makes some sense to me. I have no idea why Flames lost confidence in Karlsson as he was not terrible. And as Prairie Stew says he’s the best backup we’ve had in years and his sample sizes of playing (like Irving) are too small.

    I am completing speculating here, but last year maybe they promised Irving some time to prove himself in NHL and had to make it happen last year to “unstrain” the relationship with the player/agent combo. Then, the annual “we are close to playoffs” scenario came into play and they had to play it safe by staying with Kipper.

    Just a couple thoughts…

  • Franko J

    @ Baalzamon

    Yes Backlund, Nemisz, and Erixon, may potentially develop into full time NHL players, but the point I was making is what have these players done for the Flames? Have they made the Flames a better team?

    For argument sake, let us compare David Perron with St.Louis. A player like Backlund who has spent some time away from the game with injuries. Drafted both in 2007.

    Perron GP 292 Goals 74 Assists 99 Points 173. Right now from the draft the fifth highest point producing player.

    Backlund GP 138 Goals 15 Assists 31 Points 46. Right now ranked 19th highest point producing player.

    To me just by looking at the numbers I know right now who has added more value to their respective teams so far. That is why I say the draft has been a bust, the Flames rarely get full value from their first round selections. Whether it is by contribution in the lineup or a tangible asset for trade.

    Luckily for the Flames they find those value added picks or prospects in the third and fourth rounds and below.