Leland Irving remains unsigned and the whsipers here in Calgary are that the negotiations remain contentious. Rich Winter is Irving’s agent – the same agent for Mark Giordano when he fled the Flames in the face of Sutter’s insistence he accept a two-way deal. Winter also has a high regard for his client, so there’s little doubt the Flames are dealing with a flight risk here.
Should Irving depart for greener pastures, the club will be facing by now what is a familiar issue: lack of a quality back-up goalie (although there is no guarantee Irving himself would have filled the role admirably either). It was clear by the end of the season that the Flames had little confidence in Henrik Karlsson, whom I expect will end up in Abbotsford or back in Europe for the final year of his deal.
The problem has haunted Calgary since Roman Turek took his ball and went home. It’s becoming a much more pressing issue at this point, however: Kipper turn 36 in October and has just two seasons left on his deal. Meaning, at this point the team should be looking not just for a guy who can spell Kiprusoff off every five games or so, but also someone who can meaningfully audition for the starting position as the incumbent ages and reaches the end of what could be his retirement contract.
The list of UFA goalies this summer is, er, modest. If Irving leaves and the Flames don’t trust Karlsson, their options are fairly limited – they could go with a mediocre, career back-up type like Ty Conklin or Brent Johnson, which would be a band-aid at best. Enticing Karri Ramo to break his KHL deal and come back to the NHL is starting to look like a last dtich option as well, although then you’re depending on him to break a contract and probably take less money to be a 20-game goalie here in North America.
An Irving Replacement?
Calgary could also investigate a potential swap for Jonathan Bernier, who has asked for a trade this summer in the wake of Jonathan Quick’s recent 10-year deal. Bernier hasn’t done much at the NHL level yet, but is a former 11th overall pick who mostly tore up the AHL during his time there. In 2009-10, he finished with a .936 SV% and was named the AHL’s outstanding goalie of the year.
JB was drafted the same year as Irving, is the same age, but has a better resume. He was previously considered the goalie of the future for the Kings organization but has since been rendered redundant thanks to Quick’s unlikely emergence as an elite puck stopper. I’m not sure what LA would want in return for Bernier, because his pedigree is good but his accomplishments in the NHL are minimal – doubt the asking price would be excssive, however.
If the Flames can’t get Irving in the fold, they have a sudden, very real gap in their organization between the current starter and the rest of the organizational depth (Ortio, Brossoit, Gillies are many years away), the Ramo wild card notwithstanding. The acquisition of Bernier would replace the (potentially) departed Irving and give the club a young back-up would is a decent bet to develop into a capable starter in short order.
So what say you Flames fans? If Irving leaves, what should the Flames do about the back-up role?