(By the way, how amazing is this picture? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it was created by a clearly brilliant artist named Mathieu Boulet, and I
stole liberated it from this article over at the Manitoban. Brusty!)
Training camp is in full swing now, and while the Flames feel they have most of their roster more or less filled, there are one or two possibly intriguing roster battles (mostly more bottom six roles, but considering the top two lines are mostly set if injured people stop being injured (JAROME!), by comparison it’s some interesting stuff.
One of these struggles comes born out of all the wrong reasons, and that is for the role of the backup goaltender. We all know your Calgary Flames are looking to find the ABSOLUTE PERFECT GUY to play maybe 4 games this season, and currently that battle is between Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving, which I think I soeak for everyone when I say "zzzzzzzzzzzzz…."
Read on, won’t you, as we delve into why perhaps a couple of hidden gems in Abbotsford might be just a better choice overall.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Highly touted Flames goaltending prospect stalls, loses favour with coaching staff. Most of you probably just thought of former Flames "prospect" Brent Krahn, recoiled, and are now huddling in the corner of your room, hoping that warm feeling you feel is not fresh urine (it is).
But it seems like such is the developing case of our young Mr. Leland Irving, much to the dismay of everyone, but most specifically the ladies who want to do things ranging from pinching his cheeks, to things far more sinister in the confines of a bedroom or…well that’s a story for another day.
Unfortunately for Irv (Imma call him Irv), it sure does seem as if Irv had not been currying favour with Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward, quite often drawing the short straw in the team’s three goaltender rotation along with two other tendies who were originally brought to the team as Pro Tryouts: Danny Taylor, and the aforementioned best goaltender of all time, Barry Brust.
And with good reason, as it hasn’t seemed like Leland’s performance has been on par with his padded counterparts. The AHL is not especially good at providing stats, but some of the numbers just speak for themselves. In 6 games with the Heat (less than half of the totals of either Brust or Taylor, by the by), Leland has allowed 18 goals for a GAA of 3.72 and a SV% of .871. These don’t tell a lot of the story, and a smaller sample size has a tendency to bloat numbers one way or the other, but you would sure expect them to be higher than what they are, considering who we all at one point once believed who he could be.
Now, we’re not so sure. If Coach Ward couldn’t handle him looking downright pedestrian in the AHL, how can we reasonably expect him to be worth his roster spot in Calgary? He may have looked decent for stretches last season with the Flames, but he wasn’t spectacular (not that you’d expect your backup to be), and you have to wonder if he’s no longer riding a hot streak like he was for a minute last year.
And if not him, why Henrik Karlsson, who is the largest shooter tutor to ever be placed in front of a net? You don’t need that, Calgary, you just don’t.
Surely there has to be better alternatives.
Trusty Brusty, Taylor….the…impaler?
THERE JUST MAY BE.
For while Irving may have fallen out of favour with Troy Ward, the reason he might have had less reluctancy to sit Irving on the bench or in the press box is because his PTO guys were playing exceedingly well.
Danny Taylor was brought in last year, almost in an emergency scenario, when Henrik Karlsson was either injured, or deemed too unreliable to do things like stop pucks or not let pucks go in the net, and Leland Irving was shuffled back and forth from Calgary to Abbotsford in an effort to both get him playing time for development, as well as stopping the bleeding a little bit in the Calgary crease.
Taylor crushed it in Irving’s absence, and has done practically everything to make sure he doesn’t just give the role back to whoever wants it. The former LA Kings draft pick went 17-10-3 on a decidedly atrocious Abbotsford squad last season, and has followed up his saviour role this year, rocking a very acceptable 1.82 GAA and .928 SV%.
His teammate, and my best friend, Barry Brust has enjoyed something of a reneissance this year in his own right, after a journeyman AHL career and a brief stint going crazy on the PIMs and stopping pucks earned him a spot on Abbotsford this year. And in his abrided tenure in mainland BC, Brusty has won the hearts of fans by having an unorthodox style in net, providing a calm consistency, and, oh yeah, breaking a 55 year old record by letting absolutely zero goals past him for the longest amount of time ever in the AHL. What a guy.
So What’s the Problem?
Barry Brust broke a 55 year old Johhny Bower record in the AHL. Bower, you may recall, is famous for spending YEARS playing in the minors before becoming a force in the NHL with the Leafs in the latter stages of his career, finally earning his starting role at the age of 34. Barry Brust and Danny Taylor could potentially enjoy a similar swan song, but it appears it won’t be with your Calgary Flames.
Neither player is currently under contract with the Flames, ergo the team does not currently enjoy possession of their rights. But neither does anyone else (which could change, given their respective performances in the crease this season)
But given as the team has offered PTO’s to Steve Begin, Steve McCarthy, and Brad Winchester (signalling a grim reality that the Flames are truly boned if any of those three make te team), and given that someone said the following:
"The philosophy really is about merit and ‘what have you done for me last shift,’” Feaster said. “That’s ultimately where we want to be as an organization … I believe it’s the fair way to do it and right way to do it."
– Jay Feaster, discussing meritocracy
All while knowing that Leland Irving hasn’t particularly earned his spot on the roster, and no one would care if they never saw Henrik Karlsson ever again, the Flames just wouldn’t be doing their due dilligence to not give these guys a chance, considering they’ve proven their merit, and have done so right underneath the Flames noses.
No, they are probably not starting NHL goalie caliber, but last I checked, the Flames have this guy out of Finland on their payroll who makes a lot of money to fill that role (no, not Joni Ortio), and maybe Flames prospect and KHL dynamo Kari Ramo is a step away from making the jump to North America, so it’s not like those are the skates you’re looking to fill right now.
But as mentioned, for those maybe 4 games in this truncated season that Miikka Kiprusoff does not dress for, you’d want your best alternative option in goal to give you the greater odds to win the game (especially knowing the extra premium wins are going to cost this go around).
Right now, I think those needs can be met by those plucky underdogs doing their thing in BC.
Honestly, I just want more TV coverage of Barry Brust.