Where is the Flames goaltending at?



Karri Ramo 

– pic via resolute, wikimedia commons

For the first time in a decade, the Flames are entering the off-season without really knowing who their starter will be in October. Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t officially retired yet, but even if the 37 year old puckstopper decides he wants to play out the final season of his deal it would make sense for the club to use their compliance buy-out this summer to make his onerous $5.83M cap hit disappear.

Even if Kipper somehow sticks around, the Flames should be looking for its next starter this coming season – Calgary’s mission is primarily exploratory next season, so it wouldn’t benefit the org to stick to the tried and true even if it is an option.

So if not Kipper, then who? Here’s how Calgary’s crease depth chart looks heading into the draft and free agency:

1.) Karri Ramo

The former Lightning draft pick can’t be signed by the Flames until July 5th, but is a good bet to be inked by Feaster and company as soon as possible. Ramo will be 27 on July 1 and is coming off his 4th straight season as a starter in the KHL for Avangard Omsk. Ramo struggled to find his footing in the NHL as a youngster, but has emerged as a legitimate tender across the pond in his mid-20s. His SV% has been north of .920 in each of his last three seasons, culminating in a career best .929 save in 44 games this year. That was the 8th best SV% in the league this season, or 5th best if you narrow the field to goalies who played more than 20 games.

Ramo’s save rate over his last three seasons (or 3,423 shots) works out to .926, which is a healthy number in the second best league in the world. Unfortunately we don’t have enough information to decipher a good KHL-NHL translation factor for goalies, so it’s anyone’s guess if Ramo will be able to maintain those sort of rates in North America. That said, Ray Emery and Sergei Bobrovsky are two recent examples of guys who played well in Russia (.926 and .932 in a limited sample) and then went on to post similar save stats in the NHL afterwards.

Ramo is the favorite right now to be the Flames starter next year. There’s little doubt he’ll get a long look, whatever else happens.

2.) Joey MacDonald

A career back-up who has bounced around various teams and the AHL over the course of his career, MacDonald gamely held the fort for the Flames down the stretch in Calgary, causing the team to re-up him for one more year. MacDonald is a veteran and…that’s really all you can say about him. His career SV% in the NHL is .903. His save percentage for the Flames this season was .902. These are replacement level rates at best.

There’s no reason to think he’ll improve on that all of sudden or grab the reigns as the club’s putative starter. MacDonald is established enough that he won’t cause mass panic on the ice or in the front office should the starter go down to injury, but he’s also not the guy who will provide real redundancy in the depth chart if a guy like Ramo proves to be inadequate.

It’s a 50/50 bet whether MacDonald ends up as the Flames back-up or in the AHL next season. His one year deal is below the new CBA cut-off for retained cap dollars, meaning if he goes down to the farm his dollars won’t count towards the Flames cap number. He will likely be considered the favorite as option B unless another guy can outplay him and take the job.

3.) Reto Berra

The biggest wildcard is the 26-year old out of Switzerland. Berra is coming off a very big world championships, managing a .967 SV% in four games. His save rate in thw Swiss elite league for Biel was less impressive at .906, but it’s hard to know how that relates to the NHL.

Berra has spent his entire career across the pond, so is a totally untested commodity at this level. Sometimes those goalies turn out to be buried treasures who can immediately step in and make a difference (see: Jonas Hiller). And sometimes they fizzle out completely (see: Jonas Gustavsson).

As such, Berra could end up anywhere between battling for the starters role with Ramo to fighting for playing time in the AHL. We won’t really know what he’s made of until we see him.

4.) Joni Ortio

Although it seems like he has been around forever, Joni Ortio is just 22-years old and last year was the first time in his career he was a starter for a professional club. Ortio played 54 games for HIFK Helsinki in the SM-Liiga and managed to stop 91.7% of the pucks he saw. By many accounts, Ortio was only reason the team won the game on many nights, which established him as a legitimate goalie in Finland.

His first attempt at the AHL level in 2011-12 didn’t go well, with being lit up in 9 appearances. That said, any goalie can look bad over that small a sample, especially a 21 year old getting his feet wet in a new country and league. Ortio is the youngest of the Flames established, pro goalies this season, but also the most untested. There’s a good chance the team will give him a shot to win the AHL starters role to see if he can continue to develop.

4.) Laurent Brossoit

After three rather successful campaigns in the WHL, former 6th round pick Laurent Brossoit is poised to turn pro with the Flames this coming year. The Surrey BC native turned 20 in March and having spent the last two years as a top-10 puckstopper for the Edmonton Oil Kings, doesn’t really have any reason to linger in junior.

Like many junior players, Brossoit has a nice resume heading into pro but the real test will be how he fares against grown men. Like most skaters, this is the step that many ‘tenders fail to take (see: Matt Keetley, Leland Irving, etc.) so it’s an open question whether Brossoit will continue to impress or struggle to take the next step.

5.) Jon Gillies

After winning a goal medal at the World Junior championships as USA’s back-up, Gillies was named the national rookie of the year for collegiate hockey and second team all-star. Gillies surpassed all reasonable expectations for a freshman goalie, quickly becoming Provdience’s starter at the onset of the season and then going on to post an incredible .931 SV% in 35 games. The Friar’s back-up, Russ Stein, only played four games and managed an .879 SV% in contrast.

Gillies is only 19 years old and still has a lot of proving to do before he can be considered an option at the pro level. That said, he’s off to a tremendous start.

Others (Internal)

Leland Irving, Barry Brust, Danny Taylor

The organization’s trio of AHL goaltenders this season probably won’t be returning thanks to the influx of other options (Ortio, Berra, Brossoit). All three guys are pending free agents and old enough to not be terribly interested in battling it out with other guys who might be considered more worthwhile organizational assets in the eyes on management. 

Leland Irving is the best bet to be let go outright. The Flames re-inked him to a one-year "prove yourself" deal last summer. Unfortunately, the former first rounder took a big step backwards by first losing out to Taylor and Brust in the AHL and then getting beat up in the NHL when Kiprusoff went down with injury. By acquiring MacDonald and signing Taylor to an NHL contract, the team made it very clear they have no real confidence in Irving and so will likely be walking away from him this year.

Others (External)

It’s possible this summer that a number of decently skilled puckstoppers find themselves without homes in the NHL. Ilya Bryzgalov and Roberto Louongo could find themselves at the other end of a compliance buy-out, while a team like the Anaheim Ducks may consider trading Jonas Hiller with the Victor Fasth enjoyed in his rookie season.

MA Fleury could also find himself rich but unemployed after his second straight playoff implosion, although he’s so mediocre I’d counsel the Flames to give him a wide berth. The aging but still functional Nik Backstrom might make it to free agency as well. He could be a good stop gap for the Flames, especially if it doesn’t look like Ramo will be able to be a true "1A" option. I wouldn’t be surprised is Jaro Halak is shopped around by the Blues as well.


Nothing is overly certain about the Flames moving forward, least of all the goaltending. The organization isn’t totally without options, clearly, but there’s also no clear guy any NHL GM would feel comfortable betting money on. If a legitimate NHLer becomes available via either free agency or buy-out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team investigate that option, at least so they can a get a body who will be able to platoon with Ramo at best or take over if NHL hockey proves to be over his head again.


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  • I see the Flames lack of certainty between the pipes as a real positive going forward. Rather than being stuck playing an expensive tender whose numbers were declining, because he was “the guy,” they can take some flyers on guys who may or may not work out, in the hopes of stumbling into some above average goaltending. With how unpredictable goaltender production is from year to year short term bets seem like the best plan until we see what we have in the younger tenders. Maybe the Flames luck into a Craig Anderson or Mike Smith but if not at least they won’t have significant cap dollars tied up in mediocre goaltending. Basically they need to focus on a Vokun strategy rather than a MAF strategy.

    • CDB

      I agree with this. Cap flexibility is at a premium. Take some chances on some guys, but keep the deals short and dollars low. Hope to hit a home run but at least if you strike out you’re not negatively impacted down the road.

      I’m surprised a guy like Ray Emery isn’t included here. Granted he won’t win any humanitarian awards but he’s had a couple excellent seasons (behind a terrific squad but Chris Osgood has illustrated that doesn’t always matter). I think it could be a great fit.

      He would probably come relatively cheap, has quality experience. UFA come July 1, I’d take him on a 1 or 2 year deal. Situation like Calgary where he could easily be the guy would probably appeal to him

        • CDB

          Agreed Kent. I’m hoping Crawford / Emery force their hand and both want to be the guy.

          Devin, phenonmenal explanation on why grading goalies is so difficult, versus baseball. Hockey is so chaotic, while baseball has a standardized reset after each action (pitch). I still feel that quality of team in front of the goalie, system, etc play a large role (see goalies playing for Ken Hitchcock). Though as Kent has explained, its proven near impossible to quantify.

          RTK, while I don’t mind Macdonald, at least Emery has shown in the past he can be the guy. I think he is a significant upgrade over any of the current unproven options and Joey Mac, though I do see your point. Also, could very well see the Hawks resigning him, as Crawfords meltdown a season ago is still very fresh in managements mind. But if Emery does want a chance to be a number one, I’m not sure he could find a better fit out there. Anotehr side note is that his goalie coach, Eli Wilson, is a Calgary guy who runs his company out of the city, so there is some familiarity. Not sure what, if any, impact that would have.

          Regardless, I like the flexibility they have in net and seeing how difficult it is to predict goalies, I dont’t mind the shotgun approach of bringing in a few with pro experience, drafting a few later rounds and hoping you hit a home run. That seems more logical to me than draftibng a goalie high and grooming that single person to be the next number one, given the volatility of the postion

  • Lordmork

    Even if we’re not sure who the starter is going to be next year, the one place the organization seems to have some depth going forward is in goal. I suppose all of our potential prospects could wash out over the next year or two, leaving us with MacStarter or whoever we can fish out of free agency/buyouts, but I feel like out of Ortio, Brossoit and Giles we’re likely to get a capable starter. I suppose that’s dependent on the organization doing a better job of developing our goalies. I feel like the team and management blew any chance of making something out of Irving when they made it clear in their play and actions that they didn’t really want him in net.

  • Lordmork

    And oh yeah, I hope the Flames don’t rush out to sign an overpriced, aged goalie if Ramo and Berra don’t look good from day one. I can accept (and would prefer) another season of drafting high versus wasting dollars and assets in a rushed attempt to make the playoffs.

  • McRib

    The Flames are in an outstanding position in net!!! To bad the Hockey World fails to recognize this (If one more person says we are wasting a first by drafting Zachary Fucale in June) I’m going to loose my mind!!!!!

    The Flames literally have the top college prospect and the best or second best goaltender in Major Junior. Not too mention two of the standout goalies from the World Championships and if we were going to take a goalie then let’s take the better one in a lower round as Tristan Jerry is twice the goalie Zachary Fucale is in my opinion. Anyone who thinks Fucale is a first rounder hasn’t watched the Top Prospects game or the Memorial Cup!! Talk about playing in a favorable situation and not showing up at key times!!

    Kipper kept us out of drafting a top pick the last two or three seasons, please let us develop a goalie with the team rather than buying one to inflate our wins and finish in 9th place again for years to come. If Ortio, Barra, McDonald, Brossiot and Gillies cannot get it done then we should not be blaming the goalie, the ONLY position the Flames are set in for the next couple of seasons is between the pipes.

  • Parallex

    I think what we have is what we’ll go into next year with. The only question is do the Heat roll with 3 goalies or does someone start their NA pro-career in the ECHL?

    • McRib

      Not a huge fan of burying top prospect tendys in the ECHL. Devan Dubnyk had a steeeeep learning curves and spent years playing in the AHL because he had to get over bad habits developed in the ECHL. Lets go with Brossoit and either Brust or Taylor, bye bye Irving!!

      • Parallex

        Brust or Taylor? Why would the team have either of those guys?…

        Ramo MacDonald Berra Ortio Brossoit

        … those are guys that they Flames have (or hopefully will have in the case of Ramo) under pro contract for next year. 5 guys, two teams, 4 spots… somethings gotta give. Personally, I think I’d be more in favor of having someone start the year in the ECHL if the choice is starter in the ECHL vs. not even dressing in the AHL. I’d rather all of them get their reps in is all and I don’t trust Ward to make sure three guys get a suitable amount of work in.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I have a question about sample sizes, sv% and drilling down to ability, as I’m not sure how replacement level ability is determined. Take Reto Berra as example:

    If his club sv% is .906 over larger sample size, would the expectation be that his .967 regress to that lower number? Does sample size provide the clarity to determine ability alone?

    In baseball I think there is a stat for pitching independent of defense. How good is the pitcher when you remove good or bad fielding.

    How good is the goalie I dependent of good or bad team quality?

    How does MacDonald do with good teams?

    I’m curious if there is a way to measure goalie stas with say, team corsi or shot quality to better assess goalie ability. I don’t trust trad sv% gaa.

    • Parallex

      “In baseball I think there is a stat for pitching independent of defense. How good is the pitcher when you remove good or bad fielding.”

      There is, it’s called FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) It basically parcels out anything that affects a pitching performance that isn’t 100% attributable to the pitcher (Strikeouts, Walks, Hit by Pitch, Homeruns). And uses those numbers in a formula to calculate how good a pitcher is. There is a variation called xFIP which also attempts to include variations in the HR/FB (home-run to Flyball) ratio… but for simplicity I prefer FIP.

      There is no equivalency for goalies… actually the SV% probably is the equivalency for goalies since it’s a measure of save rate of shots on goal and thus already removes the actions of the defense from the equation. Or if you want to go further it would be the shoot-out/breakaway sv% since that would completely remove perimeter shots (due to defense)… but then you’re removing a goalies core performance and that isn’t good. I suspect what you’re looking for would be a scoring chance sv%… unfortunately the NHL lacks a standard definition of what constitutes a scoring chance.

      Save percentage really is the best means of grading goalie performance.

      More on this topic from our fine hosts: http://flamesnation.ca/2011/11/9/can-teams-win-by-taking-higher-quality-shots

    • Goalies are the toughest to project. There really is no advanced stat to judge them by. In smaller samples (season or less) I like to use ES SV% because the sample is orders of magnitude larger than special teams stuff.

      It takes about 3000-4000 shots to wash out luck and team effects from a goalies results in the NHL usually.

      As far as team effects go, they look really modest in the NHL at least (in terms of SV%. Wins on the other hand…). For example, Cam Charron found the “Tippett effect” to be worth about +0.6 save percentage for goalies. That is, 0.6 percent, meaning a 90.0 goalie would see his SV% rise to about 90.6% under Tippett on average.


    • Baseball is an incredibly linear sport that is really easy (for the mathematically inclined) to break down into pure statistics. When a pitcher throws the ball, EXACTLY two players matter. If the batter connects, there are a series of binary – at most trinary – decisions that follow. Infield, outfield, out of park. Catch or fail. Good accuracy/bad accuracy. Chose right base to throw to. Yes, this adds up to a LOT of variables and mathematical complexity, but because the decisions are so simple indivually and there are so few of them on a given play, statistics become predictable with sufficient samples.

      Hockey isn’t the same. You could argue that if a goalie couldn’t make a save it doesn’t count against him, but WHY couldn’t he make the save? Could he have been an inch in a different direction and had the ability to make the save? Should he have been? Would another goalie have been mistakenly been in the wrong position and thus made the save by luck?

      Ultimately, SV% measures skill over a large enough sample size because the white noise (luck) will get ground out. You’ll still have issues using these numbers based on system (Bryzgalov in Phoenix seemed pretty damn good…) but SV% is still the best comparator, at the least because it DOES remove white noise. It makes two goalies in similar circumstances directly comparable.

      Ultimately, two things truly matter in any sport: decision making process and reaction speed. I’ma programmer, so I compare this to a search algorithm. Decisions will be made based on minute factors that are observed, based on an internal decision tree that is instinctual. Reaction time purely increases output. 5/100s of a second faster reaction time than your opponent means you get to make your decision first. If we could measure these two things (the first nearly impossible, the second doable) we could make vastly better decisions about players.

  • JumpJet

    I would be content enough with Ramo and MacDonald suiting up for the Flames and Ortio, Berra, and Brossoit in the minors.
    If Ramo struggles and MacDonald plays like he always has, then the Flames should get a pretty good pick. If Ramo proves he’s a legitimate NHL starter, then that’s just terrific and the Flames will be set for the next few years.
    I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect one of Ortio, Berra, or Brossoit to step up and be a real #1 in the AHL this year and (ideally) get promoted to back-up the year after. Factor in Gilles and we may be set in the crease for the next decade.
    I’d say the Flames are in a pretty good position as far as goaltending is concerned. Now they just need to build the team in front of the goaltender.

  • Freakin' Saprykin

    Am I the only one who would try and keep Irving around? I wasn’t blown away with him this year, but the entire team was thoroughly underwhelming. I’d personally rather keep him than Taylor or Brust. While they may have outplayed him in the minors, I see more promise from Irving.

    • Parallex

      and where, in your opinion, does Irving fit in among Ramo, Berra, MacDonald, Ortio, and Brossoit? The only one of the previous five who isn’t currently under contract next season is Ramo, where Irving would have to be re-signed.

      This might just be me, but I think 6 goalies vying for 4 positions is a little over-redundant, especially since it has become abundantly clear where Irving stands with this organization.

    • It’s moot at this point. It’s clear the org has no use for him. Every guy who was around when he was picked is gone (save for Tod Button) so there’s no one left to argue his case.

      Irving’s only chance to stick around was to convince the decision makers he was a legit NHL goalie. He did the opposite.

  • Viktor Fasth might be another example of a player who was overseas and has made the transition smoothly (seemingly). His GAA and SV% this season (2.18 and 92.1) are pretty much in line with his past numbers over in Sweden. Granted he was behind a Ducks team riding the percentages, but still.

    I wonder if the Flames can get anything at this point for Irving. Would there be a team interested in his negotiation rights? Perhaps the Flames can still get a 6th or 7th rounder. Hell, Washington got a 1st AND a 2nd for Varlamov and he was going to bolt from Washington one way or another.

  • schevvy

    I would be surprised if the Flames don’t start with a Ramo/McDonald tandem. In the AHL I could see them going with a Broissoit/Ortio tandem, and could also see them signing Taylor to a 1 year deal to play in the A. I don’t think they go after a goalie, but they might.

    With the 6th overall pick, the Flames select a goalie. I know Kent would support this…

      • schevvy

        Berra goes to the ECHL. His numbers have sucked in the Swiss league, yes he had great numbers in the WHC, but he played 3 crap teams. (CZE, BLR, DEN). I don’t know how his numbers will get any better going from a lower league to a higher league.

        • BurningSensation

          I guarantee you the Flames give Berra a look in the NHL. If he can’t cut it, then yes, demotion–to the AHL. He’s 26, just starting in NA, and the Flames’ scouts believe in him. Also, Hartley is familiar with him having coached in the Swiss league. Berra has a reputation over there (though looking at the stats there doesn’t appear to be any particular reason why). There’s no way he starts in the ECHL. Certainly not when you have Brossoit going straight to the AHL (a player with a far longer development path).

          • Parallex

            Yeah, I think if anyone plays in the ECHL it’ll end up being Brossoit. Pretty sure that they’re not going to have a veteran back-up like MacDonald start in the AHL either. I think the Goalie situation will round out as Ramo-MacDonald with the Flames, Berra-Ortio witht the Heat, and Brossoit with the Salmon Kings/Grizzlies.

          • mattyc

            Yeah, I doubt MacDonald gets sent to the A, especially since the org. seemed so enamored with him. MacDonald and Ramo doesn’t really inspire me with a whole lot of confidence though…

          • Parallex

            I don’t think the team is so enamored with him personally I think their enamored with having a goalie with “NHL experience” who’ll work on a cheap ticket. Retaining MacDonald is less about MacDonald then it is about the rest of the guys on the team… basically I think it’s a locker-room thing.

            My personal hope is that MacDonald is only kept around long enough for Ortio or Berra to show themselves as worthy of the back-up job and is then found a home elsewhere.

  • schevvy

    I like the Emery comment…. But is Macdonald not the same thing? a proven NHL Backup, with some upside who did nothing but impress in a less than stellar situation going down the stretch. I was really impressed with Berra’s performance at the World Championships. He showed poise and great composure when called upon and I would like to see what he can do in North America. Also think that Ramo has played well enough in the KHL to deserve a good look in the Show…. Again. The situation he is coming into cant be any worse than the one he faced with a young inexperienced Tampa squad years ago?…. Can it? The first 4-5 picks of the draft have to be focused on impact skaters.

    • seve927

      Those translations are going to give me a whole new hockey vocabulary. “Kept zero” is my new favourite. I guess the Flames scouts/coaches didn’t pick up on his “nimble picking and great skill in the game after the ice cover”.

      I too wish him well. I don’t know why they wouldn’t have given him a bit more opportunity.

  • seve927

    Fedor Fedin ‏@FedFedRMNB 2h Top prospect Valery Nichushkin announces he’ll sign in the NHL after draft. Tells R-Sport: “Dynamo told me I can go if I want” http://en.rsport.ru

    This was a comment in an Oiler blog. Anyone else heard this? Trading up suddenly less of a necessity?

  • Lordmork

    Re: the survey. What kind of ridiculous series of unfortunate events would have to befall all the other more experienced goaltenders for the org to have Brossoit starting next year? Some kind of terrible goaltender plague? A serial killer targeting Flames goaltenders? Multiple freak meteorite strikes?

  • Graham

    Training camp should be interesting, but I don’t see the Flames starting the season with two ‘unknown NHL’ goalies. so I think McDonald is all ready penciled in. Its likely Irving is gone to, so with the departure of Taylor we at least have some spots in the minors.

    • supra steve

      Time to put Jay’s statement about making the playoffs next year to rest. Not gonna happen, and that is why Halak will not be required in Calgary next season.

      Good news on the Russian. See what happens when someone actually talks to a prospect, rather then just assuming you know all you need to know about them from what you’ve read?

  • Parallex

    Looks like the Canucks are firing AV. Good, I can’t think of a single available coach (with the possible exception of Tippet) that would be better then him.

    Wrong guy falling on the sword for the early playoff ouster. IMO