Random Thoughts – Sink or Swim for Karri Ramo



The long summer doldrums will soon be at an end. Next week is the young stars tournament in BC (and yes, the Nation will have people accredited and in arena to cover it) and then shortly after that is rookie camp, main camp and the pre-season (yay!).

Prior off-seasons have been spent debating the organization’s direction, but this year the way forward was devastatingly obvious – like creeping out of the basement after a tornado has ripped your home from its foundations. There’s only one option left – to rebuild.

– On that note, I was recently asked over email whether the Flames are setting up Karri Ramo to fail or not. My more thorough response to him can be summer up as "probably", but I’d like to add here that the question is more or less moot. To put it another way, the organization learns a lot more if Ramo succeeds in spite of the roster in front of him. Given where the team is currently, it’s more important to understand Ramo’s true skill level, which is much easier to discern when a puck stopper isn’t sheltered behind a team that doesn’t surrender a lot shots or who scores a lot of goals (or both). 

Ramo’s going to see a lot of rubber this year and the Flames probably won’t be outscoring their problems. His personal success or failure isn’t really a concern – the club’s long term success is. If, over the next two seasons, Ramo manages an average or better SV% even as the skaters struggle, it’s an excellent sign moving forward. If not, it means the organization will have to continue to hunt for an answer in net.

– Of course, I’m assuming Ramo is going to be judged appropriately by the decision makers (that is, by save rate metrics and not useless stats like "wins"). As I’ve detailed in the past on many occasions, NHL GM’s (and many fans) haven’t really determined how to accurately assess and predict goaltender skill. Some of the most irrational discussions I’ve participated in and seen have centered around goaltenders because team accomplishments and past reputation seems to have an undue influence on judging their abilities.

So in terms of Ramo, if he finishes his two year contract with an average save rate of .924, but an abysmal W-L record owing to the low strength of the club, I’d hope he’d be judged on the former rather than the latter.

– In addition, I hope the team isn’t going to search in vain for "the next Kiprusoff". Elite goaltending is great to have, but it can be a fool’s errand to pursue at times. If Feaster and company have that sort of goal in mind, it can make the perfect the enemy of the good. Cheap, competent goaltending should be the baseline expectation.

– Although this season is going to be interesting from a young player/prospect perspective, there actually isn’t a lot to be excited about in Abbotsford this year. Max Reinhart will spend of the his season there absent significant injury woes to the Flames, but the other exception on the farm is Markus Granlund.

Already a "veteran" of pro hockey after a few years in the SM-liiga, Granlund has plenty of skill and probably has the highest ceiling of any of the Heat kids this year. Of course, we don’t have any idea how well he’s adjust to NA ice (his more skilled older brother scored in the AHL but struggled hugely for the Wild last year). The goal for Granlund should be to play in the club’s top-6 and score at a decent pace (0.7 or more and/or top-3 in Heat scoring).

– The only other thing I’ll be keeping a close eye on in Abbotsford this year is the goalie battle. The Flames org has a lot of interesting question marks in Berra, Ortio and Brossoit poised to battle it out for playing time down there, so it will be noteworthy to see if at least one of them pokes his head above the crowd.

– We’ll do a full season preview for the Flames as things get closer, but here are the org’s key questions heading into the season from my perspective:

– Is TJ Brodie a legitimate top-4 defender?

– Is Sven Baertschi a legitimate NHLer?

– Can Mikael Backlund score at a reasonable rate while driving possession?

– Is Karri Ramo at least NHL average?

There are more questions – many more, of course – but the above four are the hot buttons for me. Backlund, Ramo, Baertschi and Brodie would be key building blocks if the answer is "yes" in each instance.

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  • BitGeek

    Good read and an interesting article.

    I liked a couple of metaphors and imagery that you used here Kent:

    “…like creeping out of the basement after a tornado has ripped your home from its foundations. There’s only one option left – to rebuild.”

    Great visual.

    I also liked:

    “…and the Flames probably won’t be outscoring their problems.”

    It has some nice wording. It really puts things into context.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think the first and second question are more “what level of top 4 defender is TJ Brodie” and “is Sven Baertschi a legitimate top 6 (or better) player”; there is no doubt in my mind that Brodie is a top 4 dman (#4 at worst) or that Sven is a legit NHLer. It’s more a question of qualifying those statements to a more specific degree.

  • BurningSensation

    – Is TJ Brodie a legitimate top-4 defender?

    Here’s the problem, he’s going to be played like one, and this is overall, a bad team. It’s going to make judging him fairly difficult barring an obvious increase in offense and minutes played.

    – Is Sven Baertschi a legitimate NHLer?

    Yes. Is he a legit top 6 winger? Also Yes.

    – Can Mikael Backlund score at a reasonable rate while driving possession?

    This is, as my friends who play cards with me would say, the ‘win-the-game-card’. Backlund’s possession #’s are very encouraging even without a lot of offense from him. If he can be a possession driving center AND chip in at a .5ppg or better clip we have ourselves a legit foundational building block.

    – Is Karri Ramo at least NHL average?

    My bet is he comes in around 17th in the league for sv% when it’s all over. He’ll get bombed some nights, and there will be others he makes 40+ saves and looks amazing, but at the end of the day I think he’ll grade out as roughly below league average. Personally, this is also my hope. I don’t want Ramo to be horrible, as I’d prefer he become a legit NHL asset we can play or otherwise trade if necessary, so I’d like him to be better than awful (or failing that just better than Dubnyk). But I also don’t want him to go Kipper 2.0 and win us a bunch of games to put us back into playoff/draft purgatory.

    Ok, I guess I sorta do want him to go Kipper 2.0, but it would be premature if he did.

    • BurningSensation

      Although Brodie’s sample size is small, I agree he is top 4. A lot of young D men have digressed after one good season (Tyler Myers!). But I just get such a good feeling about Brodie. I don’t think he is a flash in the pan, but this year will be critical to establish himself as legit and build confidence.

      Sven on the other hand, I don’t really understand where the confidence comes from. So many people crown him as “obviously” a top 6 fwd. And “likely” a top 3. I find this extremely hard to believe. Not impossible or even improbable. But prospects are nothing but hope until they prove it IN THE NHL for an extended period of time. A whole lot of players light up the CHL and AHL. It means almost nothing until you do it in the NHL. Sven had a rough last couple of seasons in my mind, except for a string of good games at the end of last season which is a ridiculously small sample size. People love to say that the last 10 games of last season will extrapolate over an entire season. Thats just crazy talk (or wishful thinking, however you look at it).

      Look at what guys like Eberle did in the AHL this year. A guy like taht is a legit top 6 fwd in the NHL and he absolutely dominated the AHL. Sven didn’t dominate the AHL. I’m still hopeful, but he has a whole lot of proving to do this year. I think its very presumptuous to say he has already proven himself as a top 6 fwd in the NHL. This is his year, he has the opportunity, time to step up Sven.

  • Rockmorton65

    The big one for me is, can Baertchi be a top line winger. Top 6 would be nice, but our #1 LW would be awesome. If our top prospect isn’t top line material, we could be in trouble.

  • mattyc

    I’m not sure Baertschi is a top 6 winger yet. He may be by the end of the season, but my guess is he starts the year on the third line and has to earn pp time until some injuries strike.

  • Rockmorton65

    SPCT doesn’t always say a goalie is good. Typically on a high shot against team you’ll have a hiver save %. This is due to a number of issues, other team throws at net or is able to get a “shot” off due to bad d or bad rebounding. Also a bad team may allow someone to get 3 shots/rebounds, where a good team would clear or not allow it. It’s quality scoring chances which should be looked at. Allan Bester had a pretty good % but wasn’t a good goalie. Other questions: is TJ a top 4 dman? Maybe. Is Sven a legit NHLer? Doubt it. Can Backs score? No. Is Ramo an average NHLer? Average, maybe.

    • I haven’t seen any research or evidence to suggest what you claim here is true. In the modern NHL, chances and possession are very closely correlated.

      Now, some rinks undercount and overcount shots, which can mess with a goalie’s save rate a bit, but Calgary isn’t one of them.

      Also, Allan Bester never had a a pretty good SV%. His career SV% was .882. His best NHL season was .890 (!).

  • Rockmorton65

    See Begin signed an AHL contract. Wonder why, with the money he would make, he may as well start his next career. Possibly, I see him getting acquainted with Ward & the following year starts to get into coaching. Bancs also signed an AHL contract. So will neither of these guys be called up without signing a 2 way deal this year coming up?

    • the forgotten man

      Don’t worry…Feaster and Hartley will call up Begin next March so that he can score a handful of game winning goals and cost the Flames a top 5 pick in the Draft – After Begin’s performance at the end of last season, he should have been banished to Hades’ Underworld and his jersey should have been burned on the Saddledome floor (before it was flooded).
      Frankly, still haven’t forgiven Begin.

    • Parallex

      That’s weird… why wouldn’t he (Bancks) just sign the qualifying offer and have an NHL deal? The only reason I can think of is that signing an AHL deal has a higher $$ figure at the AHL level.

      I’m fine with giving both AHL contracts but I have a bad feeling that Begin will be eating up a reserve list slot before the end of the season. At least we have some contract flexibility for now (enough to sign Agostino, Arnold, and Gaudreau at the end of the school year if we need to take back contracts at the deadline).

  • Rockmorton65

    The lack of interesting players in the AHL is a key to the problem facing Calgary. Our best prospects are years away from making an impact.

    We don’t have impact players with a few years of NHL experience and a large chunk of our prospects have yet to gain meaningful pro experience. It is the clearest sign that this rebuild may take awhile.

    It puts a lot of pressure on the tweeners we have. Players like Brodie, Backlund, and Ramo will be expected to be impact players and be the vets for the new rookies. It also puts pressure on the front runners like Baertschi and Monahan.

    Hopefully the list above can make the grade. It will go a LONG way in speeding up this rebuild. But there is a lot on their shoulders and we might be asking a bit much.

  • RedMan

    I am looking forward to attending the first of the Young Stars tournament with the Flames kids taking on those of the Oilers.

    First, its a beautiful arena in a great vacation town.

    Second, it will give us a measure of the talent that is in the system. I, for one, think there are going to be a number of solid Flames NHLers in this group. The biggest question is whether the Flames have a true “surprise” that evolves. Yes, I am old school, one that remembers the “surprises” that we got from low draft picks and the signing of undrafted players that ended up being pieces of the Flames teams of the 80s (can you say Joel Otto? Gary Suter?).

  • RKD

    Agreed, you can’t judge Rammo based on wins and losses especially if this team is going to be a lottery team the next few years. I would look for things like how he can handle things mentally and can he make big saves at big times? Can he steal a game every now and again and instill confidence in his teammates? Is he able to withstand the rigours of a full 82 game season. Has he improved his previous areas of weakness as compared to his first go around in the NHL?

    • Parallex

      I would judge Ramo on one and only one thing… how good is he at not letting pucks past him. Everything else is just subjective and anecdotal.

      Really judging him on Goalie Wins/Losses is just dumb… those are team not individual acheivements and a goalie shouldn’t be credited or debited for it. “Big Saves” are better then “Big Goals Allowed” but really a lot of the time saves that are labelled “big” are just the highlight reel saves and a lot of those are the result of a juicy rebound or poor positioning (bad stuff)… honestly I’d rather just look at EVS% if a guy has a crappy save percentage it doesn’t matter how many “Big Saves” he makes because if it’s crappy that means he’s allowing the little ones in.

  • RKD

    I think the goalie question is the most interesting…

    The other 3 questions we, more or less, already know which way they look to be turning out, which is positive.

    The true test for Backlund and Baertschi is staying healthy. Brodie will play top4 mins and I think he can handle it. His skating is too good, his instincts too sharp.

    The goalie situation however is interesting because its completely unknown. Not many of us have seen much of the goalies within our depth chart, Mac not included.

    I like the mix of goalies we have cause I think they all have decent NHL potential.

    It will be a battle in net until someone establishes the starters role.

    The Flames signed Mac for 1 yr which to me signifies they are hoping one of their 4 pro prospects steals the net.

    The biggest positive is Gillies isnt even a pro yet and has the most potential out of all of our goalies.

    The future in net for the Flames will probably rest in his ‘hands’.

    The real question is can someone fill the role until then?

    • BurningSensation

      I remember watching Ramo with the Lightning, and thinking there was something there in spite of his being only 20 or so years old and putting up horrific stats. That was quite a while ago.

      Like most, the Worlds was my first exposure to Berra.

      Should be an… interesting year.