1. This looks familiar
So Joni Ortio keeps winning and the Flames keep starting him. No surprise, you roll with the hot goalie. And it’s difficult to think of a hotter goalie heading into last night’s game than the .958 Ortio was pitching in his four games this season.
Now, this has prompted a lot of people to start talk if, “What do you do with Ramo?” Which seems a bit premature. Because while no one is saying Ramo’s all that good, one must keep in mind that Ortio had played all of 13 career NHL games prior to last night, and carried a save percentage of .917. Is that good? Of course it is, but it’s also 13 games, and when he played nine last year he went .891; only four of his appearances featured save percentages that broke .900.
We essentially have no guarantee that either of the Flames goalie “prospects” (Ramo being 28 makes me disinclined to list him as such, but there you are) are any good at all. Ortio’s career AHL numbers don’t exactly dazzle — 174 goals allowed on 2,108 shots over parts of four seasons, and that’s a .917 save percentage — which is good but doesn’t really compare with, say, other hotshot goaltending prospects. So I’m not exactly ready to christen this guy the incumbent backup until just as soon as the team can find an escape pod into which it can shove Ramo.
Look, anyone is capable of five good games. The vilified Ramo went 4-0-0 in five appearances as recently as November, during which time he went .925 on 134 shots. This was against NHL talent, and certainly his pedigree in the KHL (roughly .920 hockey over four seasons) speaks to some amount of talent. And what about Jonas Hiller? Started the year .941 in seven appearances, went 4-2-1. Since then? .899 in 22 appearances (487 saves on 542 shots).
Again, I don’t think Ramo’s any good, but this is illustrative of the problems with judging goaltenders in general, especially over small samples.
It’s hard to be convinced that anyone the Flames currently employ to keep the pucks out can do so at better than league average, or anything close. I don’t understand the hurry to get Ortio up to the bigs.
2. Back to “winning” ways
Well, I do, actually. When Ortio has been in net this season, the Flames have won. That’s literally all it is: People see the team winning because he’s made a lot of saves in four games the Flames mostly had no business being in.
And once again all this winning covers up the fact that this team has deep problems. They’ve won their last four games, and in just one of them they broke 50 percent possession. That game (51 percent against the Sharks) was also the first time since Dec. 31 against the Oilers they were in the black in this regard. It was only the 10th time they’ve done it literally all year.
This is still a team that plays to get run over every night and the fact that they’re eking out wins in overtime tells you that, at best, they’re the Florida Panthers who made the playoffs a few years ago by playing to get to OT and the shootout. Hey, whatever happened to those Panthers? Oh they sucked for a few more years after that and ended up being a lottery-pick team, right. Or maybe they’re more like the Leafs of a few years ago who edged into the postseason, and hey gee whiz they almost beat the Bruins, before collapsing into the hilarious shambles you see today. Years of mediocre drafting thanks to mediocre draft spots sure do have the future looking bright in the Big Smoke, yessir.
Yeah but no, the Flames are totally different and doing things better than those other guys. Yup.
3. Making a decision
So let’s say the Flames keep winning, inexplicably, for a little while longer. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that this team is at least within a point or three of a playoff spot as the trade deadline approaches; odds are they’re not going to be much farther back than six points or so, which is actually almost impossible to make up in that short a time frame but which seems like a surmountable deficit.
So the question for what the Flames actually do in the coming weeks is simple: Stand pat, add pieces, or begin a sell-off? I think the most likely scenario is that they stand pat simply because while they’re certainly not unhappy with the winning, this is a team in a rebuild after all and selling picks and prospects to add bodies for a likely futile (and detrimental) attempt at making the playoffs is probably a bridge too far for any smart manager.
For me, I think the smart move is selling off whatever useful veterans they have to hand, but you already knew that. Trade Glencross, trade Hiller, trade Jones, trade Hudler. If they have any amount of value and aren’t nailed down to long-term contracts, they ought to be gone. Hoard picks and prospects and hey, maybe even a young roster player or two. Hoard them greedily.
Of course, they won’t do that either, and that’s no real surprise. The most realistic thing that’s going to happen is standing pat, and of the options at hand it’s certainly not the least-agreeable. Which is a step in the right direction.
4. Recent injuries
What complicates that, though, is the fact that Curtis Glencross and Ladislav Smid are currently injured. Not that missing them is any great detriment to the team, but going without them gives the club a chance to get a closer look at some prospects for how they play at the NHL level.
It’s hard to say just how much good one would have to do as a means of supplanting these players in the mind of management, but at least they can start chipping away at the issue of much of the dead weight remaining on the roster if that’s their intention (as a bonus, the salary cap might go down next year if the Canadian dollar stays at its current, abhorrently low level).
Now, I obviously haven’t seen Tyler Wotherspoon play in the AHL this season, but having seen Ladislav Smid play plenty for the Flames over the last two years, I am of the opinion that Wotherspoon cannot possibly be worse. Smid is awful, full stop, and his continuing employment is baffling to some degree. The fact that he’s also signed for two more years(!!!) is a major concern and unless you can do something with that deal — buyout, stuff it in the AHL, trade with retained salary etc. — it’s hard to believe there’d be much of a market for him.
But if all these injuries do is get some kids some playing time, then I’m all for it.
5. A quick note
A few weeks ago when I provided an update on Mark Jankowski, and how his point production in recent weeks had been a little bit smoke-and-mirrors, I was asked for updates on some other Flames prospects in college hockey, with a special focus on Jon Gillies (who’s dropped off a little in recent weeks; .893 in his last four games). I now have two live viewings lined up for this weekend, so that’s the plan.
As always, hit me with anything you’d like to see a focus on, and I will try to provide as much detail for you on those topics as possible.