Ramo or Hiller? Who Should Be Starting?

We’re into the final few games and the margin for making the playoffs or not is razor-thin. So because of that, decisions regarding the starting netminder for the remaining games will be scrutinized.

So let’s talk about Calgary’s two goaltenders and who should be starting.

Just prior to the Flames big road trip and Mark Giordano’s injury, I penned an article detailing how Bob Hartley had been relying on Jonas Hiller as he de facto number-one goalie. Since I wrote that, the Flames have played 15 games and Karri Ramo has started 10 of them.


Since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff, Hartley’s had a habit of giving his goaltenders runs of games to give them a chance to get hot. Much like skaters like to get the puck on their stick – “puck touches” – to get a feel for their game, goalies like to face shots in games and play a string of them in a row to get comfortable in the crease.

Up until lately, Hartley has ridden Hiller like a mule. Up until lately, Hiller has been the better goaltender.

Here’s a rolling 3-game even-strength save percentage for the two goalies all season:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.32.55 PM

As you can see, the red line (Hiller) has been significantly above the black line (Ramo) for the majority of the season, outside of a brief spike earlier in the season and a longer one in late February. And if you look at their performances since I wrote that piece, Ramo seems to be the top goalie: Hiller’s played six times and has a .912 even-strength save percentage, while Ramo has played 10 times and has a .931 save percentage.

Both guys have had tough outings – Hiller probably wanted at least one of the goals he gave up in Colorado back, particularly the Tanguay power-play goal from the goal line, while Ramo gave up four goals in Ottawa via a porous defense – but neither has really given a game away. That said, only Ramo’s really stolen games of late, which is probably why Hartley has ridden him so hard lately.

Season-long, Calgary has been “blessed” with league-average goaltending (“blessed” compared to last season, where their goaltending was blah). Both Hiller and Ramo have nearly identical statistics, with Hiller being slightly better year-long at even-strength.

The fact that both goalies are so even makes decision-making tough on Bob Hartley. If Hiller was appreciably better than Ramo, it would be easy to go with Hiller and defend the decision, because it’s not like anyone could justifiably wonder if the other guy would do any better.

But down the stretch, if the Flames lose a close game by a goal, because both goalies are so similar in their performances, the decision to start either Ramo or Hiller will be second-guessed.

Personally, I think Hartley will eventually go back to Hiller down the stretch because historically, Hartley’s always done that. But I figure he runs with Ramo, for now, until Ramo cools off or really lays an egg. Calgary’s got two competent goaltenders, and it’s basically a coin-toss at this point in terms of who the best bet is for any given game.

  • beloch

    While Ramo is not young by NHL standards, it can be argued that he might still take some steps forward because he lacks NHL experience and is still adjusting to the North American game. Hiller, on the other hand, is nearing the end of a very long NHL career. His performance is easier to predict, but he isn’t likely to improve either.

    Before this season, if you asked me which goalie I’d rather have under contract in 2015/2016, I’d have gone with Hiller. If you asked me the same question today I’d go with Ramo. However, it’s a close race between the two, and the next 10 games could make a difference.

    If Ramo still looks like the better goalie by the end of the season, the Flames should sign him to a new contract and trade Hiller. Ramo really is playing for his next contract right now, and kudos to him for giving Treliving more tough choices to make.

    • supra steve

      Agree. Should try to re-sign Ramo and then turn Hiller into an asset, hopefully a 2nd or 3rd rounder. Then you have Ramo and Ortio in Calgary and (hopefully) Gillies in the AHL. Better option than loosing Ramo for no return as a UFA this summer.

      Edmonton’s 3rd rounder?

      • beloch

        One thing you can’t fault MacTavish for is trading futures for anything that will help his team in the present. I won’t be surprised if he decides to ride Scrivens and Fasth to another lottery pick next season.

    • Greg

      The problem with all these “trade Hiller” proposals is there won’t be a market for him and his contract this off season. If he’s not a better option than Ramo, then he’s not a good enough option to warrant a team taking on his $4.5M cap hit, let alone giving up an asset for him. You’ve got a guy like Niemi available as a UFA, probably for about the same $; you’ve got a guy like Andersen available via trade for a lower cap hit, or if you’re willing to pay more you ask for Lehner instead. Or there’s likely a Reimer available for cheap too, among many other options. If we think there’s good bets on better spending efficiencies, so do 29 other GMs.

      There’s always a goalie or two left without a chair when the music stops, so with the cap staying flat and so many teams in a tight cap spot, a $4.5M goalie isn’t going to be more than option F for anyone. Maybe he becomes option C if you agree to keep half his salary, but you’d still not get a worthwhile asset back. The only team I could see being desperate enough for a “we finally got it right” goalie fix would be edmonton, and I’m sure Burke would have already cut the 1 phone line the flames still had to that area code.

      On the other side of the equation, Ortio is waiver eligible and no way he’d clear waivers at his age, potential, and cap hit. He’s a guaranteed lock to be on the roster next year, and the only way he’s not the backup is if they go with 3 goalies.

      The flames goalie situation is basically written in stone for next year. It’s Hiller and Ortio. The only out-card is if a team has a big enough man crush on Ramo to give up a 3rdish for his rights in June, otherwise you lose him for nothing.

      Which I’m fine with. Probably didn’t get anything better offered at the deadline anyway, it’s only this last hot streak that’s made him seem like a keeper again anyway. BTs hands were tied with the Ortio injury and nothing less than a 1st would have justified putting the playoff push in that much jeaprody.

    • CDB

      I’m with you on this. Ramo is just entering his prime, has more good years left, and probably has a higher ceiling. Good point on how he is young in terms of North american experience. Also, given that Hiller is more of a known commodity, he’d probably bring back more in a trade. Given where the flames are in their rebuild, if the goalies are close, I think selling off the asset that would bring the greatest return is logical. Might be moot given Ramos a UFA, but I would try to sign him and move Hiller for picks/prospects or a younger piece.

      I like hiller fine, just think he brings back more and is a little older

  • RKD

    I think both goalies have given them a chance to win each night, both have played really well at times and then struggled through some rough patches. One thing I noticed is that the team seemed to respond well with a goalie switch when Ramo was pulled in favour of Hiller. However, I haven’t seen it happen the other way around that much. They do get prone on giving up the odd bad goal but the nights they get lit up are the nights the Flames haven’t been too good defensively. I don’t think you can wrong either way. Moving forward, Ramo is 5 years younger than Hiller but his contract is up. Hiller’s got one more year but will be 34 next year.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two more interchangeable goalies. Flip a coin.

    On a related note, I actually agreed with Boomer and Warner this morning (that’s one in a row). It’s time for a Flames goalie to steal a game or two, if the team is to get into the playoffs.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    In a couple of months the title of the article will be “Ramo or Hiller : Who Should be Staying?”

    Have to think that those stats are impacting the Flames management group as well when they are going scenarios about goaltending next year.

    Do they let Ramo walk for nothing? Trade his rights if there is a market at the draft? Keep Hiller because he is more capable of highlight reel saves and winning games?

    Resign Ramo to a three year deal? Trade Hiller at the draft because he has one year left on his deal and is a league average goaltender that can go on a roll and help a young goaltender? Keep Ramo because he is three years younger?

    Which of the two is better to mentor Ortio? Ramo who is younger with less NHL experience but is Finish? Hiller who is older, more experienced, and has gone through the process of having a young goaltender come into the organization to learn from him and challenge him?

    Or is Ortio not even ready to play in the NHL and we should keep Ramo and Ortio and gamble on Ortio making his way through waivers because we have good NHL goaltending with the two veterans and have Gillies coming into the AHL next year?

    Have to think that these last ten games go along way to the future picture of the Flames goaltending situation, along with determining their playoff picture.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I actually can’t fault Hartley one bit how he has handled the goalie situation this year.

    If it’s gonna be a coin toss down the stretch – might as well go with Ramo since Hiller is under contract, is an NHL vet and we know what he is.

    Ramo under pressure the last few games will really tell management what we have in him. If he does well, we have tough choices to make, if he flops, we don’t feel as bad letting him walk. First sign of the flopping and Hiller goes back in

  • everton fc

    Personally, I’d go with the guy whose been in these situations prior, meaning Hiller. He’s the veteran whose “been there, done that”.

    But that’s simply how I see it. Ramo kept us in this thing, on the East Coast road trip. Perhaps “earned”?

  • Burnward

    Can I say neither? Trade Hiller, Ortio as a back up and figure out a way to get a real number one.

    Both are good, but neither has me fully confident in them.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      well, i don’t think the flames should go for a “star” goalie. For next year Ramo or Hiller will be good enough. The flames are (probably) not good enough to really go deep in the playoffs next year, so i wouldn’t give away draft picks for a goalie.

      Personally, I would sign Ramo, trade Hiller, and hope that one of Ortio or Gillies turns out to be a really good goaltender.

    • Burnward

      I would agree with your comments. Going forward with the rebuild beyond this season I would like to see more consistency with my goaltending which means I would give Ortio every opportunity to be the number 1 goalie….If Ramo wants to sign a reasonable short term contract then we sign him and trade Hiller for an asset. If not then obviously we go with the Ortio/Hiller combo next year….

  • Greg

    Seriously… We need more “trash” buttons for these “trade Hiller for an asset” comments.

    That’s like saying “I don’t care what the market is, we should just keep selling our oil for $100/barrel anyway”.

    • The Real Slim Brodie

      Overall the Hiller signing was good despite his hefty contract which fortunately has only a 2 year term! Flames required a solid veteran as a goalie primarily because of Ramo’s inconsistency. Hiller has won his share of games but has also unfortunately proven he is as inconsistent as Ramo!

      IMO it would be in the Flames best interests to resign Ramo and get an return for Hiller who will be 34 years old next year. Personally I think you can send either one of these guys down the road because as a fan I am tired of not knowing what type of goalie will show up for each game!

      Going into next year I expect the Flames to improve hence I would not want to play the 1A 1B game again..annoint Ortio as the starter and have one of these guys back him up…..

  • Burnward

    When I say trade Hiller, I’m thinking maybe you could pry Bishop out of Tampa or something like that.

    Target a team with a high paid number one with a good prospect on the way that might make a move…if they can get something fairly reliable like Hiller in return.

    Or give Hammond all the money and pray his deal with the devil is career long.

  • Greg

    ok, now I’m just curious… Regarding “trade Hiller for an asset” comments, can you please suggest a probable trade for him another team would make? Please keep in mind:

    – Andersen is also cheaper, better, and more available
    – Niemi, dubnyk, nuevirth, etc, can be had July 1st for free
    – you yourself believe keeping Hiller isn’t a better option than signing Ramo (so, no, he’s not fetching you a Bishop)
    – the cap crunch hitting more than half the league this year.

    I’ve argued there’s zero market for Hiller and his contract, but would like to be convinced otherwise.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    Yeah, Hiller might be an attractive asset to a team were he signed to a cheaper contract.

    However I don’t see Dubnyk leaving the Wild, the league seems to have soured on Niemi, and Andersen I don’t think would come cheaply via trade. The free agent class doesn’t seem particularly deep either for goalies, this year.

    The flames might be able to get an asset for Hiller. Maybe not a particularly good one.

    • piscera.infada

      The flames might be able to get an asset for Hiller. Maybe not a particularly good one.

      That’s the point though, right? You don’t need to trade Hiller for McDavid. If you’re making that trade, it’s simply a function of hedging your bets with the younger (and likely cheaper) option (Ramo).

      You’re hope is always going to be that Ortio comes in next season and takes over the ‘1a’ role anyway by mid-season. Thus, I’m not sure you “need an asset for Hiller”, but getting something (or, literally anything) is the crux here.

      Personally, I’m more inclined to re-sign the younger goalie, simply because he’s younger. Both Ramo and Hiller seem fairly equal in quality this year, so you could really make a case for either.

      This is all contingent on two factors though. First, you’d need Ramo to want to re-sign (which I’m unsure about). Second, you’d want Gilles to turn pro this year.

      Frankly, if Hiller can secure you a mid-round pick, giving you more flexibility to package and move around in the draft (which is what I’m certain the Flames have started doing), then you do it if Ramo is re-signed. But, for the love of God, don’t trade him to a division rival.

      Either way though, I don’t really think you can go wrong keeping either of the two goalies. As I said, they’ve been roughly league average this year–and as we’ve seen, that can go a long way.

    • Greg

      Heres how I see the goalie market shaping up this offseason… There’s almost 20 teams with a solid solution already in place so they aren’t bringing in Hiller to be a $4.5M backup (at least not unless they get an injury part way through next year). That leaves ~10 teams that “might” be interested.

      Of whose left, Winnipeg, Carolina, and Arizona would probably gladly trade you their #1s contract for Hiller’s. Maybe Dallas would too. But that doesn’t solve your problem of trying to resign Ramo and not lose Ortio on waivers. You might get a 1st out of the deal, but I think the window for the flames to sell cap space is already closed… They are going to have a cap crunch of their own after next year when Gio, Russell, Monohan, and Gaudreau are all up for renewal before any of Smid, Engelland, and Wideman come off the books. So i’d write off those 4 as well.

      Minnesota will very likely sign Dubnyk.

      Toronto will very likely resign Bernier. They are more likely to shop Reimer than buy Hiller.

      That only leaves you with 3 possible trade partners.

      Edmonton would probably dance, but they won’t give you a 1st and I wouldn’t give them that huge of a hand up for just a 2nd rounder (or more likely less). Let’s say they sign Niemi to take a couple variables out of the discussion. Seems like something MacT would do.

      That leaves 2: SJ and Buffalo. Both would be reasonable possibilities, so I guess I could see getting maybe a 3rd or 4th rounder for Hiller from them. But I’d still be pretty doubtful it would happen given the number of other options they’ll have… Ottawa will almost certainly put a better option on the block for a reasonable price (they took a 2nd for Bishop).

      All that to say, a Hiller trade is pretty unlikely. At best, it’s certainly not lucrative.

      Also, signing Ramo seems like a good option right now, but look closely at that chart… He’s only been better than Hiller about 3 weeks all season. For Long stretches he’s been well below the .900 mark. You really want to go with that when plan B is a rookie with only a few NHL games as a sample size?

      I don’t.

      • PrairieStew

        Good breakdown of likely destinations. I agree that in the offseason it might be difficult to trade Hiller and his contract. He would be more marketable during the season, after a goalie gets injured or falters.

        So, lets think out of the box, shall we ? Why not resign Ramo and look to see what kind of value you can get out of Ortio who represents a far different commodity. A young goalie on a value deal, ready to step in next year and grow with a young team. Hello Buffalo !

        The Sabres look to win the McDavid sweepstakes. They also have Sam Reinhart in the system. Can they afford to run 2 teenagers as their top 2 centres – or would they be willing to part with Reinhart for guys that would make them better in the medium term around McDavid.

        The Sabres need depth at every position. Nice as he is, wouldn’t Joe Colborne be a depth guy they could use. Would the Sabres be interested in Rafikov to play with Zadorov ? Could the Flames part with one of Smith or Carroll, one of Granlund or Jooris, Sieloff or Wotherspoon.

        So Ortio, Colborne, Granlund, Sieloff, Rafikov and Smith for Sam Reinhart! We can dream !

  • It’s the morning after, Tuesday, March 24, and I think it is safe to say Karri Ramo stole yesterday’s game against the Avalanche. He was awarded Hardest-working Flame firefighters helmet honors as well.

    It looks like Brian Burke and Brad Treliving are very comfortable with Bob Hartley starting either Hiller or Ramo for any game. They’re leaving the decision up to the head coach which is exactly how it should be.

    Maybe behind closed doors Burke strongly favours keeping one of the goalies while Treliving favours keeping the other. However, if there’s any difference of opinion, both of them have been very good at downplaying it and keeping it quiet.