Is this goodbye to Karri Ramo?

These past few weeks have been pretty fun as a Flames fan. The team has inexplicably kept themselves right in the midst of the playoff race, and control their own fate. To do so, they’ve been able to happily bounce back and forth between a pair of quality goalies. Jonas Hiller played seven games throughout March, while Karri Ramo took 10 as he briefly took back the starter’s role.

Hiller was given the game against the Blues in the third of a three-game starting stretch, while Ramo was allowed to get back into it against the Oilers.

At least, that was the plan, had Ramo not injured himself within the first minute. And whether he’s fine or not, there’s a pretty decent chance that’s the last we’ve seen of Ramo as a Calgary Flame.

A game of contracts

When Miikka Kiprusoff retired, the Flames didn’t have a long-term succession plan in place. A short-term one, sure; Joey MacDonald was still around, and Karri Ramo and Reto Berra were replacement possibilities while a couple of goaltending prospects, headlined by Joni Ortio and Jon Gillies, continued to play in their respective development leagues.

Ramo’s the only one who has survived the transition, but he’s a free agent after this season. And sure, the Flames could totally re-sign him. The thing is, do they have room?

Hiller has one year left on his deal. So does Ortio.

Here’s the big kicker, though: starting next season, Ortio’s contract not only shifts from a two-way to a one-way (he’ll get paid an NHL salary no matter what), but he’ll require waivers to get sent down.

Sure, there’s always a chance Ortio clears. But Gillies is the only other prospect the Flames have who is even close to ready, and he’s never played professionally. Ortio, meanwhile, has led both Abbotsford and then Adirondack (and it’s no coincidence Adirondack has been struggling to make the playoffs since his injury) whilst being an all-rookie team and then all-star goalie. 

There’s also the matter of that little five game stretch he had in the NHL this season in which he not only looked more than capable, but helped keep the Flames in a playoff push, all the while earning every single start he got. Small sample size, to be sure, but…

Do you really want to play chicken with the rest of the league on that?

Hiller takes the edge

Of course, the Flames could always re-sign Ramo and trade Hiller over the off-season. No matter what, Ortio’s looking kinda prime to be the backup next year, so that would give the Flames another option for their starter.

Only Ramo doesn’t really have any seasons proven as starter, while Hiller can point to most of his career. And it’s not just longevity on the Swiss netminder’s side; it’s basic numbers, too. 

We can give Ramo the benefit of the doubt and take out his poor numbers from his years with Tampa Bay where he clearly wasn’t ready. That’s a career save percentage of .911, or .918 at even strength, and that’s only off of two seasons.

Hiller, meanwhile, over eight years of work, has a career save percentage of .916, and .929 at even strength. He’s been in the league longer and he’s just been plain better. Throw that in with the fact that he’s already signed for another year, not to mention his full-fledged starter’s veteran status could be of great benefit to someone like Ortio, and, well.

If you want to win, then over the long-term (not career-long term, but like, over the course of a season), you go with Hiller. And the Flames want to win. If there’s one thing that proved that, it was signing Hiller in the first place. Nobody could have predicted Calgary would have scored so much, but bringing in Hiller over Berra was a clear cry for help from the goaltending end of things, and one that was sure to net the Flames a couple of extra wins, increased shooting percentage or not. (Remember that Chicago game from back in October? Exactly like that.)

The rest of the season

There are three games the rest of this season. The Flames control their own playoff fate.

October aside, when the Flames went back and forth between Hiller and Ramo starts until Hiller finally started to pull away, Hartley has a tendency to get fixated on a single goalie and ride him until he sees fit. That’s been Hiller most of the season, but the recent attention to Ramo has given pause.

Now, even if Ramo isn’t badly hurt, Hiller’s just put up a shutout after winning two of his previous three starts. And there aren’t many games left.

It’s entirely possible the Flames simply ride Hiller out the rest of the year, regardless of Ramo’s status. And if they make the playoffs, well, Hiller’s been the team’s number one most of the season. You go with your number one until you have reason not to. And while both goalies have pushed each other all season long, Ramo hasn’t really given any compelling reason as to why he should start any post-season games over Hiller.

Thank you, Karri

If this does end up being the end, then: thanks, Ramo.

He was the best and significantly least-frustrating starter of the 2013-14 season, and he was an excellent 1b goalie this season. His improvement in his return to the NHL was awesome to watch, and his helping keep Hiller on his toes no doubt benefited the Flames this year.

He gave us some fun shutout rides, and some old tastes of Kipper:

Letting him simply walk wouldn’t be so bad. The Flames acquired him essentially for a second, and that second turned into Zach Fuacle, and, uh, Mason McDonald has been the better goalie this year while playing more games and on a worse team throughout the duration of the QMJHL playoff push, so… I think we can live with that trade.

He was brought back from Russia after he finished honouring his contract with Omsk, and proved to certainly be NHL capable. 

So even if we don’t see him in front of a Flames net again, decked out in one of his awesome Edgar Allan Poe or Tim Burton-inspired masks – and it’s entirely likely we don’t – he had a pretty good run in Calgary. As far as stopgap options go, you can do significantly worse.

Ramo was a key part in getting this rebuilding team up into the playoff bubble. Hopefully Ortio can continue that next season if that’s how things shake out, but in the meantime: thanks, Karri.

  • Burnward

    At this point it is premature to say what should happen. If the injury is really serious, any team would be taking a chance to sign him.

    I hope is okay but this happened at the absolute worst time for him.

  • Parallex

    Thiessen has been called up, today.

    Good read, just wondering though: Are we certain Ortio needs to clear waivers next season? I think waivers is based on amount of games played and age, not just contract status.

    • Ari Yanover

      Sorry, I should have been clearer. Waiver rules have nothing to do with contract status, but the way Ortio’s contract was structured – including the switch to a one-way – points to him being in the NHL next season.

      Ortio’s ELC kicked in when he was 20. When a goalie’s contract starts at age 20, he has four years of waiver exemption. Those four years for Ortio were 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15.

      Next season – 2015-16 – will be Ortio’s fifth year, and he will no longer be waiver exempt, as per the CBA. If the Flames want him back in the AHL, they risk exposing him to every other NHL team for free.

      • Ari Yanover

        Thanks for the clarification of Ortio’s status Ari.

        I still think we sign Ramo because he would be more amenable to being a backup to Ortio than Hiller would be.

    • MattyFranchise

      Waivers is decided on a) how many games played and b) how many years since his pro contract was signed.

      Ortio signed his pro contract at 20 and now he’s 24, therefore subject to waivers. Probably the reason for the one way as well since teams will be less likely to claim him if he gets paid NHL money while being a minor league player.

  • MontanaMan

    Maybe I’m being a bit sensitive but my first take on this blog is that it’s disrespectful to Ramo. The injury hasn’t been diagnosed and the recovery time hasn’t been established. And we’re thanking him for all he’s done and wishing him well? Ramo and Hiller have had their ups and downs this season, but to write one of them off when they’re in a battle for a playoff spot seems presumptuous and lacks respect. Let’s see what the injury is first and make an assessment from there. Although unlikely, maybe Ramo returns at some point during the playoffs. Let’s not write an obituary before the body is cold.

    • The body has been cold for the most part…at times it is warm….as a Flames fan Ramo’s inconsistency has been frustrating….time for him too move on….and let some other team wonder if it’s going to be Kari (Kipper) Ramo or Kari (Beachball) Ramo from night to night…..Hello Ortio….

  • It’s imperative that the Flames resign Ramo. Reason being is league interest in him has never been higher and since he’s a UFA, if you don’t resign him you get nothing period. And make no mistake, if we let him walk, he will be signed.

    But then how to move forward from there?

    1. Trade Hiller on Draft Day 2015 and start Ramo/Ortio next year in the NHL.

    2. Start Hiller/Ramo in the NHL next year and leave Ortio in the AHL for the first bit of the season. Try to shop Hiller/Ramo until you can find a buyer for one, then bring up Ortio for the remainder of the NHL season to start behind whichever tender you still have.

    • Legend of Weevil

      If Ortio is on a one way deal then he has to be on the Flames roster before the first game of the season or else he has clear waivers. It works both going up and going down. And secondly, why would Ramo sign with this team if they are just going to trade him? If he becomes a free agent he can pick where he wants to go. If I’m him then I’m not signing with Calgary till Hiller is traded.

      • Negative.

        1. If Ortio begins his season in the AHL, he does not need to clear waivers unless we try to send him back down after calling him up. If he had to clear waivers to be called up the first time, that contract would have no ways. It would be a 0-way contract.

        2. The only reason Ramo has to not sign here is if he doesn’t want to play here. As long as we make him a reasonable offer I don’t see why he wouldn’t sign to continue his chance to prove himself as the team’s legitimate starter. Anywhere else he signs he would be signing as a backup anyway, starting at the bottom rung, so why not continue in the place where he’s been successful while he has the chance?

        • Greg

          Negative.

          He would have to clear waivers to start the season in the AHL too. One way or another, he’s in the NHL next year – either with the flames or claimed by another NHL team.

          I wish people would stop the “sign Ramo and trade Hiller or demote Ortio” talk. It’s not going to happen. First, Ortio has to, and won’t, clear waivers so he’s here. Second, there’s always more goaltenders than positions each off season – especially with the cap staying flat, there won’t be a market for a $4.5M goalie, and Ramo isn’t going to sign here knowing he’ll be traded. Third, Ramo had his hot streaks and would make a decent 1B goalie, but Hiller’s been consistently better. You can’t go into next season with a 1B and a rookie tandem.

          Nothing given, but Hiller and Ortio would have to do something bad to earn not being the tandem at the start of next year. It’s time to stop dreaming something else might happen instead.

          Ramo’s done ok his two seasons here and I wish him well this offseason. But he’s most definitely gone.

          • Burnward

            Why couldn’t you eat 2 million on Hiller’s last year?

            There are ways if you get a chance to sign or trade for a legit starter and don’t want to lose Ortio.

          • Greg

            I s’pose you could. But then you are still left with a 1B & rookie tandem for next season. That’s like the craig mctavish goaltending formula.

            We are way over valuing Ramo based on a few hot streaks and highlight saves. At times he looks like Kipper, but at times he looks like Bera. There are way too many games with an .800ish save percentage, and a long term rate that’s below league average.

            The bottom line is he is an above average backup, but a below average starter. Can he give you 40ish good games a year? Sure. But can he carry the mail for 60? I wouldn’t bet an entire season on it, and that’s what you’d be doing if Ortio is your backup.

            I’m a huge believer in Ortio, but you can’t assume he’s good for 30-40 games next season. That’s like assuming Draistl can step into a 2nd line Center role as a rookie. No one would do that, right?

            Hiller on the other hand can give you 50-60 games, and an entire season of seeing what you’ve got in Ortio. Unless Buffalo is interested in giving you a first for him (and look around the league, that’s the only real buyer for Hiller), he’s worth more to you.

            I’d bet the decision is already made and were thinking about this a lot more than BT is anymore. It’s Hiller and Ortio next season. Maybe you get a conditional mid-round pick for Ramo in June, but otherwise he walks… Not for nothing… For the few extra wins he picked up that (may) get us into the playoffs. Worth it, and absolutely the right call given Ortio was injured at the deadline.

  • Legend of Weevil

    Ramo could sign here if he was gievn a chance next year to be Number 1….then trade Hiller if he performs…If Ortio is lights out, would Hiller stay as backup to Ortio? No, he will be gone next year anyways.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Ramo is a better than average back-up, but not really on par with most of the starters in the NHL.

    So naturally, I expect the Oilers will chase him as their starter, and will probably offer him the moon. Especially after Niemi runs away screaming at the very first mention of the word “Oilers”.

  • Burnward

    I didnt read the comments so forgive me…… FIrst it would hurt sooo bad to see him walk and light it up on another team but I guess thats the way the cookie crumbles……… What if we resign him to 2 years just shy of 3m a piece and if we can trade him for an asset then great! Seems like the best option to me. Show him he has value and then trade him at the draft or before the season? non?

    • MattyFranchise

      Who replies to their own post? This guy lol…… I have my money on resigning and a Hiller/Ramo competition with Ortio as the “backup”.

      But hey!! Seriously! HEY! we just might make the playoffs…So let next year be next year and think about now! Just for fun ya know 😛