Musings on the alternate universe in which Joni Ortio does not get hurt

On Feb. 20, Joni Ortio, the Adirondack Flames’ starting goalie, stepped on the ice for a game against the Oklahoma City Barons. Seven minutes and 16 seconds later, he was off the ice, and the next morning, diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that was going to keep him out 6-8 weeks.

The NHL trade deadline was just a week and a half away.

With Karri Ramo being an upcoming unrestricted free agent, and Ortio almost certainly slated to be the backup next season, it was bad timing. Ramo probably went from on the block to off it, and Adirondack, already on the playoff bubble, fell into a tailspin of losses it couldn’t recover from.

Maybe things wouldn’t have changed if Ortio had stayed healthy. Maybe the Flames, still in a playoff push, decide to keep both their goalies. Maybe Ortio, despite an All-Star AHL season, fails to bring the baby Flames the extra 10 points they needed.

But also, maybe not?

Kinda sounds like Ramo’s going to walk

This past season, the Flames operated under a tandem system that saw Jonas Hiller receive most of the starts. Hiller still has another year on his deal, and with a cap hit of $4.5 million, is likely to stay.

Just two other goalies will still be under contract with the Flames this summer: Joni Ortio, signed for another year, and Jon Gillies, who just left college. 

Because Ortio’s contract kicked in when he was 20, and the 2015-16 season will be his fifth year, he will no longer be waiver-exempt. This points towards him having a spot in Calgary to start next season. Combine that with the year still left on Hiller’s deal, and the fact Gillies has yet to play professionally, and the Flames’ goaltending next year sure looks like it’s going to be a Jonias tandem.

There’s simply no room left for Ramo. Upon the season’s end, he said there had yet to be any formal talks about extending him, and as a first time unrestricted free agent in the NHL, is tempted by the open market. 

The Flames could always try to re-sign Ramo and trade Hiller, but ask yourself: how likely is that to happen? Ramo wants to see what’s out there. There are other unrestricted free agent goalies. A lot of teams already have their starter, and the ones that don’t can pick up a new guy like Niemi, Enroth, or even Ramo without giving up any assets.

Which brings us to the point of probably faring Ramo well.

By failing to trade him at the deadline, the Flames likely lost an asset for nothing. It’s what happened with Mike Cammalleri just a year before, but significantly less disastrous.

What could the Flames have gotten for him?

Let’s say, though, that Ortio didn’t get hurt, and the Flames were in a comfortable position to trade Ramo.

Not many goalies changed teams at the deadline. In fact, only four did:

  • The Buffalo Sabres traded Jhonas Enroth to the Dallas Stars for Anders Lindback and a conditional third round pick.
  • The Buffalo Sabres traded Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders for Chad Johnson and a third round pick.

The going rate for goalie trades at the deadline was apparently a tanking team trying to offset assets that may have accidentally gotten them more wins, and getting a third round pick in the process. That’s all that happened.

The Flames left the trade deadline with six picks in the top 90 – their own first, second, and third rounders, plus Vancouver’s second rounder, and Washington’s second and thirds. That’s a lot to work with, whether they use all six picks, or package them together to trade up, or decide to trade them for a veteran instead (please no more Bolligs, though. The one is enough). 

Maybe the Flames could have gotten someone else’s third round pick. Maybe even a second if other teams saw greater value in Ramo than in either of Buffalo’s goalies (though Enroth and Neuvirth weren’t the reasons the Sabres were so terrible, so maybe not). Ramo probably wouldn’t have fetched more than that, though.

So maybe holding on to Ramo wasn’t the worst thing. True, the Flames are probably going to let an asset walk for nothing, but that happens all the time.

The playoff goalie tandem

In the meantime, Calgary got an extra few months with their 1B goalie, someone who aided in the playoff push and eventually took over as starter, even though the Flames eventually bowed out in the second round.

And it certainly wasn’t Ramo’s fault his team couldn’t win. It wasn’t on Ramo that his team kept taking ill-timed penalties, and it wasn’t on Ramo that the Flames couldn’t get a single shot off during the overtime that ultimately eliminated them. A goaltending change – had it been Hiller in net, or a healthy, active Ortio – probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the series.

A shaky Hiller or a rookie Ortio could have seen them swept. Or a confident Hiller or enthusiastic Ortio could have gotten them another win. This is one of those things we’ll never know, but the difference between the three netminders probably wouldn’t have made a real difference overall.

Really, Ortio probably would not have received any playoff starts, even if he was the Flames’ official backup in the postseason. Hiller does have the better numbers when compared to Ramo, but the number of goals he surrendered in back-to-back games – getting pulled against both the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 and Anaheim Ducks in Game 1- saw Ramo given the reigns, and Ramo did not let go.

The Flames got more out of holding on to Ramo than they did holding on to Cammalleri, at least.

Joni Ortio, full-time NHLer

Hiller is 33 years old. Ortio is is 24. Gillies is 21. Between Jonas, Joni, and Jon, Jonas is the stop gap, and Joni and Jon are the future.

That future kicks off with next season, where Ortio is the favourite to take over the backup role.

Had Ortio not been injured and had the Flames kept Ramo, he may have been able to lead the baby Flames into the playoffs, as well. After Ortio’s injury, Adirondack lost 17 of their final 26 games. A few extra overtimes and wins here and there – which Ortio may well have been capable of getting – and the baby Flames maybe make it.

They probably don’t have a deep playoff run, but the more players within the Flames’ system playing in the playoffs the better, right?

This wasn’t the best outcome, but it wasn’t a bad one, either

Being able to get an extra pick for Ramo would have been great. Being able to play Ortio in more high-pressure situations and further his development would have been better.

Neither happened, but the Flames didn’t leave with their goaltending in a bad situation. They played the final stretch of the season with two goalies they were more than comfortable with, and won a second round playoff game along the way. The only thing that really went wrong was in the minors, and that isn’t the greatest area of concern.

Not much would have changed had Ortio stayed healthy. As long as he’s ready to go for 2015-16, the Flames should still find themselves in a good position when it comes to the net.

  • BurningSensation

    What If;

    – Winnipeg hadn’t matched our poison pill offer on Selanne?

    – Sutter had pulled the trigger on the proposed Regehr – Joe Thornton swap?

    – We hadn’t traded for Oli Jokinen? Either time?

    – They had had decent video review policies and cameras in 2004?

    – We’d never made the Gilmour trade?

  • BurningSensation

    Great article Ari. Would Ortio have been as good as Ramo in the playoffs? Would Ortio have even been given the chance or would Harley have stuck with Hiller and seen if he could rebound (we all know he has no rebound control)?

    I personally believe trading Hiller for a late 1st or 2nd round pick pick at the draft this year and resigning Ramo to a three year deal at most (two would be better due to Jon Gillies but three gives trade flexibility of Gillies and Ortio tandem comes to fruition) with the carrot that the number one gig is his to earn or lose.

    This also would give the Flames even more potential to trade mid 2nd and the 15th pick to move to 9-11 spot and still have second rounders to use.

    Am I dreaming? Perhaps but isn’t that what the offseason is all about? Dreaming of the draft and free agency and the potential season ahead?

    • T&A4Flames

      Trading Hiller for a 1st or 2nd round pick? Are u on drugs? Wow there are some
      Delusional folks on here, if Brad was lucky he’d get a 3rd rounder for Hiller and I’m not even confident the market is that bullish on him.

      And for the record, I agree with you in that in a perfect world you keep Ramo and trade Hiller but no chance in hell does he fetch anything more than a 3rd rounder at this point of his career…and I’d actually move him for a 3rd at this point if u could resign Ramo under reasonable terms, which is likely the issue, I think he wants Hiller money for 3-4 years…not sure he’s worth that

  • T&A4Flames

    I’m a Ramo fan. Meaning, I would rather have a Ramo/Ortio tandem than a Hiller/Ortio. I would rather sign Ramo instead of letting yet another legit NHL player (Cami) walk for nothing. However, if that has to happen, why not resign Ramo, keep Ortio in the minors until he needs to be called up. Keep trying to trade Hiller. Then, if and injury occurs before we can trade Hiller you call him up. When the other goalie is ready to return, if need be, put Hiller on waivers. Why not, we’re going to let a starting goalie walk for nothing anyway, i’d rather see the older goalie go that’s a UFA after the year anyway.

    Hiller is a good goalie, really consistent. But, he can’t seem to elevate his game. Ramo did. Hiller is solid with positioning but he can’t make that Kiprusoffian highlight save. Ramo can. He’s not as good positionally, but he has a bit more Kipper in him than does Hiller