Why The Flames May Shake Up Their Goaltending This Summer

Earlier this week, in a radio appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan’s morning show, Sportsnet analyst Elliotte Friedman dropped a very interesting piece of information over the airwaves.

“I’m not convinced that either Ramo or Hiller is 100 percent coming back next year – that maybe Calgary has a new goalie in net.”

HILLER IS BETTER THAN RAMO

The Flames went the balance of the past season rotating between Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. Through 93 regular season and playoff games, the time in net was split as follows:

Starts % of All Time on Ice % of All
Hiller 51 54.8% 3191 56.4%
Ramo 36 38.7% 2068 36.6%
Ortio 6 6.5% 333 5.9%
Net Empty 64 1.1%

Based on this, it’s fairly obvious that Jonas Hiller was the number one in terms of usage.

In terms of performance, he also had significantly better underlying numbers than Karri Ramo. He edged out his teammate in low, medium and high-danger save percentage, as calculated by War On Ice. And in terms of individual game performances, while Ramo did steal games more often than Hiller did, he also was lit up more often. In terms of games where they gave up four (or more goals), Ramo’s represented 16.7% of his starts while Hiller’s were just 15.7% of his. It’s a slight advantage, but over an 82-game schedule, it’s sizable.

The gist? If the Flames were keeping just one of their goalies to play alongside Joni Ortio next season, it’d be Jonas Hiller.

But they still might not.

THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE

A few weeks back, Kent looked at Calgary’s cap situation.

The Flames are fine right now. By all accounts, ownership has authorized the team to spend to the cap. But soon there will be extensions for Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and, perhaps, Jiri Hudler. And all of a sudden, where did all the money go?

And considering that the Flames probably won’t be able to keep Jonas Hiller when he goes to unrestricted free agency after the 2015-16 season, it may make sense to take his new-found worth and flip him for an asset. Any number of teams – San Jose, Edmonton, and a few others immediately – could use goalie help. Many of them may be willing to give up a second round pick for Hiller this summer.

If the Flames can flip Hiller for an asset, that move would likely need to be paired with a move bringing in a mid-to-late-20s goalie that can help out in Calgary for a couple of seasons until Jon Gillies is ready to play in the National Hockey League. Long-term, the team’s mindset is probably tilted towards a relatively inexpensive (and hopefully good) young tandem of Gillies and Ortio.

In terms of who that bridge goalie could be, three names immediately come to mind:

  • Ottawa’s Robin Lehner; the Senators have a crowded crease and need to make a move after the signing of Andrew Hammond.
  • Chicago’s Antti Raanta; the Hawks are set with Corey Crawford and the newly-signed Scott Darling as his back-up.
  • NY Islander’s Michal Neuvirth is an unrestricted free agent, and may like a chance to play more than he did stuck behind Braden Holtby (in Washington) and Jaroslav Halak (on Long Island); he played just 32 games.

(And this is ignoring several promising AHL goalies, such as Worcester’s Aaron Dell and Utica’s Jakub Markstrom, who could be perfectly fine stop-gaps in Calgary.)

The $64,000 question, though, is “Are any of these available goalies better goaltenders than Jonas Hiller?” Well, no. But fundamentally, any move that sends Hiller out of town isn’t about winning right now; it’s about attempting to maximize an asset that the Flames probably won’t be able to afford to retain following this coming season.

  • RexLibris

    It certainly is interesting to see how the Flames handle this goaltending situation. For sh!t’s & giggles let’s see the Flames make a big push to move Hiller at the draft. Could we package our 15th, one of our 3rds & Hiller to San Jose for their 9th pick? Then we are assured one of the top D-men in this draft. The other is would Chiarelli move the 16th for Hiller & our 45th pick?

    Point is, if we can move Hiller at the draft, we don’t need to spend assets to get another goalie, we can give Ramo a 2-3 year deal & it would be more attractive to him staying with Hiller out of the picture. I have no problem going into next year with Ramo & Ortio.

  • beloch

    One thing Treliving should be wary of is making the same “mistake” MacTavish did last summer. Scrivens and Fasth had great career NHL sv%’s at that point in time. If either one of them continued to perform at the same level, the Oilers would have a great starter. The wheels fell off of both those guys.

    (Note: Starting the season with that tandem could have been a mistake, but finishing the same season with those two betrays MacT’s true strategy: Tank for McDavid.)

    So why did both Scrivens and Fasth fall off a cliff so precipitously? Their career sv%’s were based on a small sample and, also, that sample was composed of backup minutes. Most backup goalies don’t face the same competition that starters do. As Flames’ fans we’re used to seeing backups get shredded in games the team wasn’t seriously trying to win. For a long time it was Kipper for the win or McSomebody if there was no hope. At least some other teams actually try to shelter their backups. You know, develop their confidence and invest in them so they might one day become starters. It’s a foreign concept to most of us, I know. The main point is that a lot of backup goalies are sheltered, so you have to take their inflated save percentages with a grain of salt.

    Raanta has had backup minutes behind a good team, but he sucked last season (0.897 over 25 games). Neuvirth actually got a lot of play with the Caps 5 years ago. One season was good. One was not. That second, crappy season is probably why he’s been playing backup minutes ever since. Lehner was okay last season in a backup role, but sucked this season. Not one of these guys is a reliable starter. If you bring in one and depend on him and Ortio being a competent tandem, things could really blow up in your face. I hope Ortio is ready to be a starter next season, but he might not be.

    Ramo may have a game total that is on the upper edge of backup territory, but the way Hartley deployed him this season, in long stretches, means that he faced a good range of competition. If you want to sign a UFA goalie to be one of your potential starters, Ramo’s probably a better bet than anyone mentioned above.

    • Steve Macfarlane

      Complete tank strategy. Actually, probably the most brilliant tank strategy the league saw this year.
      – “oops, guess these goalies aren’t up to snuff for the last 82 games”, and “oops guess Leon is in WAAAY over his head for the first 40 games as a 2C” and as a result he still gets to cash checks from the Oiler

  • RexLibris

    Keep Hiller for the season and move him at the deadline.

    His value at the draft is going to be moderate because there are free-agent alternatives and the cap isn’t going up enough to provide the market with enough potential buyers.

    Wait until the deadline when Hiller’s cap situation is more of a moot point and you could recoup a 1st round pick for him.

    If the Flames are close to the playoffs, they could still run Ortio and bring up Gillies as backup. If they aren’t, it cashes in an asset at peak value and provides an opening for the players-in-waiting.

    Chiarelli has said that with regards to G and D, he’s looking for younger players who can mesh with the core group and grow with them. Neuvirth, Talbot, and Gibson have been mentioned as possible targets.

    • Burnward

      Younger players who can mesh with the core group and grow with them?

      You have 3 years and than McDavid will be a 12 million dollar player.You should not be thinking rebuild .

      Really, the rebuild is starting over?

      • RexLibris

        He wants a goaltender closer to 27 than 32. That’s all.

        Same with a defender.

        There has been rampant speculation that the Oilers would trade the Penguins pick (16th) for Seabrook (UFA in July 2016).

        Chiarelli more or less took the steam out of that rumour when he said that it was more important to target a player who was closer to 27 and that the team could control for another three to five years.

        That’s why there has been more recent speculation about an offer sheet on Dougie Hamilton. The age range fits and you’d have control of him for the foreseeable future.

        It is the same reason that Cam Talbot has been mentioned frequently. He’s closer in age, and though a UFA next July, if he re-signs you have a potential player who can contribute for longer.

        It isn’t about rebuilding, it’s about targeting players who have entered, or imminently will, their prime.

  • redricardo

    Between shooters regressing, goalies being shaken up, not every player having career years, etc…

    Where do you guys have the Flames finishing this upcoming year? Better than this year… or worse? What’s realistic expectations?

  • I have no idea what the impetus would be to change the goaltending situation as it is. Hiller was above average this season. He’s been an above average goalie his whole career, aside from a one season hiccup. You have Ortio being groomed in the back-up position.

    Why shake this up? There’s no obviously superior options to Hiller.

    • RedMan

      You are probably bang on as to what is actually going to happen. Ramo, walks & we look at Hiller & Ortio tandem this year & it would make perfect sense. To my eye test, Ramo has the better appeal & Ramo is younger. But there is zero value in watching Ramo walk. If Hiller can get us moved up or bring back some value like a 2nd in this draft, then we are maximizing our assets on similar goalies. Either way, Flames don’t need to have to be aggressively shopping for a goalie this year. Not quite sure where the rumour that Hiller nor Ramo may be back in net next year. That doesn’t make sense to me, so with my luck, it’ll probably go down that way.

    • Greg

      Indeed. If the impetus is calfary’s cap situation 2 years out, that makes zero sense either – hillers contract comes off the books before then.

      You keep him around to see how Ortio and Gilles pan out this year. If Ortio hits it out of the park and Gilles looks ready to move up to the bigs, then Hiller becomes an expendable asset at the trade deadline, and you’ve banked some cap space in net for the following year (after which Raymond, engelland, smid, wideman, etc all come off the books and bob’s your uncle again).

      If neither Ortio or Gilles establish themselves by the deadline, you’ve got options then. Resign for another year or two, or move him and find another option for the following year if you can’t afford him.

    • Steve Macfarlane

      I think goaltending is the easiest spot to leave as is for the coming year. Ramo walks, Hiller starts and Ortio pushes for the job all year. The starter the year after in ideal world is Ortio. If not, they look for another option then.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Never trust a goalie to become something he isn’t.

    Unless a guy is already an NHL starting goalie, you shouldn’t be making plans that involve him being one.

    I have absolutely zero faith in anyone projecting the progression of goalies. And that goes double for the Flames organization, who have had pretty much one goalie live up to his billing in the last 20+ years.

    You should try to find young up-and-coming goalies, and try to develop them, but don’t “make room” for them, and for the love of god don’t make plans around them.

  • Steve Macfarlane

    I forgot to add that from a few league guys I’ve talked to, the fact Hiller finished playoffs on the bench hurt any trade value he may have had as as potential starter somewhere else. His perfect situation is Calgary.
    Trade could be explored as the coach isn’t Hiller’s biggest fan, but the return might be so minimal if any that they’re better off standing Steinberg.

  • Would Kari Lehtonen be of interest to anybody? Coming off a rough yr, but typically a pretty good G. DAL may give him away. $5.9M cap hit is hefty, but there’s room for now. Club obv doesn’t trust Hiller.