As it stands right now, at this exact moment, without a single trade or signing, the Flames’ goaltending for next season will consist of Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio. Hiller, the proven veteran, would be the team’s starter. Ortio, the unproven rookie, the backup.
That’s without a single change to the lineup. We all know Hiller, with his 350 NHL starts, can handle what an 82 game season will throw at him.
We don’t really know what Ortio’s 15 starts mean for him, though.
Ortio has put up some pretty decent AHL numbers. In the 2013-14 season, his first year as an AHL starter, he played 37 games, and posted a save percentage of .926 along the way. He was also named to AHL’s All-Rookie team to cap off an impressive season.
However, in that same season in the NHL, over nine starts, he only managed a total save percentage of .891: quite a drop.
The extremes balanced out a little more over this past season. Entering 2014-15 as Adirondack’s undisputed starter, Ortio again played 37 games, but his save percentage dropped down to .912. He was still named an AHL All-Star, but instead of having the second best save percentage in the league, he ranked 31st.
It should be noted, however, that in 2013-14 Abbotsford was second in their division with a 43-25-5-3 record (Ortio collected 27 of those wins), while in 2014-15 Adirondack failed to even make the playoffs, finishing fourth in their division with a 35-33-6-2 record (Ortio collected 21 of those wins – about the same percentage as his first year).
His NHL save percentage did improve over his six games in 2014-15, though. He posted a respectable .908%, bringing his career average up to .899%.
2013-14 in the NHL: A closer look
Ortio’s NHL debut saw him post a .917 SV% against the Los Angeles Kings. He had two games more impressive than that: a .929 SV% against the Buffalo Sabres, and a .968 SV% against the Ottawa Senators. He also managed to post a .909 SV% against the Anaheim Ducks.
Those four starts were the only games Ortio played in which he had a save percentage above .900. Over another four games, he posted the following numbers: .885% twice, .870%, and .857%. Dropping below .900 is a bad sign, and doing it so often doesn’t help; at the same time, it was understandable because he was a rookie injury replacement, and wasn’t expected to make his NHL debut that year.
Take Ortio’s first eight games, and he averages to a .906 SV%.
The .891% is a result of a mixed first eight games, and a disastrous ninth. In his final NHL game of that season, Ortio gave up four goals on 13 shots to the Nashville Predators, and was pulled. Fortunately for him, Karri Ramo returned to health after that disaster, and Ortio was sent back down to the AHL.
2014-15 in the NHL: A closer look
Following a hellish trip to get to Calgary to backup Hiller, Ortio kicked things off with a bang, earning his first NHL shutout in a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. He took a team on the second of a back-to-back, in someone else’s barn, and stopped all 36 shots he faced.
As a result he won the starter’s role for the next game, where he posted a .964 SV%. And the next, which resulted in a .864 SV%, but a victory. And the next, in which he earned a .971 SV%.
Over the first four games of the then-crucial Pacific division road trip, Ortio earned an extremely impressive collective save percentage of .958.
And then he played his fifth game in a row against the Anaheim Ducks, the one Pacific team the Flames had trouble with this past season. He gave up four goals on 11 shots, and was once again pulled, posting a measly .636 SV% along the way. That dropped his overall record to a more realistic number: .931%. It was the final game before the All-Star Break, and by the time the NHL came back, Ramo was once again okay and Ortio back in the AHL.
Ortio got one more game in: a completely meaningless affair against the Winnipeg Jets in the regular season finale, in which he allowed five goals on 22 shots while still recovering from a high ankle sprain. His sixth game of the season saw him post a .773 SV%, and that was that: he finished the year with a .908 SV%.
Ortio never got a chance to redeem himself
The point of all of this isn’t to say, “Well, if you just take away a couple of these games from his already very limited resume, his numbers look way better.” That would be cherry picking to suit a narrative that may never exist.
The point is to note that all of Ortio’s worst games in the NHL thus far have come at the end of his runs, and he has not once been afforded the opportunity to come back out for the next start and prove he has another good game left in him. That’s nobody’s fault: it just so happens that both times he’s been an injury replacement, he’s had extremely bad games right around the time the injured goalie (Ramo, both times) was ready to return.
Take away those three outliers – because aside from them, Ortio has posted a save percentage of at least .857 (which still isn’t great, but much better than giving up four goals and falling below .700% before finally getting pulled) – and his numbers look much better. Gone is the .891%, replaced with a respectable (for an injury callup rookie) .906%. Gone is the .908%, replaced with a ridiculous .958%.
This isn’t to say he would have finished his seasons with those numbers had he been given another chance to start. Maybe he would have brought himself back up; maybe he would have fallen further. But fact is, Ortio has yet to be in a situation where he’s able to receive another NHL start following a brutal game. He has generally posted good numbers and played good games before eventually burning out, but there’s no evidence to show he would continue spiralling downwards.
Small sample size aside, that’s another reason to take his less-than-fantastic overall numbers with a grain of salt.
So is he ready for the NHL? Considering how Ortio requires waivers to be sent down, it may be now or never. What we do know is Ortio has shown excellent stretches at the NHL level, ending with terrible games, with no chance to bring his performance back up after.
It doesn’t hurt to be cautious by looking for further goaltending options, but there is still a very real chance Ortio ends up being one of the guys in the Flames’ future. After all, everyone has bad days. What remains to be seen is how often they appear, and what the response is after.