I think it’s safe to say the Calgary Flames don’t have a ton of worries or tough decisions to make when it comes to pending unrestricted free agents. That said, the team’s decision on the future of goaltender Karri Ramo is the biggest one they’ll have to make this summer. Or will the decision be made for them? In Ramo’s case, that is a very strong possibility.
2014-2015 stats: 15-9-3, 2.60 GAA, 0.912 SV%, 2 SO
2014-2015 cap hit: $2.75 million
The future or Ramo with the Flames is fascinating to me, because there are so many different things that go into it. First of all, there’s the battle between what our eyes saw and what the statistics say. Second, Calgary’s goaltending depth chart has to be taken into consideration. And finally, the soft free agent market plays a part, because it is most certainly alluring from the player’s side right now.
This season was an up and down one for Ramo. His second season with Calgary started very similar to his first, in that he wasn’t being looked at as a number one guy. The Flames signed Jonas Hiller in free agency which turned their goaltending situation into a platoon scenario for Ramo, at best. In the end, thanks to injury and coaches decision, Hiller saw the bulk of the action with 44 starts in comparison to Ramo’s 32.
The weird thing is how the perception of the two goaltenders from many flies in the face of what we have in front of us statistically. I’m not going out on a limb when I say there was a large group of fans who felt that Ramo gave the team a better chance to win than Hiller. But the statistics don’t necessarily back that up.
At the end of the regular season, Ramo’s save percentage of 0.912 was six points lower than Hiller’s 0.918 number. But what is maybe more telling is how the two compared at even strength, where Hiller’s 0.927 was significantly higher than Ramo’s 0.916. So, while Hiller did have some issues at times with allowing soft early goals, he actually ended up being the more consistent goaltender in his larger body of work. We can quibble about the timing of goals I guess, but when it comes to save percentage, the numbers don’t really lie that often.
Now, Ramo does have a few things going for him if we were to be pitting the two head to head. First off, he’s younger than Hiller by four-and-a-half years which, like it or not, gives Ramo a big leg up. Second, it was Ramo playing the most important games of the season for the Flames. After Hiller started Calgary’s first seven games of the playoffs, it was Ramo getting the nod in final four games against Anaheim. And let’s not forget it was also Ramo relieving Hiller in the game six clincher against Vancouver.
However, I think more comes into play than just determining who’s better between Ramo and Hiller. Because the former is a free agent, the discussion of just letting him walk has to be had. Why? Well, because the Flames have some other goaltending issues they need to tend to.
Joni Ortio is on a one way contract this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to play in Calgary, but that is certainly desirable as opposed to paying him NHL money in Stockton. More importantly, though, is Jon Gillies in his first year of professional hockey. I think the guy needs as much ice time as he can get in the American League, and splitting time with Ortio would not be the way to facilitate that.
Finally, there’s one more important question that needs to be asked. Does Ramo want to re-sign with the Flames? I ask that question for two reasons. First, he’s a goalie, and goalies want to play. Splitting time with Hiller is once again the best case scenario for Ramo next year, and that is likely not the most desirable option for him.
Maybe more importantly, though, is the opportunity Ramo has in free agency. In all positions, this is a soft year when it comes to available bodies, and that certainly carries over between the pipes. Ramo might be the best available unrestricted goaltender. You can’t really make strong arguments that anyone is better than him, can you? The bloom has come off on Antti Niemi rather dramatically while Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth won’t have anyone doing cartwheels either. With such a soft group around him, Ramo could very well cash in pretty big come July 1st.
I like Ramo and I think he’s still got a bit of an NHL ceiling. I’m not necessarily convinced that he’s going to be a true number one at the highest level, but I still think there might be more in him than we’ve seen. That said, the Flames have to be prepared to let him walk. If he’s willing to sign a good value, short term deal with a similar cap hit to last year, then by all means, think about bringing him back. However, that’s a very unlikely scenario.
Because Ramo has a decent amount of leverage and an opportunity to hit it relatively big, Calgary can’t really afford to pay what the market might bear. Again, I like Ramo, but he’s not irreplaceable, and with Hiller still in the fold, going forward with him and Ortio for next year isn’t the worst thing in the world.