The 2015 NHL Draft begins tomorrow evening, and there’s a lot of chatter about the Calgary Flames and goaltenders. The Flames have been linked seemingly to every available goaltender on the market – from Eddie Lack and Martin Stone to Cam Talbot.
But I think the speculation is (a) a bit smoke-screen and (b) missing the point.
The smoke-screen is because I firmly believe that Brad Treliving is calling every team about everything, as a means of acquiring information, not because he has an interest in particular. Making lots of calls is a great way to throw people off of what you’re really trying to do.
But on the second point: if the Flames are going to acquire a goaltender this weekend, it’s not going to be in a trade involving a draft pick. They’re going to use a pick to select a goalie.
Right now, the Calgary Flames have five goaltenders under valid NHL contracts (Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio, Jon Gillies and Brad Thiessen), with just Mason McDonald on the outside as Flames property without a contract as of yet.
Here’s a brief look at contracts; the yellow boxes indicate a player that is not subject to waivers in a given season. Cap hits via NHL Numbers.
When Brad Treliving spoke about goaltending when chatting with the media, he mentioned that there’s only a certain number of spots and they have to be managed. Right now, the Flames organization has four goaltending spots: two in Calgary and two in Stockton, though presumably they may stick somebody in Adirondack now that they own the team. (They stuck Joni Ortio in the ECHL a couple years back, so it could happen.)
This season’s four spots seem pretty cut-and-dry: Hiller and Ortio in Calgary, Gillies and a free agent back-up in Stockton. After this season, Hiller’s a UFA and Ortio becomes an RFA. Presumably Mason McDonald signs a deal and begins his entry-level contract in 2016-17 as a 20-year-old rather than go back to the QMJHL as an overager. After 2016-17, Gillies likely uses up his waiver exemption, meaning that the Flames have a couple seasons to make a decision on him. After they make a decision on Gillies and given him a second contract, they have a couple years to decide on McDonald, and so-on. Waiver exemptions are great because they allow a team to try out a goalie in the NHL here and there – as was done with Joni Ortio over the past few seasons – without the threat of losing him on the waiver wire when he goes back to the minors. It’s a free chance to see if a goalie has NHL stuff, even over a short time-span.
The way the Flames are structuring their goaltending system and staggering contracts, they’re spacing out goalies losing their waiver exemptions rather nicely. If the Flames draft a North American goaltender this year, depending on their age, they wouldn’t even start their entry-level deal until 2017 – basically becoming an entry-level goalie to replace Gillies’ as he matures. This ensures that there are always young, inexpensive, waiver-exempt goalies in the minor league system; the Flames got themselves into trouble a couple years back when Danny Taylor had to be signed mid-season because they had nobody else in the system to recall due to injuries. This season, they had to bring up stop-gap Brad Thiessen late in the year because Ortio was injured. They have lacked depth in contracted goalies, which isn’t a great thing – a team deep in good goalies can trade goalies to other teams for other assets; a team without them is sunk.
Good, cheap, young, goalies on the rise are always preferred to older, more expensive goalies. Look at Anaheim: they cut Jonas Hiller loose because they wanted to go young and cheap to save some cap space. Calgary’s moves over the past couple summers suggest that a similar move may be taking place here over the next couple years.
That trend, along with the fact that they enter the weekend with nine draft picks, has me convinced that they take a goaltender at some point this weekend.