The Flames’ goaltending was thrown for a bit of a loop when, about an hour before free agency opened, Karri Ramo re-signed with Calgary for a one-year deal. The duo of Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio suddenly became a trio, just as it had been in the 2014-15 season.
Let’s say nothing else changes between now and the start of the season. Let’s say the Flames try to find a buyer for Hiller, but ultimately end up keeping him. Let’s say Ortio – in his youth and lack of NHL experience – fails to beat both Hiller and Ramo for a spot on the roster.
Let’s say Ortio has to go through waivers.
Does he clear?
Prior to the 2014-15 season getting underway, Ortio was one of the very last training camp cuts. It was expected, but he was the team’s top goalie prospect, already with some NHL experience under his belt, and there was no harm in keeping him in the main camp a little longer.
If the Flames end up having to waive Ortio, that’s not going to happen again, because that’s when he’s most likely to be claimed. Teams will be approaching a finalized roster by that point, and if they’re unhappy with their goaltending situation and a young, potentially NHL-ready goalie shows up for free? They’re going to take him.
Is that fair to Ortio, who then, presumably, won’t get the chance to earn a spot in camp? Not at all. Is it what might be necessary to keep him within the Flames organization? Yes. Players sneak past waivers in the early goings of camps all the time, because other teams are busy trying to evaluate the prospects they already have.
If you claim a guy off of waivers, you can’t waive him yourself. He has to stick on the NHL roster. That could make Ortio a risky pickup for any other team… unless they’re desperate.
Does anyone have good reason to be?
Completely set in net
Most NHL teams at this time – including the Flames – already have a very clear picture of just who their starters and backups are going to be. Any team in this situation isn’t about to pick up a rookie goalie and hand him a free spot unless something absolutely disastrous happens, such as injuries, trades, or a case of horrifyingly bad GMing.
The following teams, as they currently stand, know just who they’re heading into the 2015-16 with between the pipes:
- Anaheim Ducks: Anton Khudobin, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson
- Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward, Eddie Lack
- Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford, Scott Darling
- Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi
- Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek
- Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick, Jhonas Enroth
- Minnesota Wild: Devan Dubnyk, Darcy Kuemper, (Niklas Backstrom?)
- New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta
- Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson, Andrew Hammond
- Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth
- San Jose Sharks: Martin Jones, Alex Stalock
- St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott, Jake Allen
- Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy
- Toronto Maple Leafs: Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer
- Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson
That immediately takes away 15 of a potential 29 teams that could claim Ortio.
Battle for the backup spot
Even with 14 teams left who could potentially claim Ortio off of waivers, many of them still aren’t likely at all. Most of these teams already know who their starter is, and while there may be some questions surrounding the backup spot, all of these teams already have the players in their systems to battle it out.
Look at it this way: every year, we get it forced down our throats that the Flames are all about earning spots, not giving them away for free. There’s no way they’re the only team with this philosophy. That means the chances of a team, already with goalie prospects, essentially telling them that the battle is over because they just picked up this kid on waivers in favour of them aren’t very high.
The following teams, as they currently stand, are good bets to fill their two goalie spots with players already in their organizations:
- Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask, Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban
- Colorado Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov, Reto Berra, Calvin Pickard
- Edmonton Oilers: Ben Scrivens, Cam Talbot, Anders Nilsson
- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, Dustin Tokarski, Zachary Fucale
- Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne, Carter Hutton, Juuse Saros
- New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider, Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood
- New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, Kevin Poulin
- Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby, Justin Peters, Philipp Grubauer
In each of these teams, the cupboard seems not only full, but there are already internal battles taking place that Ortio’s presence would disrupt. That’s another eight teams off the list, leaving just six possibilities.
(Note: I don’t include Saros as a potential backup for next season, but I do include him because why would the Predators go after Ortio when they already have their own young, promising Finn?)
Some questions remain
This all just leaves us with a handful of teams left, and ones that are more likely to claim a goalie off of waivers. They already have two goalies available to them, but are maybe ti on prospects, and their pencilled in backups are aging and they may prefer to take a flyer on someone else for free.
The following teams, as they currently stand, would have more use for picking up Ortio than the others:
- Arizona Coyotes: Mike Smith, Anders Lindback
- Buffalo Sabres: Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Linus Ullmark, Nathan Lieuwen
- Columbus Blue Jackets: Sergei Bobrovksy, Curtis McElhinney
- Florida Panthers: Roberto Luongo, Al Montoya
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, Jeff Zatkoff
- Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller, Jacob Markstrom
The Coyotes, Jackets, and Canucks only just signed their projected backup goalies for this season. While their two goalies do look rather clear, they’re also all older guys – with the exception of Markstrom, but who even knows why Vancouver does what it does with their goalies – and simply picking up Ortio to immediately improve the prospect pool can be tempting.
As for Florida, it’s entirely possible the Panthers want a younger, cheaper potential guy. Even though Luongo’s contract goes on until the end of time, he’s also getting older, and while they do have some goalie prospects in the pipe, Ortio may be more NHL-ready than they are.
The Penguins let Greiss go, don’t really have any NHL-ready prospects, and at 28, Zatkoff is a bit older and doesn’t exactly show a lot of potential for a future in the NHL.
Then, there’s the general mess that the Sabres are trying to dig their way out of. They got who they see as their future starter in Lehner, and it remains to be seen if Johnson will be able to replicate the numbers he put up in Boston. Furthermore, it’s a team still on the rebuild, and a young, potentially NHL-ready goalie could be really, really enticing to them. They don’t have any steady veterans to backup Lehner should he stumble, but we aren’t talking about a team that’s going to immediately compete, here.
Ultimately, should Ortio be sent through waivers early enough, all these teams could still be too busy looking at their intended backups and potential camp battles to pay him attention. If nothing changes over the summer, then hopefully that’s the case, because losing one of your promising prospects because you couldn’t find a suitor for your older – but still perfectly serviceable – guy would suck.