It’s been a busy summer for the Calgary Flames. They’ve made key additions via both the trade route and free agency while also taking care of some crucial in-house matters. With training camp on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to truly evaluate how much better (or worse) the Flames have made themselves since May. We’ll start by looking at an area that has seen the least change this summer: goaltending.
Later on this week, we’ll focus in on Calgary’s blueline and group of forwards, because there’s been far more movement there. But just because the Flames haven’t made any massive changes to their goaltending tandem (trio?) doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to delve into. At each position we’ll take a look at how Calgary has gotten potentially better and potentially worse, and make a final verdict at the end.
Continuity. The Flames have made precisely zero changes to their NHL group of goaltenders, as Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, and Joni Ortio are all under contract once again for the 2015-2016 season. Since Miikka Kiprusoff, that really hasn’t been the case, as we’ve seen a revolving door at the position. We’ve seen Joey MacDonald, Reto Berra, Leland Irving, and Danny Taylor all come and go. I’m not saying retaining any of those gents was the way to go, but there is something to be said for a little continuity.
Calgary enters a season with the same goaltending group as the year prior for the first time since the fall of 2011. That year it was Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson, but for the case of this argument, it doesn’t matter much who the goalies are. The fact the Flames have the same group this year provides familiarity and comfort, so I think it can be considered a positive.
Competition. I think it’s pretty clear Calgary is going to push for an open competition between all three of their goalies with pro experience. While Hiller probably has the edge as the night one starter, that’s not going to be declared at any point during camp or the preseason. And I can’t imagine that mindset changing through the regular season, much like it was last year.
Where this enters the “potentially better” category, though, is the addition of Orito to the mix during camp. Ortio wasn’t really a threat to take a job prior to last year, but he did pick up some much needed victories for the team in January. That raises his stock heading into this year’s camp, and the theory would suggest all that competition pushes each individual in this trio.
Potential. You could make the argument that two of these goalies still have a ceiling to reach at the NHL level. Now, having a potential ceiling and actually attaining that height or different things, but it’s better than being someone like me who’s always out kicking his coverage. I still think both Ramo and Ortio have more that can be shown, but whether or not we see that is a different story.
At 29, Ramo is by no means young, but he gives us glimpses of really outstanding stuff. This will be just his third year back in the NHL after four years away, so the hope would be his consistency level rises with his comfort level. Ortio, on the other hand, has potential because of his age and experience level. Ortio is still only 24 and he’s not that far removed from a sparkling 2013-2014 AHL season where he posted a 0.926 save percentage in 37 appearances.
No number one. Bob Hartley was steadfast in his defiance in naming a number one goaltender last year. For the most part, that worked out, as Hartley had a pretty good knack for knowing when to stick with the hot hand and when to make a change. That said, I think lots would agree that having a true number one guy is the way to go.
Finding an elite goalie of the Price or Lundqvist level is hard, and you have to be lucky to do so. But the majority of the high end teams have a guy they can at least count on for number one minutes. Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop aren’t in the elite class of their position, but Chicago and Tampa, respectively can count on them for around 60 starts a year. The Flames don’t have that, and the hope would be they will in the not-so-distant future.
Regression. You’re going to see this one at least one more time in these evaluations. Applying it goaltending this time focuses in directly on Hiller. I know there were many who were critical of Hiller throughout the season for allowing early goals, but the truth is, he was Calgary’s most consistent tender. With a 0.918 save percentage (0.927 at even strength), Hiller gave the Flames their best chance to win in the long run. There is a worry, though.
Hiller’s year last year was his best in quite some time. His prior three years with the Ducks were average at best, which is why they let him walk in free agency when his contract comes to an end. Prior to his spell with vertigo, Hiller was in the NHL’s elite class of goaltenders, but hasn’t been able to return there since. Last year was a pretty decent year, but it was Hiller’s first in four. It’s fair to ask, then, whether that was the norm or the exception.
Average ability (so far). The last blurb focused on Hiller, while this one applies to Ortio and Ramo. While we already talked about the potential both goalies have, there’s also the matter of their NHL resumes to date. The fact is, neither resume reads like a must hire.
Ramo’s 0.912 save percentage last season is the highest he’s ever posted in the NHL. With more consistency, sure I could see that number being much higher. But being a consistent goalie at the highest level is perhaps the hardest thing there is, and it’s not necessarily something you just “find”. It’s what separates tandem goalies from number ones. Ramo has been an inconsistent NHL goaltender, regardless of what might happen down the road.
As for Ortio, I can’t say I’ve been floored by his limited body of NHL work. I know his win-loss record is pretty decent and there was a lot of excitement during his four game win streak in January. However, from what I’ve seen, and certainly from what the numbers say, there’s a lot of work still to be done. In 15 games, Ortio’s career save percentage is 0.899. Despite it being a very small body of work, it’s rather unimpressive.
Likely unchanged. I know going with this final verdict isn’t what you’d call controversial, but it’s the honest truth. Calgary’s goaltending for the coming season could be slightly better if Ortio and Ramo take a step forward. It could be slightly worse if Hiller’s form comes back closer to what it was the prior three years. But if what usually happens occurs, things will balance out this group will probably a middle of the pack unit once again.
It’s my belief the Flames will need to have a true number one emerge for them to take the final step to being a Stanley Cup contender. The good news is they have young goalies in the system and they have a few years for this to happen. In the short term, though, I can see Calgary returning to the playoffs this season with the group they have between the pipes.