The Flames Should Keep Hiller

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I’ve made this point numerous times since rumours emerged that the Flames were shopping Jonas Hiller – he’s the best goalie in the organization right now. I don’t mean in terms of overall value (clearly Ortio and Gillies have higher ceilings). I just mean in terms of a guy who has proven he can stop the puck at the NHL level. Ramo is a clear step below. The kids are unknown commodities.

If the Flames want to make the post-season again this year, getting rid of Hiller is a big gamble. Here’s the proof. 

Damn Those Early Goals!

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A narrative amongst the MSM who cover the Flames has emerged that Jonas Hiller is prone to allowing early goals, which is bad for the team and one of the reasons Hartley would like to move on. I’m skeptical of this for a few reasons:

1.) I doubt that this is something goalies can actually control. Goals are fairly random events, so their timing in a game is mostly out of a goalies hands. I’ve never seen any evidence that this is an ability (or persistent weakness). Which is to say, even if Hiller gave up a higher rate of “early goals” last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen again. 

2.) That said, since nobody tracks “early goal” rates, we don’t even know if Hiller is above average or below average at this from a league perspective. 

As for the deleterious effect something like that might have the team, we can investigate it by comparing a couple of broad brush metrics between Ramo and Hiller: quality starts and win%. 

Quality starts a simply games in which a goalie allows two or less goals or achieves a SV% of .917%. Win% is simply the amount of wins versus games a goalie managed. 

Hiller 2014-15: QS% 52.3%, WIN% 50.0%

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Ramo 2014-15: QS% 43.4%, WIN 45.5%

So even if we grant that Hiller does a have a tendency to give up weak, early goals, we can see that he still gives the Flames a better chance to win than Ramo on average. By the way, Ramo’s best QS% in the league so far is just 51.4% – so, still below Hiller’s rate last year (which was his lowest QS rate in his career). 

The reason for this is simple: Hiller stops more pucks than Ramo. 

Here’s every Flames goalie’s adjusted vs. unadjusted save rates from last year:

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Hiller had a better save rate)s) than Ramo last year. He also saw more shots per 60 and played way more minutes. Also, that’s Joni Ortio way down in the bottom left corner. He didn’t play enough to really worry about his results, but it’s also not like he tore the cover off the ball when he was in the league either. I like him as a prospect, but we still don’t really know how good he is.

Just to put an exclamation point on things, let’s look at an expected goals model for both guys. This model from Don’t Tell Me About Heart looks at the quality of shots faced by a goalie and then projects an “average” save rate according to those shots. It then looks at the player’s average save rate to see if how he performed against this expected save rate. 





Just for fun, here’s Ortio:


The black, horizontal line in each graph is the player’s save rate. The bar represents his actual save rate. If the bar is below the line, he under performed expected SV%. If it’s above, then he outperformed it.

Again, Hiller is consistently the superior option. In fact, Ramo has frequently under performed his expected save rate by this model. Hiller has consistently outperformed his.

You can do this sort of exercise with various other metrics from various other angles and the answer is always the same: Hiller is better.


The one reason to worry about Hiller is his age. At 33 going on to 34, he’s entering the point in his career where goalies start to drop off. Nevertheless, everything we know about him right now says he’s the best goalie for the starters job this season. 

I don’t know why Bob Hartley doesn’t seem to like Hiller anymore (he played him more than any other Flames goalie last year) and I don’t really know why the Flames bothered to re-sign Ramo, but here we are. If the club decides to waive or trade Hiller at the start of the season, they are making a very sizeable gamble. 

  • ClayBort

    Is everyone blindly believing Kent’s “stats” as gospel without asking the obvious/relevant questions:

    1.) Quality of competition – If I played the Oilers every night I would expect to have an inflated save % rather than if I played the Blackhawks every night. Did Hiller actually face the same level of competition as Ramo on average or did Ramo get the majority of the tougher matchups, which would impact said statistical numbers.

    2.) The Defence in front of our goalies – Were Hiller’s starts more towards the end of the season or the start of the season? If towards the end, we had a significantly deteriorated Defence with Giordano out of the lineup, hence the level of defensive play in front of the goaltender had regressed towards the season’s end relative to the early season games, this certainly factors into said goaltending stats.

    3.) Quality of shots/scoring chances – Not every shot is like the other, were Hiller’s shots against the same quality of scoring chance as the shots faced by Ramo. Something that needs to be significantly investigated and factored in to ensure apples are being compared to apples.

    Point being there are significant variables that impact save % and almost all statistical measures…to try and simplify a goaltender’s worth by this lone measure while neglecting to take into account key drivers of this measure and its impact on performance puts into question the validity of the statistic being used and the article itself. Take it from someone that does senior corporate level business analytics, numbers/statistics can be manipulated to tell any story, but without the proper context it really adds no value.

  • flamesburn89

    Hiller is the better goalie, there’s not much debate to be had. Although he has more value around the league, I don’t feel that there are many teams that are looking for a 1A/1B starter. Heck, they’re probably aren’t that many teams looking for a decent backup (Ramo). The goalie market has once again dried up.

    Treliving’s decision to re-sign Ramo this summer has been a bit of a head-scratcher. He had an excellent offseason, but the Flames are in a bit of a pickle in regards to what to do with their goalies in 2016.

    I don’t think that Treliving should risk Ortio on waivers, and I’m hoping that he won’t.

      • flamesburn89

        He had what, one bad game in the playoffs? He was pretty damn impressive in the first 5 games of the Vancouver series. Even in game 6 the entire team was sleep-walking through the first 10 minutes.

        Hartley went with Ramo because Hiller struggled in game 1 of the second round. That’s fine, but it’s pretty clear that Hiller has always been the better goalie over the long haul. That’s what Kent was saying.

        • Keep in mind too that the playoffs are a much shorter season than the regular season, and in a 7 game season you’re more prone to being sunk by random variance than you are over the course of a full 82 game season.

          I didn’t agree with pulling Hiller in the playoffs, but I can at least understand why it was done. In the regular season, this isn’t advisable.

  • ClayBort

    I’d like to see someone with a brain (preferably a writer at FN) write the counter-argument to this one on all the reasons why the Flames should keep Ramo rather than Hiller.

    Would put things in perspective.

  • flamesburn89

    Hartley and Treliving are closer to the situation than anyone and know best, if they deem Hiller to be the expendable one that’s all I need to know and they have my vote of confidence.

  • piscera.infada

    Sooo…. Jankowski? Amiright?

    I honestly don’t understand how this whole “debate” is framed about facts, as opposed to the merits of figuring out the goalie pipeline. Frankly, I imagine Flames’ management are much more concerned with trying to figure out who the right goalie for the future is, than trying to appease 33 year-old Hiller. The organization needs to have a clear plan in place for when this team moves into “perennial contender mode” (god-willing). Hiller by virtue of his age, is not that keeper, Ramo probably isn’t either, Ortio might be, Gillies might be, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the interesting argument here, not the undeniable fact that Hiller is a better goalie at this point in his career than Ramo.

    Yes, they both have flaws. Hiller has the glove hand strength of a new born baby (it would seem). Ramo, on the other hand, loves to kick rebounds right up the slot (it’s kind of his thing). Knowing that neither are likely to be “the guy” down the road, I could not care less who goes in trade, waivers, or rides the pine in Stockton.

    We can also have the discussion, if we want, about how much Hiller helps us this season, and what we really think the ceiling is this season for the team as a whole. Would choosing Ramo over Hiller greatly hinder that? This article seems to think it would. Does that matter? What’s the greater good in this case?

    Personally, as hinted at above, I’d rather feel comfortable going into future seasons. If that means Hiller is the one to be sent away, so be it. If that leads to a greater goals against, then I guess we have our answer. But, again, I doubt a Hiller re-signing after this season would be very palatable around these parts anyway.

  • Rockmorton65

    I’ve heard Hiller has an ego the size of Tim Hunter’s nose and is a complete ass hat too and has burned a lot of bridges in the hockey world…not surprised to see him on the outs (yet again).

    Regardless of his on ice performance that kind of stuff runs thin in a hurry

  • “Hiller has a bad attitude and is a locker room cancer!”

    “Who told you that?”

    “my friend”

    “cool. Did you know he stops more pucks than anyone else on the team?”

    If you guys think I’m going to stop pounding this drum, you should know I’m going full Neil Peart on this one (Rush sucks)

  • “Ramo mentored Ortio”
    “who told you that?”
    “I dont know, somebody”
    “so what does that do?”
    “I don’t know, I guess it means they can go on camping trips together”
    “Hiller never mentored Ortio”
    “Oh. Did you know he stops more pucks than anyone on the team?”

  • Almost 100 posts…pretty clear most don’t agree with your position Kent.

    Had this been a “Ramo is better” or even “Ortio is better” and should be kept article there would have been the standard 15-20 posts mostly all agreeing and moving onto the next article as it wouldn’t have been breaking news to state the odd man out is the almost 34 year old average goalie not in the future plans

  • RedMan

    Debates can be made as to which goalie is “better” as they are reasonably close in terms of performance, its not like one is Kipper and the other is Mcelhinney/Berra/Joey Mac etc.

    I’m not sure the author’s point in even going down this road though as its a moot point in terms of what decision the organization and management are faced with right now heading into the season, which is “which two goalies stay and which lone goalie doesn’t”.

    Fundamentally, it boils down to who is in the organization’s plans and who is not. Regardless of who you feel is better, Hiller is 34 years old, on an expiring contract and not in the Flames future plans, hence why its a fairly straight-forward decision that he is moved. Look at this way, the greatest statistical goalie of all time, Martin Brodeur at one point later in his career (like Hiller) was let go, not for a more statistically dominant or “better” goalie, but because it was simply time to move on for both the organization and the player…and if the greatest goaltender to ever play the game has an expiry date and can be moved aside to make way for younger (not better) talent, so can Hiller.

    • Joe Flames

      Nice post Tony.

      After reading through 100 posts, here are a couple of other ideas/comments.

      BT likely signed Ramo thinking he would move one of his goaltenders rather than lose an asset for nothing via free agency. I doubt he thought he would get this little interest in them though. If he is unable to trade Ramo and loses him on waivers he is no worse off than letting him walk as a FA.

      I am not a big fan of just looking at sv % to compare goalies after short stints (guaranteed Cam Talbot or Andrew Hammond are not as good as their stats in their small runs last year). However, statistically speaking, over the course of a long season, two goalies playing behind the same team will get roughly the same % of difficult shot attempts, easy shot attempts, etc. so quality of shots faced becomes less important than sv% over a large sample size (say 30-40 games each). Especially when they have shown similar stats over a 2-3 year period (or longer).

      So I agree with Kent that Hiller is a better goaltender than Ramo, while Ortio is untested/unknown. Anyone who is old enough to have watched Mike Palmateer with the Leafs back in the 70s will remember how he was a very athletic goaltender who often got himself out of position and had to make a desperate save, so what should have been a routine save ends up looking like a great save due to his being out of position. That is what Ramo reminds me of. Especially in the playoffs, he would constantly overcompensate moving laterally and get out of position, forcing him to have to scramble back to cover the open side. the result was many saves appearing to be more difficult than they should have.

      In a short playoff series this can make you look good, but over a long season/larger sample it hurts you more often than not.

      Hiller isn’t a great goalie by any stretch of the imagination, he goes down on every single shot before the puck has left the stick. But his positioning is superior to Ramo’s, while Ramo has better reflexes, physical skills IMO. A mix of the two would likely be a pretty good goalie. Maybe that is what we have in Gillies. Time will tell.

      Stats are all about sample size. e.g. the more people you poll, the better chance you have of getting an accurate picture of what is happening.

  • ClayBort

    I agree with Kent on Hiller number wise is a slightly better goalie then Ramo. However, the management will make the decision based on many other factors in who they keep and who they move for their future team.

    PS : Nice job Kent in raising the market value on Hiller for a trade soon.

  • FlamesRule

    Flames will keep Hiller, and Ramo. Everyone seems to have forgotten BB’s “accelerated rebuild” proclamation awhile back. Ortio hasn’t done enough in the bigs or in the A to gamble on this season.

    Hiller and Ramo give us the best chance to make the playoffs, Ortio clears waivers and proves himself in the A, or he doesn’t and then Gillies does. BT trades one of our excess forward prospects for a backup goalie in the A.

    Anyway it goes, we’re alright fellas!

    Oh, and Hiller stops more pucks.

    • FlamesRule

      Ortio isn’t going down, if he was the odd man out he would have already been sent down before the waiver claim eligibility period kicked in over the weekend.

      He isn’t going anywhere at this point

  • Burnward

    I actually think it’s been a very calculated by Tree if he’s doing what I think.

    -I believe he’s going to send down Ramo.
    -If he is claimed we are in the same position we would have been letting him walk this summer.
    -If he is not claimed we have an insurance policy for if Ortio proves to be unready for the bigs. We also have a valuable trade chip for when the goalie market opens.
    There are some flaws to this gamble, however.
    -Gillies playing time in Stockton could be effected.
    -Not great player relations to send down either Ramo or Hiller, could bruise some egos.

    This entire thing tells me that Tree is all about the playoffs this year and he’s hedging his bets. My hope is that he has a plan in place for the future. There is no magic number with goalies they can be pure voodoo and ego is a huge part of that.

  • An article about which goalie is better 115 comments later. FN you’re in fine preseason form!
    So, feel free to hire those moderators soon, now.

    First. There is no debate or argument here. Whether you agree or disagree is like disagreeing with climate change. Hiller is the undisputed better goalie. You guys are looking at things too short term. Stats have predictibility for long term and or historically. Now could HIller regress this year. Absolutely, it’s entirely possible. But as of right now he’s the guy who gives you the best chance to win.

    This is the basis doctors, scientists, psychologists, sociologists use when they tell you that climate change is a real thing. That getting vaccines saves lives. You take a bunch of fancy numbers that represent certain theories and or paradigms and analyze them and if they reliable predict that weather is changing you agree with them until someone comes along and proves it wrong with better methods.

    EVSV, QS% reliably predicts MORE WINS. Meaning: everyone say it with me now.. “HILLER STOPS MORE PUCKS ON THE FLAMES THAN ANYONE ELSE”
    doesn’t matter what his attitude is, doesn’t matter if the team wants to trade him, doesn’t matter if Ramo is a nice guy and a better mentor and from the same country as Ortio. Anymore than it matters if Jenny McCarthy thinks vaccines are bad for children, or Don cherry approves of that player.

    Hiller gives us the best stastical chance to win more games than anyone else and that’s all that is important. This is not a revolutionary war anymore. There isn’t a bunch of math geeks sitting in a corner of the internet pontificating about how to piss a bunch of people off. Stats is mainstream now because they have shown time and time again that the stastical analysis has predictability power.