Can the Flames carry three goaltenders?


I know one of the biggest questions surrounding the Calgary Flames right now is “who will their two goaltenders be to start the season?”. While I get why that question is being asked, I don’t think it’s the right one at the very moment. There’s a more relevant question right now: will the Flames start the season with two or three goalies on their active roster? I think there’s a decent chance they’ll start the season with three, and I also think the Flames can make it work…in the short term.

Why they can’t

Less skaters on the roster. This is pretty simple, but it’s also interesting in Calgary’s case. The typical breakdown on a 23 man roster is 14 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goaltenders. Injuries will change that at different times in the season, but that is your general rule. So, for the Flames to carry three goaltenders, they’d have to start the season with either 13 forwards or six blueliners. I’m sure you didn’t come here for a rudimentary math lesson, though.

Fear not, because there are some interesting wrinkles that makes it a little more difficult for Calgary. Specifically at forward, getting down to 13 forwards would be quite the undertaking. They have 18 forwards in camp right now, meaning they’d still have to waive or move five players to make this work. Even with the easier choices in Markus Granlund, Drew Shore, and Garnet Hathaway that still means two NHL contracts would need to be freed up.

It’s a little easier on the blueline, as guys like Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Jakub Nakladal don’t require waivers to be sent down. The drawback here, though, is being unable to carry an extra defender. This could lead to problems on back-to-back nights, long road trips, and if the coach simply wants to make a change.

Odd priorities. 

Committing so much roster space to one position is strange to be begin with. Carrying three goaltenders equates to 13% of an active roster, and it’s three times the amount of players needed in an ideal game situation. It’s even more strange with three goaltenders, specifically.

This is meant as no slight to any one of Joni Ortio, Karri Ramo, or Jonas Hiller, but we’re not talking about a trio of untouchables. Hiller turns 34 in February while Ramo has been nothing but inconsistent in his NHL career. Ortio may be younger, but I’m not as sold as others are that we’re talking about a surefire number one at the highest level.

All three guys are NHL quality goalies, of course, but to be too worried about losing any one of them is a bit of an overreaction if you ask me. Obviously losing Ortio for nothing would be least ideal, because he’s the youngest and has the highest ceiling. But I certainly think the team should be open to trading any one of the three.

It’s because of those facts that carrying all three of them on the active roster seems a little silly. It makes perfect sense in the rare circumstance, but that criteria isn’t met here.

Why they can

Stockton is close. 

The relocation of Calgary’s American League affiliate to Northern California makes things a whole lot easier for last minute replacements. San Francisco has a major airport with plenty of direct flights, so shuttling a player in on short notice isn’t as difficult as it was in Glens Falls.

This relates directly to the Flames potentially starting the season with only six defenders on the roster. If someone did end up going down, we’re not talking about a logistical nightmare to get someone in on short notice. By no means is it ideal, of course, but it would be workable.

They have time. The schedule works out for Calgary if they want to carry three goaltenders for a short period of time. The Flames open the season on October 7th, but only play three games in a stretch of nine days to kick things off. With no extensive travel and a light slate of games, there would be plenty of time to bring in a recall if an injury occurs.

This is obviously only a short term option, though. The schedule gets busier in mid-October, so the logistics become much less favourable.

This could work if the Flames were looking to buy themselves some time. For instance, if they were looking for a few more days to consummate a trade for a goalie or perhaps move some forwards out, this could be a temporary option.

It helps on the farm. If they’re unable to move one of their goaltenders prior to next week, keeping three goalies on the big team does help in Stockton. If they were to, say, waive Ortio and assign him to the Heat, then things become really crowded if your name is Jon Gillies. Ideally I think Calgary would like Gillies to play a lot in the AHL this year, but he’s not going to be able to do that if Ortio is there.



Having three goaltenders for the long term just isn’t an option, and I don’t think that’s really a debate. However, for the short term, I think the Flames could figure it out to start the season. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure they’ll have a choice.

If they’re not willing to risk losing Ortio for nothing, and if there’s not a trade out there for Ramo or Hiller, I’m not certain what else Calgary can do. The Flames will try to get something done to help alleviate their goaltending stress, but the fact they haven’t been able to to this point tells you something.

My guess is they carry three goalies for the first week or so and then make a move. If that’s the case, it’s not the end of the world and Calgary could make it work. They’ll start to enter a far more unpleasant world if it lasts much longer than that.

  • JumpJet

    It’s a shame the goaltending situation came to this. It seemed like everything was going as planned when Ramo wasn’t resigned at the end of last season.

    Ideally the Flames are able to trade one of Ramo or Hiller, but there just doesn’t seem to be a market for $3M+ goalies.
    Pittsburg, New Jersey, and Nashville could probably use a better back-up. Do you retain salary to make a deal with the Penguins? Nashville has the cap space, but Carter Hutton might still improve. Do you try to swap both Hiller and Ramo for Cory Schneider? Crazier things have happened.

  • FlamesRule

    Resigning Ramo = uncertainty about Ortio (maybe the high ankle sprain has them spooked?).

    Ortio is unproven in the big leagues and we are not the Oilers – we’ll start the season with our two vets and Ortio and Gillies will battle in the A.

    Playoffs again in ’16!

  • prendrefeu

    …side question, which I asked during last season but did not get an answer – and I’ll probably get unreasonably trashed for asking.

    Has any team run their goaltenders similar to how pitchers are used in baseball? As in goaltenders play one night/rest on rotation?

    Just asking at the possibility. It might keep a goaltender fresh, no? Less fatigued maybe? Also keeps the ‘backup’ (if you call them that) fresh as well since they play regularly. If one has a bad night the ‘backup’ isn’t really a backup at all, just another starter. It could also avoid injury, maybe?

    Has this ever been done before? Was it successful at all? What were the shortcomings?

    • Nick24

      Probably the closest I’ve seen it done is either in Calgary with Ramo and Hiller, or in St. Louis with Elliot and Allen.

      The short version, is that having multiple starting goalies on your roster just isn’t necessary. In baseball, pitchers fatigue is something managers have to deal with, or else they run the risk of injury. Goalies don’t really have that problem, as there aren’t really any intense, repetitive motions that wear goalies down the same way. Now you don’t want a goalie playing 82 games a year, but 60-70 games is pretty reasonable. It doesn’t make sense to have two guys that can start those 60-70 games and only use one of them.

      If the Toronto Blue Jays could start David Price everyday, I’d bet they would. But since they can’t, they need a strong group of starters, and a strong bullpen to make sure none of their “aces” get injured.

    • everton fc

      Keep in mind that the baseball season is twice as long, and that the bullpen keeps pitchers relatively warmed up. a third goalie doesn’t even get to dress for games, let alone practice in game-like situations. as others have mentioned, the pitcher position is probably more physically-intensive than playing goal (one repetitive motion vs. a variety). it’s also rare to see a pitcher play a full game–most teams will go through a few relief pitchers. it’s not as though ortio would start putting his gear on if hiller was pulled for ramo.

      all in all, it seems like a weak comparison. I think we’ll roll three goalies for the first month (barring a trade) and wait for injuries to take their toll.

  • The Fall

    You may have it wrong. The solution is obvious: send Ramo down.

    I mentioned this on another site.

    If Ramo is claimed than the Flames are in the same position as if he walked as an UFA. If he clears (likely given the cap hit) than Flames have an insurance policy. It’s pretty simple and it is great work by BT.

    If anything BT has been very straightforward with his team and the signings. It is likely that when signing Ramo they noted there would be a competition and he could be sent to the AHL. From Ramos position it gives him motivation but more so gives him predictability in salary and the chance to stay with a familiar team. If he is claimed, traded, or signs as a free agent, he has little control of where and how he plays.

    And really, without Ramo in the A, the Flames have no proven call ups. This is great work by BT as a calculated risk.

  • everton fc

    Not saying I support this… But they could waive Ramo, and he’d most probably be picked up by someone.

    Other than that, trading Hiller with a good prospect might be the only way out. And we have a plethora of decent prospects other team’s might want.

    I hope they keep Ramo and Ortio, and move Hiller. But it’s risky, as Hiller has the NHL starter’s “pedigree”.

      • everton fc

        Don’t disagree.

        But if they move Hiller, I think Ortio is the #1. Just get this feeling they wat him as the #1 now.

        All this said, if Ortio gets shelled vs. the Jets, or looks sloppy, and it’s not because of guys like Sieloff and Morrison in front of him…

        Nod probably goes to Hiller.

        • The Fall

          Yeah. But issue being, trades barely happen, and moving a starting goalie at his cap, before the season is not easy.

          You gotta think Vancouver is a little nervous with their situation if (when) Miller goes down. Ramo as a call up is worth way more than the 5th round pick he gets on trade.

          • The Fall

            Don’t forget that Flames have lots of cap space this year so eating 1/2 of Hillers or Ramo’s cap hit makes them very very coveted backup options for the likes of Tampa, Arizona, Colorado, Buffalo, Nashville, Islanders. Turn this into a 2nd rounder & solve the logjam. I see Hiller the one that gets moved in that scenario. I have absolutely no problem running with Ortio & Ramo this year.

          • Don’t forget that Flames have lots of cap space this year so eating 1/2 of Hillers or Ramo’s cap hit makes them very very coveted backup options for the likes of Tampa, Arizona, Colorado, Buffalo, Nashville, Islanders. Turn this into a 2nd rounder & solve the logjam. I see Hiller the one that gets moved in that scenario. I have absolutely no problem running with Ortio & Ramo this year.

            Problem is the Flames don’t have a lot of cap space this year. They have just $1.3 million of space, to be exact, for the coming season. Hamilton’s new deal, signing Frolik, extending Backlund, and Brodie’s new deal kicking in have all upped the cap number significantly.

          • MattyFranchise

            They are under with both Hiller & Ramo’s cap hit this year. If you eat half the salary for this year & not take any salary back, it will just improve our cap flexibility. It may be the only way we can move either Ramo or Hiller & get a reasonable return. Otherwise, we may have to give up an asset no one will be happy about to move that contract. That puts BT in a bad situation depending what that price is. Kent is probably right. If BT knew he wouldn’t be able to move Hiller it would be highly unlikely Ramo is resigned. Their were a lot of goalies out there that could have given the Flames a competition for Ortio like Griess, Lack went for cheap enough, Johnson, Raanta was available. Ultimately, Ortio had the path cleared to be the back up on the Flames if he did as well as he is doing in this camp. So a smart gambler will bet Ramo is put on waivers. That is just bad optics on BT in the Free Agent world & reputation. I just don’t see the Flames extending Hiller after this year. If Ramo is waived, he won’t be resigning anytime soon with the Flames either. Then, if Ortio isn’t ready to be that #1 next year, we will be parting with assets to get a bonafide #1 & there will be lots of goalie discussions next summer.

  • X Man

    Hiller may be a better goalie… But it’s apparent the organization favors Ramo…

    The Retro Night snub, him sitting in the playoffs, and Ramo’s contract are pretty good indications of this…

    I like Ramo too, he’s spastic, but it’s only his 3rd season so there’s a good chance he can improve…

  • The Fall

    Oilers fan here.

    Is everyone sure Ortio has to clear waivers? Gregor on ON posted today that Nillson doesn’t have to clear waivers. Doesn’t this apply to Ortio as well?

    “Goalies are different. They are waiver exempt until after their fourth season. I thought Nilsson needed waivers because he played three years of AHL/NHL experience and then played pro last year in the KHL.

    Incorrect. This is his fourth season on an NHL contract, and he has played fewer than 80 games, so he is waiver exempt.”

    Here’s the entire article.

  • Waiving Ramo makes the most sense to me. He’s unlikely to be picked up given his rather inflated contract. And even if he is *shrug* – he’s a just okay NHL goaltender. At 29, he’s not getting better. And you don’t feel bad if Gillies plays over him in the AHL (whereas you worry about the kids battling out for time, even if Ortio makes it through waivers).

    Waive Ramo.

    • everton fc

      Actually, Gilles/Ortio might work if you waive Ramo and Hiller pulls up lame.

      Schnieder can handle Stockton, in the interim.

      Just “speculating”. I wonder, though, if Ramo isn’t snatched up.

      We shall see…

    • Kent I agree with you that Ramo should be the guy sent down but for very different reasons. I believe he would be a much better mentor than Hiller and this would be good for Gilles(whom I worry about because of his concussion). If Hiller plays well and drives his trade value up then great but if he struggle sRamo would likely be in a better place mentally than Hiller.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Hiller is the best of the 3, at the moment, so trade him as he’ll probably get the best return. Ramo and Ortio can share the starting job this season to no ill effect on the teams cup chances.

  • Also, if the Flames could have traded Hiller for some kind of return, they would have done it already.

    Something might change (goalie bombs or gets injured at some point in the season), but right now there’s no market for Hiller at all.

  • CofRed4Life

    It’s hard to play general manager when you let personal feelings get in the way. We like certain players more than others, and would like to see them get the playing time. I like Ramo, but unless BT can find a trade partner to ship Hiller out, waiving Ramo makes the most sense

  • Ramo was re-signed because BT thought they had a deal with San Jose…and that deal fell through at the last minute because the asking price may have been too high – 1.e. a trade within your own division requires a higher return.

    I would say put Hiller on waivers – no one will pick him up at his salary. Ramo is only 29.

    • No, the Sharks deal fell through because Wilson realized he could vastly overpay for a guy who’s been decent in all of 34 career games. Instead of getting a pretty steady veteran on the cheap. Or, for that matter, keeping the steady veteran he already had.

      You know. Because reasons, that’s why.

  • MattyFranchise

    I think waiving Ramo is the best option. His salary will discourage teams from picking him up but it’s also a lot of money to pay a guy to play in the minors.

    Good thing Murray Edwards is filthy f***ing rich.

  • MattyFranchise

    If Hiller was the preferred starter they would never have re-signed Ramo. The transition plan was perfectly in place, Ortio would move into the backup role behind Hiller this season and Ramo would not be re-signed…except that didn’t happen.

    And not only that, if they wanted Ramo to be the backup they wouldn’t have signed him for close to $4M…he was brought in to play most of the games as indicated by the dollars they gave him.

    If Ortio wasn’t in the plans this year for the big club they would have sent him down on Friday before the waiver claim eligibility started. Instead they kept him up, he’s not going anywhere at this point.

    Whether you agree or not, do the math, Hiller is the odd man out and every move/decision made by management to this point represents that…this also makes sense as all major media outlets have already confirmed Calgary has been trying (to no avail) to trade him since last year. The Martin Jones to San Jose move is rumoured to be the deal that screwed the Flames as BT had San Jose set as the destination for Hiller until that move was made.

    • The Fall

      Probably, yes. Perhaps as Kent said they were thinking asset management and re-signed Ramo thinking that if they couldn’t deal one of him or Hiller, then at their respective price tags, they could send one of them down through waivers with a much reduced risk of losing him. With no re-entry waivers, they can bring him back up and plug him into the line up.

      As Kent pointed out, if they lose a goalie on waivers, they are in no worse a position than if they don’t re-sign Ramo. Where I think Kent may be wrong is that for whatever reason, BH seems to like Ramo better and I wouldn’t assume that he is the one that gets sent down. Cue the chant from Floob.

      Unless it’s Ortio, whoever the send down, if they send someone down, is unlikely to get picked up. This can still work out but it requires a goalie somewhere else to stink or get hurt, which one doesn’t want or wish for because that’s just bad Karma.

  • Rockmorton65

    I think Ramo was signed for competition. If they hadn’t, they’d be gifting Ortio,at least, the back up role. “Always earned”, right? Plus, there’s the added pressure of “top 2 guys stick with the big club, odd guy out could get traded/demoted/waived or relegated to press box duty. I wonder if ownership is willing to put Hiller or Ramos salary in Stockton.