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.
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.