Goalie Rotation Has Produced More Questions Than Answers

On October 6, the Calgary Flames raised a few eyebrows around the National Hockey League by announcing three netminders – Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio – as part of their 23-man opening roster.

Here was sit, five games and almost two weeks later, and the goalie situation has arguably become more confusing and muddled. The two established NHL veterans have eaten up all the starts, with 24-year-old Joni Ortio sitting in the press box because he’d surely be claimed if put on waivers.

Let’s examine Calgary’s three-headed goalie monster, shall we?

The Flames arguably kept three goalies after pre-season for a couple reasons. First, they were sure that based on his previous NHL stints – especially last season’s red-hot road trip – Joni Ortio would get claimed off of waivers. I’m not 100% convinced – especially now that the Islanders claimed J.F. Berube from the Kings and Dustin Tokarski went through unscathed – but I can understand why teams would want a young, fairly talented, very cheap option in net.

The other reason is that none of the three goalies really stood out, aside from Hiller putting up slightly better pre-season numbers than the other two. Nobody crapped the bed, and nobody went on an absolute tear, so I imagine it was tough for management to really have passionate feelings for two of the three men.

And here we are now, and the two guys that the Flames would hope to move one of have both played fairly poorly, while the younger guy hasn’t even dressed.

JONAS HILLER

Hiller started in Vancouver, at home against St. Louis and at home against Edmonton. He’s given up 10 goals over those three starts. He’s played 181 minutes and gone 1-2-0 with a 3.64 goals against average and a .872 save percentage. His even-strength save percentage is .886, which is amongst the lowest in the NHL.

So far, Hiller has lived up (down) to his reputation: he’s steady, he’s reliable, but he won’t steal games. He made an absolutely stunning save on Connor McDavid last game. He’s occasionally made nice saves, but typically shooters that get good chances on him will score if they get them often enough. Case in point: the game in Vancouver – Bo Horvat got several chances on a power-play to beat Hiller over the shoulder stick-side (and did), while Jared McCann got a great unimpeded look that he used to beat Hiller top-shelf.

Compared to Ramo, his save percentages are better at high and low danger scoring chances, but lower at medium-danger chances.

KARRI RAMO

Ramo started the home-opener against Vancouver and the game in Winnipeg. He’s allowed seven goals through those two starts – including that absolute stinker in Winnipeg with 88 seconds left that cost them the game.

Ramo’s played 119 minutes and gone 0-2-0 with a 3.52 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. His even-strength save percentage is .883, slightly worse than Hiller’s, and he’s better at medium-danger shots than Hiller is but worse at high and low danger shots.

Ramo plays a flashy, battling style. He often pulls himself out of position by over-committing to shots, but is agile enough to compensate for that – most of the time – with sick sliding saves. He’s more likely than Hiller to make highlight-reel grabs, but also more likely to completely biff on a chance and give up “soft” goals – ala the Winnipeg game.

Both Hiller and Ramo are what they are at this point. They’re well-established, and probably won’t improve (or regress) much. And, to be fair, the team’s defense has been porous enough that you cannot put all of the blame for their shoddy numbers either on the goalies’ shoulders.

JONI ORTIO

Ortio hasn’t even dressed for a game as back-up yet. I don’t understand why, particularly given that the Flames know much less about Ortio in game-action than they do about the other two. And it begs the question: WHAT WAS THE POINT OF KEEPING HIM UP IF HE WAS NEVER GOING TO PLAY ANYWAY? He’s doing the club as much good sitting in the press box during games as he would playing on another team (if claimed on waivers) or playing in Stockton (if he cleared). The Flames are the proverbial Scrooge McDuck in this situation; they’ve gone to all kinds of trouble to keep what they feel is a precious commodity in Joni Ortio with the organization, but they won’t expend any of that commodity to help them win any games.

PLAY ORTIO OR WAIVE HIM

Neither Hiller or Ramo are going to be players that any other team trades for, at least right now. If anything, the goalie rotation has prevented either guy (or Ortio) from finding a rhythm and actually developing some value in the trade market. So now the Flames have two cold goalies and a guy that’s sat upstairs for weeks, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to lose an asset for next-to-nothing. (Aside: Remember, they grabbed Hiller off the free agent market and let Ramo go to free agency last summer, so functionally they expended nothing to acquire either of them.)

It’s pointless to keep Ortio up if he’s not going to play. it’s been two weeks. The Flames are struggling. And tying up a roster spot on a third goalie prevents Bob Hartley from using the healthy-scratch hammer to motivate his other players. They need to either throw Ortio into the fray and allow him to help them win games, or throw him on waivers and put him somewhere – whether it’s Stockton or another NHL club.

This three-headed monster has to die.

  • Derzie

    Can anyone recall last time carrying 3 goalies was a recipe for a successful season? I can’t. Jonas, “soft goal a game” Hiller is my choice for wavers.

  • Brent G.

    I have been listening to the Fan 960 discuss this issue all afternoon. While it is something that will need to be addressed, it isn’t their biggest issue presently.

    They need to focus on improving their shot differential, and secondary scoring. It is frustrating to watch how many grade A chances are passed up because the shooter can’t even hit the net.

    The defence will sort itself out when Brodie comes back and everyone settles in.

  • Derzie

    This is a Treliving slip up and a Hartley rebuttal. Signing Ramo only made sense if there was a plan/option to move Hiller. It must have fell through. Ortio would likely get claimed on waivers so Brad chose to wait it out (injuries, leaky goalies, etc.) Problem is, it is our goalies who are leaky. Plan backfired. Now, the Flames backs are to the wall, Bob is focusing on winning now so he is playing the veterans, for better or worse. Treliving needs to waive Ramo today. Will give Hiller a boost and will get Ortio in uniform at least.

    • Skele

      My only argument to that is if you keep Ortio, then we are definitely in the goalie market next year because I don’t think Hiller & coach are totally on the same page. So I see Hiller gone regardless. If we stick with Ramo & he he gets better & better as the year progresses, I see Flames being able to resign Ramo for another 2 year stint for reasonable dollars.

      So as much as I think we have a better chance getting back into the win column quicker with Hiller, the performance of this team until now tells me to look future yet & waive Hiller instead. But, I would approach NewJersey, Buffalo, Islanders, any team even remotely in need of a goalie & offer to eat 1/2 of Hiller’s salary if they send back a 2nd. Even the Canuckle heads are in need of a goalie with Markstrom down.

  • Skele

    Best case scenario is one where one of Hiller or Ramo either steals a game or craps the bed. Alternate games until one of these two situations happens. Then put the lesser on waivers and send him down. Nobody’s gonna claim either at this point. Maybe that motivates the one staying and maybe Ortio gets into a few games and starts to shine.Someone mentioned what I think is the bigger problem. This tying up a roster spot precludes Hartley from healthy scratching anyone who needs to get their head right. And there are a few of those…

  • #97TRAIN

    It doesn’t seem like anyone wants to do a deal for a goalie.pick who you think your two goalies are and send the other to the minors. If someone picks him up then so be it.
    If you try and trade from a point of weakness you’re not going to get much in return anyways.
    Carrying three goalies doesn’t do the goalies any good and can be a distraction. It also takes up a roster spot which lessens your ability to make roster moves.

  • Skuehler

    Cant help but think if we got a 2nd for Berra, who didnt get a win in like 21 starts, surely there must be value in Ramo or Hiller. Also, why not at least put ortio in as the back-up? Let the guy who plays a stinker sit in the preas box and put the starter on notice that there ia a rookie knipping at his heels.

    This tandem of Ramo and Hiller isnt motivating either of them. Their mediocrity is ensuring both their job security, abd getting paid hansomly for it. Even having Ortio up is putting more pressure on the org than it is on the two vets. No way does Hiller play back up in Stockton and he knows it. Ramo making NHL money to play temporarily in the A isnt really a huge problem for him. The only one with some incentive to bring it is Ortio but he is blocked by non hockey issues.

    Basically the gm and coach are not doing their job in this instance. BT should not have let it get to this point and coach should pick a #1 and number #2. If Ortio is up, he needs to be the number 2.

    Loosing either of the 3 for no return is poor assett management. Camalleri, Byron, and now maybe a 1B goalie too.

    • TX Flame

      A 1B goalie? Who would that be? Right now Ramo and Hiller are playing like a 2A and a 2B at best! Send one of them down and give Ortio some starts. If Gillies plays better than the veteran, then make the vet be the backup in the A, no matter what we’re paying him. I don’t care about that. “Always earned, never given,” remember?

  • TX Flame

    Don’t understand all this talk about having three goaltenders. The reality is Calgary has zero NHL caliber goaltenders. A big reason for that is a front office that is one of the worst in sports history.

      • Skuehler

        If you are of the opinion that Calgary does have an NHL caliber goaltender, plus you believe the Flames have a decent front office, then we just have a difference of opinion – No? (redacted- c’mon, was this comment really necessary?)

        • Skuehler

          Adorable, you are trying so hard.

          Good job volunteer moderators.. staying vigilant I see!

          p.s. Save that ointment for your moms backside. Now go back to Shelbyville.

          Mod edit: The only comment here we could/should have edited/removed was yours calling Ducks4-1 an idiot. That’s a personal attack. Ducks posted an opinion, you attacked them.

          /Tom

          • Tomas Oppolzer

            That was clearly a reaction to you calling them an idiot. You’re comment was unnesscary. Ducks was defending themselves and their opinion. That being said, the ointment thing probably was needed.

  • Skuehler

    While it’s all supposition, it seems increasingly clear that Ramo was signed only because Bob liked him. What I don’t get is why they gave him 3.8M. It’s also clear that Hartley only cares about winning the game in front of him and will always give the maximum benefit of the doubt to his veterans before going with a rookie. That said, I agree with Duhatschek, wait for the big road trip before starting Ortio. If the two vets are still faltering at that time then you really have no choice but to try something new and then you put one or both of the vets on waivers and hope one is claimed.

    Year three of a rebuild, fans and media need to be patient. Unfortunately, last year’s success brought unrealistic expectations, including from the coach. Lots more work to be done.