When you have a team underperforming as badly as the Flames, it’s only natural to demand changes to personnel. One of the easiest to cry for? Giving kids a chance the veterans seem to be squandering.
The Flames have some of the worst goaltending in the league. Joni Ortio is 55th in even strength save percentage, Karri Ramo 61st, and Jonas Hiller 62nd: this out of a pool of 65. It’s not any better when you include special teams: the Flames goalies all rank from 61-63.
They’ve been awful. Nothing they do seems to have been working. Just when it looks like a guy is having a good game, he ends up giving four or five regardless. So why not give Jon Gillies a chance?
How quickly we throw prospects away
One of the major questions of the summer was what to do with Ortio and his waiver-eligibility status. All around you could find people questioning whether or not it was possible to simply sneak him through before exposing him (no), and whether he would even clear them at all (at this point, probably?).
Now, after two starts, we’re ready to move on to the next guy.
It’s not like Ortio’s starts were any good, but we’re talking about a season in which no Flames goaltender has had a good game, really. It’s not like we have a lot of history to draw on from Ortio, and it’s not like his potential is clearly that of a starter, but after an entire summer of acting like that’s what he was sure to be an NHLer, that’s it?
Ortio has 15 games of previous NHL experience to draw upon; some efforts godly, some poor enough he had to be rescued. All together, though, it’s not a big enough body of work to tell us if he’s an NHL-level goaltender. And if 15 games aren’t enough, then two starts certainly aren’t, either.
Ortio is 24 years old, and further along in his development than Gillies. If he isn’t cutting it now, what makes anybody think a rookie professional will get it done?
The veterans can’t even crack it
Hiller and Ramo are having unprecedented seasons. Hiller has always, always averaged at least a .910 SV% throughout a season; he’s currently sitting at .861% over seven games. Ramo had a .826 SV% over his first two NHL games, but in his rookie year – 22 games – he at least hit .899%. Not great, but not as bad as the .871% he’s currently sporting – and he’s shown genuine improvement since returning to North America from the KHL.
The fact that all three Flames goalies are showing major flaws doesn’t mean all three turned terrible overnight: it means there’s something inherently wrong with how the team, as an entire unit, is performing. Whether it’s bad luck, bad defence, bad systems, bad coaching, or anything else, something is wrong at a team level.
Hiller is a veteran of 385 NHL games, by far the most experienced guy on the Flames’ roster. Ramo has played 126, and it’s still a question of whether or not he’s starting or backup material. And then there’s Ortio, another rookie.
The Flames have three goalies at three different stages of their careers. All three are failing. But in particular, if a guy who has played nearly 400 games at the highest level is failing, what makes anybody think rookie number two is going to fare any better?
Gillies is still finding himself
Gillies has played six professional games, total.
Six. He has two shutouts, and that’s good; he’s also given up 14 goals over the other four games, and that’s bad. That’s… almost on par with how the Flames’ goalies are performing, actually.
His .916 SV% in the AHL is the best percentage of any goalie in the organization, but that’s at a level below the NHL. Ortio had a .926 SV% in his first regular AHL season, and apparently, we’ve already given up on him.
Besides: does the overuse of a struggling Kris Russell go away with Gillies in net? Does Dougie Hamilton instantly become the player he was in Boston again? Does anybody other than Deryk Engelland – Deryk Engelland! – and T.J. Brodie step up with Gillies in net, even though they’ve been unable to with three other goalies?
Why would you take an already inconsistent rookie and throw him behind one of the worst teams at the highest level? Is this season worth trying to save via that sort of desperation move?
Yes, Gillies was incredible at the college level. He was remarkably consistent through all three years of school, capping it off with a national championship before turning professional. It’s entirely possible he’s the Flames’ goalie of the future.
That future is not now. That future is not when the NHL season is just really starting to ramp up. It’s November; every team still has something to play for, and every team is still in a fight to make the playoffs (as unrealistic as it may be for some). It’s not like when teams call up prospects when they’re eliminated in March and April to replace traded away veterans and get them NHL experience.
It’s not Gillies’ time to play in the NHL.
Besides, three goalies didn’t work. Why would four?