It’s not the right time to bring up Jon Gillies

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?

Several reasons.

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?

  • Christian Roatis

    The FN mod is sassy this morning 😀

    FN Mod – It’s report card time…

    On the Gillies note, Ari nailed it. He’s played 6 pro games and he’s 2-4. The Jets and Ducks have goaltenders by the names of Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson respectively, who are arguably better goaltenders (and maybe prospects, too) than Jon Gillies right now, currently playing in the AHL. Point is, AHL seasoning is extremely important to even the most elite goaltending prospects, and Gillies has barely settled into Stockton. Give him time.

  • ClayBort

    Spot on Ari,

    We need to wait for Gillies to demonstrate consistency in the AHL. Ortio’s inconsistency in the AHL was my reasoning for not wanting to anoint him the starter or backup this season prior to a really strong stretch of games to start the year. The goalies that make the jump and succeed usually have demonstrated sustained success at the AHL level. There is no rush. The problems with this team are not Jon Gillies’ to bare.

  • BurningSensation

    Also, totally agree that this is not Gillie’s time.

    Trade Russell, bench Smid, fire Engelland into the sun.

    Give the three-headed monster a shot till end of the season (we aren’t winning anything this year anyway) and wait for the law of averages to pick their numbers back up.

    • Christian Roatis

      Engelland has not been bad, and this season has actually been one of the Flames better d-men.

      I know thats not saying much considering the tire fire that has been the flames D this season, but don’t continue to judge a player based on preconceived notions, he has been without-a-doubt good this season in a bottom pairing role.

      • BurningSensation

        Engelland is empircally bad, and has a contract that is atrocious.

        Perfect time to trade him is while his value is the highest it will ever be (apparently decent bottom pairing defenseman).

        • OKG

          Empirically bad?

          5 vs 5 stats:

          151:01 TOI

          53.9% Corsi For

          41.7% Offensive Zone Start

          1.99 Goals against/60

          I am one of Engelland’s bigger critics but he’s been nothing short of excellent this year. Maybe that’s because Kulak and then Hamilton have carried him on the bottom pairing, but these are all competent statistics any way you look at them.

          He hasn’t been making god-awful stretch passes into peoples’ skates like Russell, he hasn’t been icing the puck every time he sees it like we expect him too – he’s actually making a decent breakout pass and offensively he’s much more comfortable with what Hartley wants. He’s been a calming force for the 21 and 22 year old defensemen he’s been paired with.

          As for the contract? I’m not a fan but if he keeps playing like this it’s fair money. I hated him last year for the record, especially when he was paired with Smid but also when he was bumped up to top 4 duty.

    • Cfan in Vic

      NOBODY is taking Engelland. Ever.

      Smid was alright in the couple games he’s played. He was even moving OK out there (when has he ever been semi-mobile). I say he gets some slack this season.

      Bench Russel and only dress Engs when you have to. Make room for some young auditions.

      Just so we’re on the same page, I’ve never been a Smid or Engelland fan, but let’s be realistic here.

      • BurningSensation

        keep in mind that as the season goes on Engelland’s contract will look better, and at the trade deadline with only one year left to run, he might even look like a real depth option for a team (cough* Pittsburgh* cough). I hold out hope he might be tradeable, but in truth, just want him to not be sucking up a roster spot that might go to a Kulak, or other prospect.

        You can’t bench Russell given his contract expires at the end of the year and he might walk for no return. He’s been soooo bad I actually think he might improve if we confined him to the bottom pairing, but with other teams struggling on defense, now is the right time to trade him while the memory of his league leading shot block total is fresh in GMS minds (let Torts in Columbus have him I say).

        Smid is not ‘alright’. He’s a shadow of the guy he was supposed to be when we traded for him (in what was a very bad trade), and his value is extremely low. I see no real hope he recovers any of the below average footstpeed he used to have.

        • piscera.infada

          Before you continue to spew more drivel about how brutal Engelland is, go read the post made by OKG just now. I was about to type out a similar response, but saw OKG had beaten me to it. You can’t argue with the facts, and the facts show that engelland has been one of the flames best defenders so far this year.

  • BurningSensation

    I’m sure gilles will get his chance at the end of the year 10 games or so left.

    Now is the time to make the best out of a bad situation, move out salary set up our cap for years to come acquire another high draft pick this year and some close to ready prospects .
    See what some players in our system can do move out the ones we have decided are not in our future.

  • Christian Roatis

    All we need to do is play Ortio and ride him out! Look at Jimmy Howard, when he was a rookie, I thought WTF but now he is the mAn! Gotta ride these young guys out and let them play a string and find their game! Boooo on this article!!

    • Christian Roatis

      Why are you booing the article when it’s clearly in favour of giving Ortio more playing time and not giving up on him?

      Can you read or do you just start typing without thinking?

    • OKG

      What? That was me, and no, the idea of Gillies coming up would be a disaster, we’ve already seen reality hit hard as he made the jump from the NCAA to the AHL. He would get Jacob Markstrom’d if he was thrown into the NHL fire right now.

      On the other hand with Jankowski’s skillset, IQ, attention to detail in all three zones, and size, he can and should jump into the NHL. He’s virtually NHL-ready right now, and when we actually sign him after his senior year ends, he’ll pretty much be over-ripe. Could some time in the AHL help his game? Maybe so, especially if we want him to really gain confidence in his offensive skills within Hartley’s system. The Red Wings treatment doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a crucial stage in his development.

      2+ years in the AHL are a crucial stage in Gillies’ development. It might be 4+ years, he’s waiver-eligible in 2019-20 and ideally Ortio is an NHL starter by that point where we can ween Gillies in as a true backup.

      Jankowski in the top 6 is less ridiculous than Bennett being our #1 center, considering Jankowski has actually played center for a coach with NHL-esque attention to detail. Bennett is essentially learning the position on the fly on the other hand. Bennett is a bit more talented than Jankowski, but he’s not half as polished right now. And I fully believe Bennett should be our #1 Center by the end of the year. Monahan or Jankowski, whoever is better defensively should be our #2 center while the other should be on the same line because they are two players who could have amazing chemistry on the cycle game with their blend of hockey sense, puck-skills, passing, shooting, size, and skating. From what I’ve seen, Jankowski has a better feel for the position defensively, Monahan a better offensive scorer.

  • cberg

    We still have the 3-headed goalie monster, albeit with one injured for a few games. Need to deal with that. We’re losing anyways, so how about trying something different and riding one goalie for a few games to see if they can get their stuff together? One and done isn’t working so why not?

  • JMK

    Has anyone seen the mouth watering prospect of a Gaudreau-Monahan-Bennett line tonight??

    Not to mention the 2nd line of Hudler-Backlund-Frolik

    Damn I even quite like the third line of Colbourne-Stajan-Jones

    Hamilton promoted to 2nd pairing too but unfortunately alongside Russell. If Russell has another bad game he has to be dropped no question!

    • OKG

      Can we please put “Bennett on the wing!!1!” to bed right now? Bennett is a better center than winger. The Flames are a better team when Bennett plays center.

      I’ve been saying it for about eight months, and I’ll say it again. There’s literally no reason to move Bennett to the wing.

      This is a bad idea.

      • OKG

        Bennett was likely moved back to wing because of his defensive breakdown against the Avs that led to the GWG.

        Reality is he’s a 19 year old who belongs at center, but the team doesn’t have the margin for error right now to be playing around with a 19 year old at center. Not until they string together some wins and start feeling better about themselves.

        He’s just not polished enough right now, even though he definitely looks better when he’s playing center ice.

        I want Bennett to be our #1C by season’s end. He has that talent and upside to be an impact centerman. But he’s also a 19 year old straight out of a Junior team whose coaching was, well, laughable. As I said in the comment you said is lunacy, he’s a kid who’s effectively learning to play center (at a pro level) on the fly. He’s the genius type that will figure it out, but he’s not starting from a strong base.

        • OKG

          Monahan makes more mistakes than Bennett does. Maybe he should be moved to the wing too.

          Maybe everyone should be moved to the wing. Have Colborne, Jones, Jooris, and Grant as the centers.

          The Flames are a better team when Bennett plays center. Almost invariably.

          • OKG

            The Flames are a better team when Bennett is in the Top 6. Whether he’s playing center or wing matters in the long term view (he should play center.) but the team needs some confidence right now without relegating the kid to the third line.

            P.S. I get trashed heavily whenever I say it, but I do think Monahan’s eventual position is wing, like our version of Patrick Sharp. No shame in that.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      GREAT NEWS! Mony has been great in past with Johnny and Johnny makes Bennett better, so great first line! And YAAAH, it’s time to put Backlund up where he belongs on 2nd or 3rd line.

  • OKG

    Jankowski in the top 6 is less ridiculous than Bennett being our #1 center, considering Jankowski has actually played center for a coach with NHL-esque attention to detail. Bennett is essentially learning the position on the fly on the other hand. Bennett is a bit more talented than Jankowski, but he’s not half as polished right now.

    I’m sorry but what? This entire passage borders on lunacy.

  • MonsterPod

    Well, I’ll play counterpoint here since no one else will.

    I don’t get the argument of how playing a prospect for a few games will ruin his confidence forever. Players are not — or at least should not — be so fragile that if they screw up, they’re then somehow psychologically trashed.

    If Hiller and Ramo were both hurt, then Gillies would likely be called up to backup Ortio. Let’s pretend Ortio gets lit up half way through a game. Guess what? In goes Gillies and whatever happens happens. Oh no, he’s playing a game in the NHL and he’s too young, he’s not ready, he’s going to fall apart.

    The argument that it will, without a doubt, spoil/ruin/destroy/mutilate his mind for the rest of his life is hogwash.