5 things: Calgary’s long-term ideas for the net

1. What’s the plan?

Earlier this week there were three stories in a row here on Flames Nation, after Joni Ortio was put on waivers, entitled, “Stockton’s goalie situation is really unclear,” “Jonio Ortio clears waivers, likely to be assigned to Stockton Heat,” and finally, “What were the Flames thinking with three goalies?”

The latter of these was something fans should have been saying all year, because it was Calgary burning a roster spot on Ortio, who ended up getting into a whopping 140 minutes of action over four games, and being really bad (.868). There was no need for it, and it highlighted an area of organizational concern that’s been lingering for at least the last several years.

Since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff — and good lord, that was already three years ago! — the Flames have used five goalies, and the most tenured is Karri Ramo. Jonas Hiller has been used more often, obviously, because of the last two seasons, and Ortio has been up and mostly down the entire time. Shout out, also, to Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald, from way back in the Bad Old Days.

And I think that’s telling. Perhaps the greatest goalie in franchise history retires, and sure you’re suddenly going to look around like, “Hmm, now what?” Even if he was a hundred years old and you for sure saw his retirement coming — some might have even welcomed it by the end — there’s likely to be some, shall we say, identity crisis.

But what’s happened here over the last three years is borderline inexcusable, because this has been some top-notch desert wandering from all three of the team’s recent regimes (Feaster, Burke, and now Treliving), and there’s no end in sight.

2. A history lesson

So after Kiprusoff retires, in comes Ramo. And for all the pronouncements early on and even now, that he’s Actually Good despite what the numbers in Tampa says, the 87 games of work in Calgary we’ve seen from him at this point indicate that he is in fact a little worse than the NHL average goalie, even leaving this season’s atrocious performance aside. Not sure why you keep bringing him back, but okay.

Maybe, maaaaybe, you say he’s a stop-gap until the organization can get something better put into place. After all, it’s not like the Flames were going to be actually competitive during the time he was being used, and if he costs you a few games here and there, then so be it. Whatever.

But then the team just brings in another short-term solution in Jonas Hiller, who’s also just about NHL average (but trending down the previous few years), and you start to wonder what the solution is both short- and long-term. Because now the Flames have two goalies under NHL contract, and we’ve been told for some time that Ortio is the goalie of the future despite some up-and-down work in the lower leagues.

Obviously the Hiller signing was something of an inexplicable “win now” move, because you don’t sign guys to make you better while you’re rebuilding. Or at least, you shouldn’t. And the Flames kinda-sorta did “win now” in that they made the playoffs last year as neither Hiller nor Ortio did anything but not-cost the team points. But if that works, then that works.

3. However

What it doesn’t do, though, is address the organization’s long-term needs. How long do you expect Hiller to be around after this year? Zero seasons? He might even get traded before this one’s over. As for Ramo, a 29-year-old with 135 games of .904 hockey at the NHL level in his career, that’s also not someone you look to keep around.

So the focus shifts to Ortio as one of the potential long-term solutions. The others are obviously Jon Gillies, currently expected to miss a boatload of time in his first pro season, and Mason McDonald. Out of curiosity I also checked Hockey’s Future to see what other goaltending prospects the team had that I may have been forgetting, and they have this guy listed as well. With all due respect to Nick Schneider, who was the ninth-ranked North American goalie in last year’s draft but went unpicked, he’s a sub-.900 goalie in the WHL and it’s pretty difficult to think he’s part of any long-term plans. And if he is, good lord.

4. Two guns?

So realistically, the future of this franchise’s crease rests with one of Ortio, McDonald, and Gillies.

And honestly at some point you wonder when Ortio is no longer a viable candidate for the job. The Flames just risked putting through waivers because of how poorly they handled things to start the season, and no one claimed him, presumably because he’s been awful. But it happens quite often that even young players who have some amount of shine on them but have played poorly are scooped up by teams looking to make a reclamation project work. You wonder, then, how much the rest of the league thinks of Ortio’s ceiling as a goalie. The waiver move was a necessity, but it also shows that Calgary wouldn’t have been too gutted to lose him.

I think we can therefore safely eliminate Ortio as part of the team’s longer-term plans. He might stick around the organization for another few years, but the odds of his being an NHL starter as more than a Ramo-esque stopgap are, at this point, slim.

Which leaves you Gillies and McDonald. The former has a resume at the NCAA level that speaks for itself. He was the elite of elite goalies all three years at Providence College (career .930 in a league where .920 is average), and that carried over to the AHL level as well, because he has a .920 save percentage in his first seven appearances. But he’s out long-term this season, and it’s not the first time he’s missed games due to injury. That’s an impediment to development, certainly, but it might also give you pause when it comes to his long-term viability.

There are plenty of ultra-talented players who just can’t stay healthy, and I’m not saying he’s one of them or that the Flames should give up on him ever contributing at the NHL level, but it’s just another area of concern for an organization already swimming in them.

Then there’s McDonald. Obviously at the major junior level, your performance is going to be heavily dependent upon the quality of the team in front of young, but McDonald was .906 last season and .893 this year in what is admittedly a high-scoring league. And he’s only 19. And he’s a second-round pick. There’s a lot to theoretically like here, but the numbers are a little worrisome when a guy picked that high is coming in well outside the top goalies in the Q. Everything you see about him — it’s not easy to watch QMJHL games in the US so I’m kinda just looking around at other people’s observations — indicate that he’s a solid enough goaltender at the major junior level, but how often do “solid” guys at that level become “reasonable long-term solutions” at the next?

Again, nothing to really freak out about, but it’s a worry.

5. Other options

Of course, if things really go sideways with any of these options, Treliving could also just go out and make a trade for someone, or sign a free agent goalie, if he really wants to prop things up. It’s not the safest plan to count on someone else helping you, and most actual good goalies aren’t going to just become available.

But you never know, I guess. And “You never know” seems to have been the organization’s philosophy as it relates to goaltending for a few years now anyway.

  • BurningSensation

    Goalies are voodoo, and often develop late (see: Craig Anderson, Tim Thomas, etc.), so simply having a lot of bullets to fire is probably not a bad solution.

    Gillies still strikes me as the goaltender of the future (prototype size, fantastic college numbers, etc.), but it could still be Ortio, and MacDonald also has a fascinating toolkit.

    Let’s also remember that solid #1s (Mike Smith, etc.) can often be signed or traded for in the offseason at little cost.

    Because goalies are voodoo.

    • BurningSensation

      I agree. I just checked, and Kiprusoff had a .879 save percentage with San Jose prior to being traded to Calgary. He was also 27. Ortio’s numbers were pretty good in the AHL last year and the year before. Not saying he’s going to be the next Kipper, but I think he just really needs to play a lot, and mature before Calgary will know what they have.

  • Bobloblaw

    I have a feeling were gonna struggle to find a good goalie for years to come. How many good goalies did we have before kipper came here? Mike Vernon, who else was any good. pretty long gap between solid goalies. I remember liking Fred Brathwaite, and Rick Tabaracci, but I was little kid than and don’t know if they were actually any good. When I first started watching the flames it was Trevor Kidd and Dwayne Roloson, which were the beginning of some dark years as a flames fan.

  • Burnward

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you hit the nail on the head on this one Ryan. Poor choices when it comes to the goaltending situation here for a while now. The one thing I disagree about is giving up on the future goalies in the organization. Most goaltenders take a while to develop, usually not NHL ready until after their 25th birthday, sometimes even closer to 30. This gives our goaltending plenty of time to develop, especially MacDonald. I wouldn’t be too worried yet about the long term, but currently the goaltending situation is pretty dire. But the way you talk about developing winning teams Ryan, this is actually a good thing for now, is it not? Finishing lower for another year while we have some aging contracts to get rid of, and then start improving as our real depth gets developed?

  • BurningSensation

    Think you’ve got to look at Freddy Andersen, he’s shown he can be a good goalie behind a strong team. Not going to cost you an arm and a leg and doesn’t seem to really be the future with Gibson biting at his heels.

  • BurningSensation

    I remember management getting slammed on this site when they drafted McDonald, and a few people saying “they better not draft another goalie this year”. I don’t know why a team wouldn’t use a pick on a goalie every year. It’s normally a crap-shoot, so why not increase your chances. I’m not saying they should drop a 1st or 2nd round pick on one. We’ve seen how a good goalie can make a bad better(and visa versa).

    • I’m not saying they should drop a 1st or 2nd round pick on one.

      They picked MacDonald in the 2nd round. Also frustrating for me, they took him ahead of Thatcher Demko, who strikes me as a slightly better bet.

  • @ Lambert

    I think you may miss the mark on Ortio. Obviously his AHL numbers dont project as an NHL starter but Goalies do take longer to develop. Its also harder for Goalies to get REAL opportunities. Look at the age Kipper was at when he finally won an NHL gig in CGY. He made it becausr he had a real opportunity. Giving Ortio 2 starts and then 2 reliefs when the team is playing terrible defensively is not a Real opportunity.

    Do I think Ortio is a future starter… not really but hey.. maybe… he is still young enough he is not ruined.

    As for not being claimed off waivers… it is difficult for teams to do that without disrupting their own prospects development… so not a big deal… although I agree with you on the 3 goalie

  • Burnward

    I’m thinking a trade for Varlamov or Bishop could really help Calgary redefine their pipeline. I know Colorado is starved for defense and I also think Joe Sakic is not the most astute GM, I would try to swing Hiller, Russell and a pick for Varly.

    Tampa needs to make room for Stamkos, Bishop is the only one without a NMC and they have a young guy coming up. Maybe they’d be interested in Hiller as a stopgap and then some picks or prospects.

    As for cap hit, 5-6M is what you need to set aside for a legit starter in this league. Also, really look at a goalies age and last 2-3 years when judging not games 1-20 this year.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Management has done their work in populating the team with tending prospects.

    Mason Macdonald and John Gillies are ranked #5 and #8 respectively for players that have played less than 10 games at the NHL level. (take hockey writers for example).

    http://thehockeywriters.com/hockeys-next-ones-top-30-nhl-goalie-prospects/

    In terms of the timeline of the rebuild, Mason or John should come along right when we need them. The time to panic is not right now. Once they have good assessments on Gilles and Macdonald at the AHL / NHL levels they will know a bit more.

    Having Ortio’s AHL pedigree is a barrier for the kids and will make them work harder. That said, Ortio played in front of a bunch of NHL kids that thought they didn’t have to work. Affected him his status more than the players and they owe him one. As such he’s still a prospect of note.

    Time to chill. They have options and could very well flip a wideman, hudler, russell for a goalie prospect if things are tepid, but they are not quite yet.

    All is well in Flames land. Time is on our sides.

  • Burnward

    I don’t think the 4 games we saw of Ortio this year are indicative of his future potential. That was a stretch where both the Flames’ other two goalie veterans also had lousy performances, which suggests it was a defense problem, rather than a goalie problem. As the Flames’ defense has improved, so has their goalie performance of late.

    Ortio stole the show last year when he came in and won like 5 of 6. So I think he deserves another chance.

    Getting more playing time in the AHL right now is exactly what he needs.

    Hopefully the next time he’s called up will be under better circumstances and we can then see what he’s really capable of.

  • BurningSensation

    Beat it Lambert.

    Less than 15 comments at the time of posting this. Only thing worth coming to see when Lambert writes anything are the posts in the comments section by Flames Nation legend “Lambert’s Dad”.

    No sign of Lambert’s Dad tonight (i.e. no entertainment value here), no one bothers to even comment on anything, they could care less.

    ———FN MODERATOR: Pumping your own tires again. I’ll caution you now. No personal attacks keep it clean.

  • RKD

    Feaster was fooled by Ramo’s performance in the KHL, he was a poor goalie his first go round in Tampa Bay, even if he was behind bad teams. His play in the KHL was sterling but that didn’t mean he was going to be a world beater in the NHL. The reality is that Ramo struggles with consistency. Treliving should have worked harder to find a legitimate #1 starter. Even though Hiller and Ramo got us through last season they had enough bumps in the road to indicate this could be an issue. They should have planned much better for Kipper’s departure but they didn’t.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Why are articles on goalies so hyperbolic?

    “another short-term solution in Jonas Hiller, who’s also just about NHL average (but trending down the previous few years),”

    correct me if I’m wrong but Jonas Hiller is a .927evsv% goalie (career) and posted a .927evsv% last year.

    Can all this individuals who keep writing “league average” defend that assessment.

    “Obviously the Hiller signing was something of an inexplicable “win now” move, because you don’t sign guys to make you better while you’re rebuilding. Or at least, you shouldn’t.”

    Is this obvious? I thought it was obvious that Hiller could be signed as a two-year source of stable .927evsv% goaltending, while a young team was developing. And that like any goalie in the league, especially on a rebuilding team, he would have good games and bad games, but as he has his whole career, he would be a .925-.930evsv% goalie overall.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Lambert does 5 things:

      1) Hyperbole

      2) “Everything the Flames have ever done, and ever will do, is stupid. Including this stuff I just made up. They are doomed.”

      3) Lecture about how tanking is the most important thing in sports, and the NHL should just be 2 contenders, with 28 other teams trying to score on their own nets as fast as possible.

      4) Arrogance

      5) Writing “5-Things” articles, which basically just re-hash items 1 through 4, over and over again.

  • BurningSensation

    How does Ortio go from superstar to clown car in a handful of NHL games? Last night he got pulled in Stockton in the first. Last year nothing phased him and this year he jumps at his shadow? First he has to play but second you wonder at the support and goalie coach. Is Sigalet any good?