The question of what the Flames can do about their goalie situation has come up a lot recently.
Not only has the team suffered through the worst netminding in the NHL so far this year, their options moving forward (at least in the medium term) seem grim. Both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller will come off the books this summer and neither is a good bet to be retained by the team (barring some sort of miracle turn around).
The putative goalies of the future are still question marks. Joni Ortio only got a limited chance to show his wares this year and and unfortunately fell on his face. Jon Gillies’ development has been set back by season ending hip surgery and Mason Mcdonald is years away from pressing for a job.
The organization has to find a bridge goalie (or two) to fill the gap between the end of the season and whenever a youngster manages to ascend to the starter’s position (if ever).
The good news is, there are always goalies available in the NHL. Here are 10 netminders the Flames may target over the next eight months or so.
Career ES SV%: .923
Cost to Acquire: minimal
Contract: $4.15M (until 2016-17)
A former 11th overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Bernier was going to be the goalie of the future for the Kings. And then when Jonathan Quick established himself immovably in the Kings crease, he was going to be the goalie who changed the Leafs fortunes in Toronto. Which he almost did for a brief period.
It’s understandable why everyone had high hopes for Bernier. He was easily one of the best goalies in the QMJHL during his junior tenure. He put up well above average numbers during his 115 games in the AHL as well, including an incredible .936 SV% over his final 58 games for the Manchester Monarchs.
In 2012-13 with the Kings, Bernier managed a .922 save rate in 14 games, which included nine wins. The ensuing off-season he was traded to the Maple Leafs where he became the starter over incumbent James Reimer in 2013-14, again managing an above average SV% of .922. Bernier’s even strength save rate of .933 was elite that season, placing him 4th in the league amongst goalies who played 30 or more games (Quick managed a .929 ES SV% that year). The question became what the Toronto organization was going to do with James Reimer at the time.
Unfortunately for Toronto and Bernier, the wheels started to fall off the bus last year. His ES SV% crashed down to a (still average) .921, but the rate and direction of the decline was sudden and stark.
Starting on March 5th 2014 and stretching until the present, Bernier won just two games (none this season), a stretch of 27 contests. He managed just seven quality starts during that span (26%). His cumulative SV% over that period? Just .898.
It’s a hideous dry spell. The question is now: is Bernier irredeemably broken or can he pull a Dubnyk with a change of scenery?
The brave team willing to take his $4.15M contract off the Maple Leaf’s hands will be able to find out. Bernier has just one more left on his current deal, so the risk is relatively minimal. If he rebounds he can be retained and if he tanks he can be released to free agency.
Career ES SV%: .918
Cost to Acquire: Moderate
Elliott has played in the NHL since 2008, but never really established himself as a starter. He managed to start more than 50 games just once in his NHL career (2009-10 with the Senators) and has settled into a “1B” role with the St. Louis Blues since landing there.
If we look at Elliott’s actual vs expected save rates (via Don’t Tell Me About Heart), we can see he’s mostly been mediocre:
This season, Elliott’s put up a middling .909 SV% in 10 games and is basically a fall back option for the team if the succession of Jake Allen doesn’t work (so far so good…Allen has been the superior of the two).
There isn’t much upside to acquiring Elliott at this point. He’s an established, middle-tier puck stopper over 30 years old. He’s cheap and you know what you get, but he’s not really starter and he’s a going get worse rather than better moving forward.
Career ES SV%: .917
Cost To Acquire: minimal
Once upon a time, Cam Ward was considered one of the elite young goalies in the game. A first round pick by the Hurricanes, Ward stepped into the 2005 playoffs at the tender age of 21 and led Carolina to their one and only Stanley Cup win over the Edmonton Oilers (ha!). Ward was named the Conn Smythe winner that post-season and his ascension to legend status had seemingly begun.
Unfortunately for Ward and Hurricanes, that’s where the fairy tale ended. His follow up effort was terrible (60 games, .897 SV) and he’s more or less bounced between average and below average ever since.
Ward’s one truly outstanding regular season occurred in 2010-11, where he managed a .923 SV% in 74 games (both career highs). His second best season in the last five years was a 68 game, .915 SV% effort the following year. Since then, he can be safely classified as a below average puck stopper. So far this year, he’s managed just a .909 save rate in 20 starts.
At 31 years old, Ward is on the downslope of his career. He’s been a workhorse at times for the Hurricanes and his career features a couple of high peaks, but also a lot of plains and valleys. His terrible contract, which the Carolina organization has been trying to excise for a couple of years, ends this season, so the cap hit and commitment isn’t really of much concern.
Like Elliott, there isn’t much upside to acquiring Ward. He’s no guarantee to be meaningfully better than the other internal options and he’s not much of a stop gap moving forward.
Career ES SV%: .924
Cost To Acquire: Significant
The rumour that the Ducks are shopping Andersen recently surfaced, but I consider it a little suspect. The young Ducks goalie is everything you want in an organizational goaltending asset: he’s huge (6’4″), cheap ($1.3M) and has a great pedigree.
Andersen is a native of Denmark, which is where he began his pro career. At 21-22 years old, he was already a starter boasting a .930 SV% against grown men. He moved on to the Swedish Elite League in 2011, where he put up an eye popping .941 SV% for Frolunda. From there, he moved to the AHL and was one of the better goalies between 2012-2014, posting .929 and .939 SV% seasons, respectively.
At the NHL level, Andersen has managed an above average .924 even strength save percentage over 98 games (or 121 games if you include the playoffs). That’s a relatively small sample size to work with, but his results elsewhere are incredibly encouraging.
If the Ducks really are shopping Andersen, the Flames should be talking to them. The challenges to acquiring him will be significant, however: not only does he have a high value because of all the things I’ve detailed here, but the Ducks are a divisional rival of the Flames. NHL GM’s aren’t very fond of trading players within division, particularly goalies.
Age: 31 years old
Career ES SV%: .925
Cost to Acquire: Moderate
Contract: $5.5M (until 2018-19)
It took a long time for Jimmy Howard to establish himself in Detroit. Chosen in 2003, Howard finally became the Red Wings starter in 2009-10, some seven years after his draft season.
Howard has had some ups and downs during his NHL tenure, but he’s mostly been above average as indicated by a quality .925 career ES SV%. That said, his last couple of seasons have been less impressive, with back-to-back .910 overall SV%. This year, he’s in trouble of being usurped by youngster Petr Mrazek, despite an entirely respectable .918 save rate (Mrazek is at .924 with higher upside).
The problem with Howard is his age (31) and his price tag ($5.5M for 4 for more seasons). Those are big alarm bells for a team like the Flames, who can’t be sure how Howard will look outside of the confines of the Red Wings organization at the age of 32+.
Detroit may still be reluctant to give up Howard currently because he represents a nice insurance policy if Mrazek struggles. That said, they’ll likely want to move on from the incumbent sooner rather than later.
Age: 29 years old
Career ES SV%: .927
Cost to Acquire: Significant
Contract: $5.95M (until 2016-17)
Ben Bishop is another “long soak” prospect who spent years in the AHL before final finding a foothold in Tampa, where he’s been putting up excellent results for the last 3+ years (including a .928 SV% so far this season).
Bishop’s performance as a Lightning has been stellar, but there are some concerns. His body of work for a 29-year old is relatively humble (just 191 regular season games) and he’s going to cost a lot to both acquire and retain.
There’s two reasons Bishop might be available as early as this offseason: firstly, his contract is hefty at about $6M per year and he’s going to cost at least that much to re-sign when he becomes a free agent. The problem for Tampa is they have to retain or replace Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Braydon Coburn inside the next two years. That will get very pricey.
Secondly, the organization likes youngster Andrei Vasilevskiy and thinks he might be an NHL starter very soon.
As result, Tampa could put Bishop up for auction as early as this summer. The problem is, the asking price is going to be high and the Flames are going to have similar cap concerns when his contract comes up for renewal.
The latter may not be an issue if he is treated exclusively as a one year stop-gap measure. That said, spending quality assets for a single season of Ben Bishop probably doesn’t make a lot of sense in that case.
Age: 33 years old
Career ES EV%: .921
Cost to Acquire: Moderate
Contract: $6.5M (until 2018-19)
In 2011-12, journeyman goalie Mike Smith had a whale of a season: a .930 save rate and 38 wins in 67 games for the Coyotes. A guy who had been on the radar for years as a possible quality starter, that outburst finally seemed to be Smith realizing a lifetime of potential.
It’s been all downhill since. Although his big season cemented Smith as the Coyotes starter, his save rate fell back to a more normal career range immediately afterward. Last year, he struggled greatly for most of the season and was one of the reasons the Coyotes finished near the bottom of the league. This year he started out like a house on fire, but has since retreated back to a very humble .904 SV%.
Smith is an NHL starting goaltender, but a middling one who is now 33 years old and making north of $6M per year for the foreseeable future. He’s a bad option and shouldn’t be a consideration for the Flames.
Age: 27 years old
Career ES SV%: .925
Cost to Sign: Around $4M
Current Cap Hit: $2.0M
Remember that season when the Leafs were defying all the analytics and seemed to be the club who had figured out how to “beat corsi”? That season was Reimer’s coming out party as an NHL goalie. He stopped 92.4% of pucks he saw and was a big reason Toronto won a lot of games despite getting outshot most nights.
Of course, the party didn’t last with the whole club’s bubble bursting in spectacular fashion against the Bruins in the first round. Reimer was decent but unremarkable the next season splitting time with Jonathan Bernier, who became the starter for the Leafs until his own recent collapse.
Remier, on the other hand, has seen his stock rise a bit this year in the wake of Bernier’s struggles. He has one of the best save percentages in the NHL at .935, but has only played 16 games so caveat emptor. It will be interesting to see how things end up in Toronto with the trio of Reimer, Bernier and now Garrett Sparks rotating through the works.
Reimer has a very good ES SV% in aggregate over 191 regular season games and is one of the younger guys on this list at 27. If the Leafs don’t manage to retain him, Reimer might be worth a call in the summer.
Age: 27 years old
Career ES SV%: .924
Cost to Sign: Around $2M
Current Cap Hit: $1.25M
The former 2nd round pick had the bad fortune of breaking into the NHL right around the time the Buffalo Sabres decided to get purposely terrible. He struggled to keep his head above water in both Buffalo and Dallas last year, but his career save rate of .924 at ES over 131 games suggests there might be a decent goalie hidden underneath. This year, Enroth has only played five games for the Los Angeles Kings, but has been almost unbeatable in those few contests (.962 SV%).
Enroth has a decent pedigree and isn’t too old, but remains something of an unknown commodity at the NHL level. He’s only ever operated as a back-up in the league and it’s an open question whether he’s ever going to be more than that.
Age: 26 years old
Career SV%: .918
Cost to Sign: Around $1.5M
A star in his native Finland, Antti Raanta put up a pair of incredible seasons in the SM-Liiga before he was signed as a free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks. Raanta alternated between bad (.897) and excellent (.934) in his two seasons for Chicago before being set free in favour of incumbent Corey Crawford and prospect Scott Darling.
Raanta landed in New York where he has helped the Rangers defy gravity with a .945 SV% in 7 appearances. It’s doubtful he remains in that rarified air all year, so it will be instructive to see where he lands come April.
Raanta is tough player to get a handle on because we only have 46 regular season NHL games to judge him by. His first 25 games in the league were terrible (.897 SV% as mentioned), but he’s been crazy good ever since, albeit in roughly the same amount of contests (34). If we limit ourselves to just his last two seasons and not his rookie effort, Raanta has put up a .941 SV% at even strength – a crazy good number.
So is Raanta a potentially elite level goalie who just took some time for find his legs on North American ice? Or is he just an everage goalie who has happened to vacillate between two extremes over a small handful of games?
The good news is, Raanta should be a relatively cheap experiment for anyone who opts to sign him this off-season, assuming he chooses to move on from the Rangers. Although New York may have an appetite to retain Raanta, the player may want find greener pastures since he has almost no chance of unseating King Henrik.
As you can see, there’s a lot of potential options for the Flames if they decide to look for another puck stopper. There’s no obvious or clear paths that stand out as ideal, but at least there’s a few worth considering. My own personal interest list includes Bernier, Reimer, Raanta and Andersen, but your mileage may vary.
Feel free to choose your preferred options or suggest other guys in the comments.