10 Options for the Flames in Net

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. 

Trade Options

Jonathan Bernier

Age: 27

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. 

Brian Elliott

Age: 30 

Career ES SV%: .918

Cost to Acquire: Moderate

Contract: $2.7M

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: 

Elliott

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.

Cam Ward

Age: 31

Career ES SV%: .917

Cost To Acquire: minimal

Contract: $6.3M

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. 

Frederik Andersen

Age: 26

Career ES SV%: .924

Cost To Acquire: Significant

Contract: 1.3M

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. 

Jimmy Howard

Age: 31 years old

Career ES SV%: .925

Cost to Acquire: Moderate

Contract: $5.5M (until 2018-19)

View image | gettyimages.com

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. 

Ben Bishop

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. 

Mike Smith

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. 

Pending UFAs

James Reimer

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.

Jhonas Enroth

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. 

Antti Raanta

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. 

*(All contract info from nhlnumbers.com. Career ES SV% from War on Ice). 

Conclusion

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. 

  • Skuehler

    Good article Ken. With the viable FA options, the Flames should have a bit of leverage pursuing ‘their guy’ via trade if need be. If Ramo and Hiller continue this league-worst performance, there is no risk rolling the dice with one of these options. Shouldn’t be too difficult to land a competent tender for the next couple of seasons. I like the consistency with some of these options. The guys who go hot and cold can upset the momentum of the team.

    Sure would like Ortio to get a decent shot. One could argue he was a significant contributor in getting the Flames to the play offs last year.

    • mattyc

      Is there anything to suggest there are legit differences in consistency between goalies? I’m kinda skeptical — I bet it all comes out in their SV% and we’re left with good goalies and bad goalies (and everything in between).

      • Skuehler

        Just thinking Reimer looks a little more appealing than Bernier, even though their save% is similar. Reimer wouldn’t cost an asset to acquire and has been more consistent.

        • T&A4Flames

          True that Reimer wouldn’t cost anything but a contract in the off-season. But, if Bernier continues to be bad, the cost could just be us dumping a bad contract (Raymond), which in my mind is better than paying nothing. Also, my concern with signing Reimer as a UFA, you likely have to give a few years, and if he doesn’t work out, now we’re stuck. With Bernier, we get a year of trial before a decision to resign.

          Saying that, Reimer on a 2-3 year deal would be ok.

    • Stud Puffin

      One could argue Ortio, but one would be wrong. His save percentage was below 910 last season. He had 1 superb game and two above average and 1 meh and 2 stinkers. You want to gamble on that? Not me. Id rather gamble on Reimer or Elliott. More track record so less unknown.

  • mattyc

    I think that’s my exact list (and order). Funny how quickly people’s opinions of Bernier have soured. He was a pretty well-regarded goalie until a quarter-season has seemingly made him ‘waiver material’.

    On the same token, we have already acquired Jonas Hiller (EVSV% of 0.925 in 336 games since Sept 1, 2009). This is my fav part:

    Goalies with similar numbers (0.923 — 0.925) since Sept 1, 2009:

    – Niemi (0.924)
    – Andersen
    – Harding
    – Bernier
    – Varlamov (0.925)
    – Ryan Miller
    – Dubynk
    – Quick (0.925)

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Interesting how a lot of these discarded/ cheaply available goalies were first or second round picks…….

    VOODOO!!!!!!

    Never waste a first or second round pick on a goalie!

    WW

    • Oil City Roller

      That’s some pretty poor reasoning there, WW.

      1. It’s the proportion of 1st rounders that don’t pan out rather than the sheer numbers that are relevant here. Just cause you can point to a number of guys that didn’t work out doesn’t mean that most first or second rounder goalies didn’t work out.

      2. Draft choices are all lottery tickets. Every player at the draft is a gamble outside of 1-5. If you buy a lottery ticket with a higher cost but potentially higher prize than some other ticket you aren’t “wasting” the ticket when it doesn’t come through.

      3. For all you know all of these guys will light it up sometime in the future. Goalies are voodoo, after all. 😉

      Peace

  • Stud Puffin

    Kent, I wouldn’t rule out Talbot seeing BT was after him last June. He hasn’t flourished in Edmonton(no surprise) which means he could be available for the Flames. I’d be ok with him & Ortio next year or him & a cheaper cost of Ramo.

    • TRAIN#97

      If things keep going like this Talbot may be available. He has played alright but not as expected .Nilsson has been lights out as has Brossoit in Bakersfield.
      Talbot , in my opinion , is still an improvement to what Calgary has right now, and nothing ready for prime time on the farm ( Stockton )

      • mattyc

        I can’t help but think there was a lot of reported interest from the Flames in Talbot last June when Sather was trying to extract a 1st rounder for him. He was either pumping up the price for you guys knowing the Oilers were hot in that negotiation or he really wanted a different tender in a Flames uni than Ramo & Hiller. Personally, I think any of these goalies available have the potential to come in & be lights out or stink it up. Of all the positions I think stats has trouble predicting short term success with would be the goalie position. Longterm, the stats don’t lie. So being that, I doubt the cost of Talbot would be very high to acquire from the Oilers. Probably mid round pick. Otherwise, I think 2.5 mill on a 2-3 year deal gets him July 1. If Ramo is willing to sign for a 2 year deal at 2.5mill, I would have no qualms riding those 2 next year. Bernier is the only goalie scenario that the Flames could dump Hiller back in the deal. Also the chances Oil & Flames doing a deal is pretty remote. I think next year Flames D is going to start way better, especially Gio & Hamilton & which ever goalie above has a decent chance of posting a pretty good year.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I hadn’t given much thought to the number of goalies that will potentially be available. 10 goalies in a league of 30 total goalie positions. Why give up assets to get one? Why waste cap space and term?

    That said, Bernier may provide the best risk to reward. The Flames could conceivably pick him up for a straight swap of either Ramo or Hiller. The Leafs get relief from the next season of Bernier’s contract in exchange for an expiring contract of similar value. The Flames might get a truely great puck stopper that needs to be away from Toronto and a better defensive corp.

    • Burnward

      Agreed. Bernier provides the greatest bang for the buck option there is. Don’t have to give up much t get him, little risk if he flops, great reward f he works out.

      Andersen is the best goalie on that list, but as KW points out, it’s doubtful he gets moved and if he does, Calgary would have to engineer some sort of 3 team swap because of the whole same division thing. I doubt that’s realistic.

      Which brings us back to Bernier. He just makes the most sense.

  • RKD

    I’m not a fan of this transition goalie business, considering how bad our October was. I know Gilles has already been anointed the ‘next one’ but I don’t want any mediocre over the hill on the downside of their career goalies here. Wasn’t that a big problem we had to start the season? We have Hiller for that. We need a legit#1 starter who can not only give us a solid performance but the ability to steal games. I would lean towards someone like Reimer, Raanta, Andersen and Enroth.

  • Greg

    Andersen would cost too much to acquire. I’d prefer Bishop if you can get him from TB at a low price assuming they retain Stamkos and hit a cap crunch.

    If not, then next best bets are Reimer, Bernier (if it costs you next to nothing), or maybe Enroth or Raanta.

    Thing is though, none of those (aside from Bishop) are strong enough bets that you’d be comfortable going into next season with just Ortio as your fall back, so then you are stuck with needing another bet on a backup, which keeps clogging development paths for your younger goalies. That’s why I’d be willing to give up reasonably priced assets for bishop… He locks down that top spot and gives you opportunities to start testing out Your younger goalies in backup roles until you find one that can usurp him. And if none can, he’s probably got 5-8 more good years ahead of him still.

    • Burnward

      Agree with your thinking… I’d rather spend more on 1, then mid money on 1a and 1b. That’s assuming we can get two goalies or think Ortio is part of the solution. Given that we need to rebuild our whole crease I think the safer and easier bet is to find a strong proven legit goalie. Is makes running with Ortio as the backup less risky. Outside Bishop I don’t see any…

      But I don’t see how we can fit Bishops cap hit in… Can we?

      Also, we are official alone in last place in the league. Ugh.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    All I can think about is how long before Gillies is ready to make his move to the NHL? He has the most potential of all of the flames prospect goalies so maybe it’s just a matter of finding a bridge tender while he develops.

    Jonas Hiller could have been that guy if he wasn’t such a piece of sh*t, so who can come in and give the flames a solid few seasons? Perhaps Reimer or Enroth?

      • OKG

        Bernier is only 27, the best on that list by a mile. Throwing out his horrendous 10 games this season he is 75-67-29 playing the majority of his games for a HORRENDOUS bottom feeder Maple Leafs team. sv% of .919 and GAA of 2.55. HE gets sent down and promptly picks up 2 shutouts in 2 games. Anyone done that lately in the AHL?
        So yeah at 27 and those results for a garbage team I would say that there is something in his past to suggest that

        • OKG

          I would not be upset if Flames swung a deal to get Bernier, in fact Hiller & a 4th rounder for Bernier would be an excellent deal. Then either give Ortio a chance at league min. to be the backup with Bernier (only if he rebounds in Stockton next year or find a cheap backup. Either way, we should save 3.0-3.5 mill in cap space that we had allocated in the 3 goalies going into this year. That will probably cover the majority of Monahans raise next year.