With the trade deadline three weeks away, the Calgary Flames face four decisions with pending unrestricted free agent players. In each situation, the Flames need to decide whether to make a move prior to the deadline or to keep the player beyond February 29th with the eye to potentially re-signing him. Each case is different which is why we’ll take a look at all four players.
We’ll start with Karri Ramo, because I think he presents the most interesting case. There are compelling cases on each side, so what makes the most sense for Ramo’s future?
Risk: Ramo has been Calgary’s best goaltender this year, and it’s not even a debate. As such, trading him will leave the team with a rather large hole to fill in a critical position. The biggest risk with trading Ramo is the likely steep drop off we’ll see between the pipes. Jonas Hiller looks like his time as a capable everyday starter is behind him. Joni Ortio and Kevin Poulin are interesting options in Stockton, but neither have exhibited traits that suggest being a full time number one is in the cards. Both have shown flashes at different times in their career, but to count on either one for significant NHL minutes is a rather risky proposition.
Trading Ramo also leaves the Flames with a question mark for next season. Who the heck is going to give them number one minutes next year? There are potential options for Calgary in free agency and via the trade market, but until they’re consummated, they remain only that: potential. Personally it’s a risk I’d be willing to take in the right circumstance, but it is still a gamble.
Reward: I honestly believe Ramo is one of Calgary’s top trade pieces, if not their most attractive one. With the way Ramo has played over the last two plus months, I think a number of teams would be interested in his services.
Since December 1st, Ramo has given the Flames number one quality goaltending. He’s gone 11-10-1 in that span with a 0.921 save percentage and a 0.925 mark at even strength. That’s the longest he’s ever gone in his NHL career playing at that level. In the right circumstance I’m very confident Ramo could find a home, and bring back a solid return, around the deadline.
It’s important to stress the right circumstance, though. I don’t think Ramo would be sought after as a number one. Instead, I think his best fit is with a playoff team looking for insurance and an upgrade at backup behind their established starter. Teams want to manage their number one’s minutes down the stretch to keep them as fresh as possible for the postseason. Ramo could absolutely help a team do that.
Think about it for a second. If a team has, say, 19 games remaining after the deadline, they might want to give Ramo in the neighborhood of nine starts. Ramo could give his new team decent goaltending and a chance to win as they jockey for seeding. More importantly, though, that team’s number one could be managed in a more ideal manner. Ramo also comes on an expiring contract which means no further obligation from the team acquiring him. All in all, I think he would be attractive and a second round pick (or perhaps more) isn’t out of the question.
Also, and in direct relation to the first part of the risk section here, is it really an awful thing if the team does have a drop off in net? Calgary has fleeting playoff chances at the very best, while the more realistic chance is there for a really nice draft selection. Dealing Ramo helps in potentially two ways: it gets the team an asset and it makes the team weaker in the immediacy. That’s the only practical way the theory of “tanking” makes any sense. The short term pain of a bad end to the season could easily be offset by the long term gain of another high end prospect.
Risk: Aside from missing out on a potential nice asset in return through a trade, the Flames also risk Ramo leveling off. While I love what he’s been able to do since December, I don’t think Ramo is ever going to be a top end NHL starter. At best I think he’s a good stopgap as Calgary looks to find their long term number one.
To just expect Ramo to come in next year and give the team 0.920 save percentage stuff for an entire season is definitely risky. Ramo has done that over the span of a few months, and he deserves credit for it. But he’s never done it over a full season when he’s being counted on as the guy. Could he still show the capability to do that? Yeah, there’s a chance he could. But at the age of 30 starting next season, the odds aren’t necessarily for it.
Reward: Keeping Ramo around after the deadline and not re-signing him carries no real reward, other than spearheading an unlikely ridiculous run to the playoffs. But signing him to a new deal carries with it some positives. Any deal would have to be of the short term, one or two year range, though.
A new deal for Ramo would give the team a little continuity next season and eliminate some of the pressure of having to find someone in the summer. The Flames are still going to have to add a goaltender externally during the offseason, but having Ramo in the fold would make that job a little less nerve wracking.
Whether Ramo is back next year or not, Calgary still has to make any offseason move in net with an eye to upgrading the number one role. But bringing in a slightly more unproven player, at least as a number one, becomes a little more palatable with Ramo under contract. It would breed a real competition that might eventually lead to the team having their guy going forward. That is the end goal after all.
This is the toughest one for me of all the pending UFA’s. Because there are real reasons to keep Ramo around and to attempt to re-sign him, I wouldn’t be totally against that outcome. That said, I still think trading Ramo if the value is there is Calgary’s best option.
I’m not saying trade Ramo for something well under the team’s asking price, because I think that’s silly. But getting a decent pick, or pair of picks, for a guy who was exiled to the American League in October is pretty decent asset management. Let’s see if the market is there in a few weeks.
Next up: David Jones