The Flames’ goaltending has essentially been an unmitigated disaster all season long, with a brief period of Karri Ramo relief after one goalie finally claimed the starter’s mantle and had the opportunity to start several games in a row.
Jonas Hiller and Ramo had formed a league average tandem the season before that helped the Flames get to the playoffs. Joni Ortio, newly waiver-eligible, was to be the next hope. No goalie separated himself in pre-season. And everything went wrong from there on out.
Now, though, we’re at the pair of netminders the Flames likely would have had, had they not chosen to re-sign Ramo right before free agency opened: Hiller and Ortio. And the starter’s role is clear: it’s Hiller’s, and that looks unlikely to change.
But is Hiller really going to start the Flames’ final 25 games of the season? Probably not. In theory, Ortio will have to draw in at some point – but when?
A few assumptions
In writing this post, I’m assuming a couple of things:
- There will be no change to the Flames’ goaltending the rest of this season.
- Between contracts and ability, it’s hard to see another team trading for either Hiller or Ortio.
- Kevin Poulin may deserve a look with the Flames at the NHL level, but the Flames likely called up Ortio for a reason; my personal theory being that they’ve invested more in Ortio, so they’d rather see him get a (potentially final) chance.
- The Flames don’t trade for a third goalie (a Matt Murray type, perhaps) that can play this season, and don’t demote Ortio again.
- Hiller remains the team’s starter, largely in part because he’s the veteran over the kid. And it stays this way until the Flames are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, which could still be a while yet.
Of course, any of these assumptions could be wrong or change at a moment’s notice, so consider this mostly just a thought experiment, or even just a look at the Flames’ final games of the regular season. This is, after all, about giving a kid a chance over a previously established player: something that could come into play with any potential future call ups as the season goes on.
You don’t want to throw your prospects to the wolves, after all.
Before the trade deadline
There are four games left before the trade deadline: a brief two-game road trip in California, between Anaheim and Los Angeles, and a two-game home stand against the Islanders and Senators.
There are no back-to-backs to be found here. The Ducks, Kings, and Islanders are in the upper half of the league. The Senators aren’t in a playoff spot, but they’re closer to one than the Flames are.
The Senators are probably the weakest opponent of this final four-game stretch, so maybe Ortio – who would be playing at home – will be given the chance then. I wouldn’t expect it before then though, and if the Flames haven’t even officially yet called themselves sellers, it could still be Hiller’s net the entire way through.
On the night of the trade deadline, the Flames will be in Philadelphia, kicking off a four-game Eastern swing: the Flyers, the Bruins, the Sabres, and wrapping things up against the Penguins.
The Flames then return home for a six-game home stand, in which they’ll host the Sharks, Predators, Coyotes, Blues (this is when Dennis Wideman is eligible to return from his 20-game suspension), Jets, and Avalanche.
There are no back-to-backs in this stretch. The Flames do face two teams presently below them in the standings: the Sabres and the Jets. But the Sabres are on the road, and the Jets could potentially be seen as wild card competition, depending on where things stand and what records the teams post between now and then.
Though it is possible the Flames are ready to see what they’ve got after the trade deadline, and Ortio gets the start against the Flyers. The Sabres and Jets remain legitimate possibilities, but other than those three, it doesn’t look too great. You probably don’t want to throw Ortio to the wolves against Boston, Pittsburgh, San Jose, or St. Louis in particular, though.
Closing out March
Following their six-game home stand, the Flames go on a couple of road trips. First they play Montreal and Toronto, then Minnesota. They return home to host the Blackhawks, and then it’s back on the road against Arizona, Anaheim, and Los Angeles.
There are two back-to-back games in this stretch: Montreal and Toronto, and Anaheim and Los Angeles. As it so happens, Montreal and Toronto are both, well, not-great teams, so it would be sensible to give Ortio the start against at least one of them.
Anaheim and Los Angeles are different stories, but this will be the end of March; by then, they’ll have probably officially clinched playoff spots and the Flames will likely have been mathematically eliminated. You’d think he’d get at least one of those starts regardless, even if the outcome doesn’t project to be pretty.
Chicago probably wouldn’t be a good idea, though.
The Flames have just four games in April, with no back-to-backs. They’re in Edmonton, then they host the Kings and Canucks, and then they’re in Minnesota to close things out.
By this point, you’d think they might just ride with Ortio. Neither Edmonton nor Vancouver are particularly great teams, and the only thing left to play for at that point would be auditions and pride. Minnesota is one last hoorah, and it remains to be seen if they’ll even be in the playoffs at that point – it’s entirely possible they’ll still have a lot to play for on that date, in which case you’d think they would really lay it on the Flames; or nothing at all, in which case we’d see something like last year’s regular season finale against the Jets: a roster that’s technically in the NHL, but most of the players really shouldn’t be. And Ortio started that game.
Not many games
Assuming things remain static and the Flames try to fight for a playoff spot until the bitter end – and both of these probably won’t happen – that leaves barely any possible starts for Ortio. There are only two back-to-backs, which should get him some attention; other than those, it’s not like there are many teams below the Flames in the standings to throw their kids out against for them to give it their all.
This can all change if the Flames throw in the towel, which could very well be this week. But I’d expect them – and Bob Hartley in particular, who’s really going to want to dress what he sees as his best possible lineup in effort to defend his squad’s playoff berth – to not really give more kids a chance until they’re officially eliminated, or close to it.
Following the Flames’ six-game home stand in mid-March, the Flames have eight away games and three home games. It could be then: it’s not like there’s an obligation to dress your best possible lineup for another team’s fans, after all.