Joni Ortio officially recalled, Flames have two recalls left

Joni Ortio is effectively the Flames’ starter. It took a long time to get to this point – he only just started making his first string of multiple starts in a row on Feb. 23 – but it’s finally happened. He’s started six of the Flames’ most recent eight games, and hasn’t been half bad during them, even though he only has one win to show for it.

There’s been a lot of concern surrounding Ortio all season, though, and it all stemmed from a phenomenon we’re once again experiencing: three goalies on the roster. When the season started, it was Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, and Ortio; now that we’re past the trade deadline, we swap Niklas Backstrom in for Ramo.

But that doesn’t look like it’s going to mean anything bad for Ortio this time around. Not when he’s starting so many games, and not when he has just a couple more to go before the Flames can officially keep him at RFA status. 

If the Flames didn’t want him around, after all, then they’d send him down. But now that Backstrom is officially on the team and ready to go, the Flames have officially recalled Ortio. He’s no longer up via emergency status: he’s up because the Flames want him up.

The Flames can recall just two more players before the season finishes.

Is Ortio going to be the Flames’ goalie of the future? Probably not, but we never really know what the future holds. He certainly has some level of goaltending talent, and seems to be getting into a groove now that he’s being trusted with regular starts.

Of the six games Ortio has started, only one has been truly bad: a .800 save percentage game against the Ottawa Senators. He’s posted a save percentage of at least .920 in four games otherwise, including two above .940. On average, he’s at least giving his team a chance – and along with his team, his own chances for continuing his career, as well.

The Flames really don’t have that many goaltending options going forward. Hope abounds for Jon Gillies, but he’s still a rookie, and will technically still be one next season as this year was wiped out by hip surgery. There’s a lot of potential there, but he’s not even close to being an immediate answer.

After Gillies, the Flames have zero goalies signed for next season, unless you count Mason McDonald and Nick Schneider (you shouldn’t, they’re still in junior this season). Free agency is, of course, an option, but that’s headlined by James Reimer, who’s going to look at the market and rightfully demand some serious coin – coin the Flames probably shouldn’t be committing just yet – and maybe Ramo, who the Flames are already familiar with.

There’s always the possibility of a trade. It doesn’t sound like the Penguins are about to part with Matt Murray any time soon, though, and it’s difficult to see the Ducks giving a good deal to a division rival for Frederik Andersen.

That does leave the Flames still with another potential guy, already in-house: Ortio, who will be 25 to start next season, and in all likelihood, still under team control. He’s a cheap, young option that can probably be easily demoted should better options come up; the only potential downside to retaining him would be a contract taken up, and a limited goalie roster spot with it.

By officially recalling him, though, the Flames are giving Ortio a chance to stay with this organization. Backstrom was promised starts, and really, he’s a veteran and Ortio’s countryman: this could prove to be a mutually beneficial relationship for the both of them. In all likelihood, it’s probably Hiller who’s the odd man out now, though healthy scratches could rotate amongst the three.

But there are 16 games left this season. Ortio is, at long last, the starter. It should be his time to roll with it – otherwise, the Flames wouldn’t have used one of just four available recalls to keep him up.

  • Jake the Snail

    It is about time! In the 3 goalie start to the season Ortio was the one that got screwed. Hiller and Ramo did not play any better than Ortio but they were given a long leash and played more games and try to redeem themselves. Ortio was not given any more starts and was finally sent down to get playing time.

    Hiller never did redeem himself, Ramo did but he is out. Hope Ortio is around next year too!

  • MattyFranchise

    If Ortio gets the lion’s share of starts for the rest of the season and continues to have 3-4 quality starts before laying an egg it makes the goaltending decision a lot easier for next season.

    Honestly, Ortio getting a bunch of starts and being a cheap option behind Ramo next season is fine for me. Hiller won’t get resigned (my money is on him retiring altogether), ditto for Backstrom, and no one on the free agent market really blows my socks off even when I don’t consider the cost of acquiring them.

    Given where the team is in the rebuild and considering Ramo’s all situations SV% in three seasons with the Flames (.911) you know what you’re gonna get with him.

    Have Ramo platoon with Ortio, the kid’s only 24, that’s way too early to give up on him. Let them run with the ball next season and wait for Gilles to play a full season in the AHL with an AHL veteran in Poulin. Address goaltending the following offseason when pretty much every bad contract the Flames have is off the books.

    • Kevin R

      Matty, I honestly can only agree with half of this. If Ortio plays like he has these last 3-4 games for the rest of the year, absolutely we should sign him. Give him a 2 year deal & see if he can play himself into a #1 or 1b role, but for sure back up. Should be cheap I imagine under a mill per season. To sign Ramo July1 I can’t get behind. That has huge risk all over it. His injury potentially could take until September to properly heal & would mean he misses most of training camp. Ramo is a slow starter with a full training camp, I can’t imagine without one. Do we really want to risk next season with a potentially injured Ramo & inexperienced Ortio. That could totally sewer BT’s credibility. No way he goes down the same path that has had big implications for this dismal season. We can all speculate where BT goes for his next net minder but I would bet money it won’t be hanging his hat on Ramo & Ortio combo again.

      As for Murray & Pitt. well one just has to look at their roster & see Marc Andre Fleury is signed for 5.75mill per for 3 more seasons after this one. Pitt is also starved for prospects & picks, I would bet again that they snag a wildcard spot this playoff which means they no longer will have their 1st rounder, that will go to the Leafs. I am also assuming Dallas doesn’t make the conference final (I hope they do) & that means we have 3 2nd round picks. The draft makes GM’s crazier than the TDL these days, the hype on all these kids is epic. I can see Colborne & 2 of our 2nd round picks for Murray & Rutherford just may be stupid enough to take that if there are some players they covet falling to the 2nd round. No one thought BT could snag Hamilton last year, the net is almost as glaring as the D was last year & he addressed it pretty darn good. I would expect something of the same at this draft coming up.

      • MattyFranchise

        I can see where you’re coming from here but in my mind there is just nothing out there that the Flames can a) afford to pay in free agency, and b) afford to pay in picks or prospects.

        On the other hand, BT seems to be a trade wizard so who knows what he has up his sleeve.

  • Jake the Snail

    How are the Flames going to use their last two recalls?

    One for Mark Jankowksi when he finishes college and is signed to a pro-contract? And maybe Hunter Shinkaruk?

    edit: Or Brandon Hickey?

  • beloch

    Ortio is currently playing his way into the backup job.

    If I’m not in error, Ortio needs six more starts to become a RFA (he’ll be a UFA if he plays fewer than that). Barring injury or a monumental collapse, I think it’s safe to say he’ll get those. This means he should be cheaper to retain than Ramo, and that takes into account the fact that Ramo won’t be making anywhere near $3.8M next season.

    Ramo is certainly the more proven NHL goalie, but he’s also proven to be inconsistent. He took a long time to climb his way to competency this season. If Ortio continues delivering quality starts down the stretch, letting Ramo walk in the summer suddenly looks like a reasonable move. (Note: I am assuming next year’s starting goalie will be someone who is not currently with the Flames organization.)

    If Ortio falls apart and Backstrom takes over, well, that’s not so good. It will probably mean Ramo gets the backup job and Ortio will (hopefully) be re-signed for the Heat. There is a distinct possibility he’d be allowed to walk, but that would be a mistake given how late goalies from Turku sometimes find their game.

    • SydScout

      Six to be certain.

      Five if you want to argue the game where he played something like 29.58 minutes but was pulled during a delayed penalty. At least this is my understanding from afar. Correct me if I’m wrong!

      Probably a moot point now. I’m delighted that we finally get to see Ortio a starter for a significant stretch of games, and its a mostly meaningless stretch (mostly only, due to draft lottery positioning). Hopefully he gets 13 and Backstrom gets the other three.

  • Baalzamon

    I wonder if things would have been different in October if, instead of the “suck and you’re out” platoon, the Flames had just designated stretches in which each goalie was guaranteed to play–say, Ramo gets the first three games of the season, Hiller gets the next three, and Ortio the three after that.

    Probably not, but it may have made the goalies somewhat more comfortable than the situation where a bad game or goal meant he immediately lost the net.

    • MattyFranchise

      I remember Hrudey addressing this a number of times earlier in the season. He has said quite often that knowing that you’re getting the next start no matter what makes it a lot easier to play.

      To me it’s like a goal scorer going through a drought, they always say something like “holding the stick to tight” or whatever but as soon as they relax and just play their game the goals start coming again.

      The more you focus on not making mistakes the more likely you are to make one. If a goalie is focused on not screwing up he can’t just turn his brain off and let his body do the work for him.

      The time to think about stuff is in practice, that’s what it’s for, you can’t second guess yourself in games because that’s when the puck ends up in the back of the net.

      I dunno, I love exploring the mental side of sports so maybe I overthought this whole thing.

      • KACaribou

        I don’t think you overthought this at all. I think you nailed it. The team screwed with Ortio’s head and it showed. He’s young, but let’s not forget he was an AHL all star goaltender.

        There is a lot of mental, both for a goalie trusting his coach and the team in front of him; as well as a team playing well like the Flames have of late trusting their goalie – ORTIO.

        • beloch

          To be fair, Ortio was not in good form early this season. While it was probably disappointing for him not to get any starts before being sent down, he averaged just 0.893 over 20 games in the AHL after being sent down. This suggests there’s a very good reason why he didn’t get any starts back then. Whether he was playing injured or struggling purely with the mental side of the game, I have no idea.

          At present, we have no idea how sustainable Ortio’s current level of play really is. Despite delivering a string of quality starts recently, his average NHL sv% for the season is still just 0.897. Again, to be fair to Ortio, he’s not getting the kind of carefully chosen starts a typical backup goalie gets. He’s being played as a starter.

          I honestly don’t know what it is about the Flames, but goalies truly do not have an easy time here. Ideally, a guy like Ortio would have been given carefully chosen games against easy opponents in the NHL. Ease him into the league gently and build his confidence. Instead, an injury to Ramo and Hiller’s complete loss of competence has thrust a very shaky, inexperienced goalie into the starter’s seat right when the team has traded away some pretty important pieces and is struggling offensively. That’s not ideal. In fact, it’s pretty much a nightmare for a developing goalie!

          Ortio is going to deliver some very bad stretches of goal-tending sooner or later. The key thing, for him, will be how he responds. Will he let a softy in and then crumple, or will he fight back. Will he become demoralized and stink for consecutive games or, as he did a few games back, bounce back with a quality start the following game.

          Ortio looks good right now, but that could change. All we can do is be patient and appreciate how utterly crazy his current situation is. He has not been set up for success.

          • freethe flames

            When he came up last season he was thrust into important games and he responded well. I for one don’t have a problem with having hard starts just as long as he is not left out to dry if he struggles, don’t make him sit to long if he struggles in a game.

          • Jake the Snail

            Agreed! Ortio put a sudden screech into the Flames slide into oblivion last December. He was called up at a time when his confidence was probably at an all time high,having an outstanding season in the AHL. Then…the 3 headed monster to start the next season in the NHL…

          • KACaribou

            I do tend to agree with you, but the issue I always have is faith in save percentage.

            When the Flames play well, they keep the opponent to the outsides and the shots relatively routine if they can keep the traffic from in front of the net so the goalie can see it coming. This will create a high save percentage.

            When the Flames are playing poorly the amount of quality scoring opportunities by the opponent will double or even triple. No goalie, not even Price will have a sparkling save percentage when this occurs.

            Goalie stats should reflect difficulty of saves, compared to amount of shots routinely saved. It should disregard deflections and punish for easy goals let in. Save percentage as a whole big general statement doesn’t pair down the quality of the ‘tender alone.

          • Petzl

            While I agree with you caribou, ortio over the last couple games has not had a ton of easy saves to pad his stats. I think we need a bigger sample but so far things looks pretty good over the last couple, the game he laid an egg you can blame a lot of it on the team in front of him also.

  • Greg

    I’m still a big believer in Ortio, but even I’d be pretty uncomfortable with the idea of coming back with him as your starter next year. Hopefully we resign him, because he’s shown promise and is just hitting the age where goalies start to bloom. But hopefully we also come back with someone else as at least a 1A, if not a clear #1 ahead of him still.

    And hopefully, that someone can be a better option than Ramo or Reimer. Not an easy task, but I eagerly await the offseason to see how it unfolds.

  • RKD

    Hiller should not start a single game for the rest of the season. Ortio has been looking more consistent, he may still have a bad game or two but over this last little stretch he’s given the Flames a chance to win every night. That was a lot more than they had at the beginning of the situation. I think something changed in him after getting sent down the last time. Give him some more time. We should still give Backsstrom a look and I think he will get in some starts with upcoming back to backs.

  • OKG

    Ortio’s struggles can probably be traced down to

    “You need to beat these two experienced vets who are guarunteed a roster spot out for the #1 spot”

    “You need to beat the Winnipeg Jets with Wotherspoon-Engelland as the top pairing in front of you, otherwise you probably get waived”

    “You messed up, you’re third string because of that one bad preseason game”

    “You need to share your practice net with the #2 goaltender and not play for the next four weeks”

    “You get to play the top team in the NHL standings, ostensibly for your entire career”

    “You failed at that too, now sit for another three weeks”

    “Now we’ve waived you and you cleared waivers. Go play in the AHL. Remember Leland Irving? Neither do we.”

    That’s a lot to weigh on a young goalie’s mind, mentally. Easy to say “just go out and play” or “one save at a time” but really, we’re talking about a guy’s career here. It’s probably easier to play Game 7 OT of the Stanley Cup Final than be thrust into that situation. And it’s not an excuse for him, as plenty of goaltenders are in a similar situation, but the way the Flames handled him this year was definitely not the best way they could have handled him. They could have Markstrom’d him in training camp, or they could have ran with him as the clear backup.

  • MattyFranchise

    Oh crap, I just found out that Grant will definitely hit group 6 free agency this summer. Anyone think the Flames will save a call up for him if he recovers in time to play the last 5 games or so?

    Flamesfrom80feet makes a pretty good case for using one of the call ups on him.

    • Greg

      Even if he becomes UFA, flames will still have his rights till July, and will be able to sign him if they want to. It’s not like he’ll be able to play hardball and wait and see what the open market will offer him, because it could very well be nothing and the flames may move on or lower their offer by the time he comes back. His agent would have to be crazy to advise him to do anything other than to sign the first fair offer the flames make.

  • freethe flames

    Can Ortio go back to the Heat and play for them when the season ends?(heat have 4 games left after flames are doen) Is he eligable to play in the playoffs if they happen to make it?

    • MattyFranchise

      He is. The only AHL regular currently on the Flames roster that is not eligible for the AHL playoffs is Nakladal. In the future you can check this out yourself at the AHL website. They have individual team transaction histories for all players going to and from the AHL team in either direction (NHL or ECHL).

      Anyway, that page shows Hathaway, Wotherspoon, and Ortio all on the AHL team on the 29th.