This past off-season, a fair number of goalies changed teams. Some of these trades worked out, while some appeared to be more of the footnote variety.
While some teams acquired back-ups, though, around the time of the draft and before free agency, three teams got goalies who projected to be starters:
- The Buffalo Sabres traded a first round pick (21st overall) for David Legwand and Robin Lehner.
- The Edmonton Oilers traded three picks for Cam Talbot (and another pick).
- The San Jose Sharks traded their 2016 first round pick and a prospect for Martin Jones.
Lehner ended up spending a fair amount of the season on the shelf. Talbot’s numbers dropped, but remained respectable enough as he nearly doubled his NHL games played (57 with the Rangers; 56 with the Oilers) and ultimately won the starter’s job in Edmonton. And Jones went on to 65 games with the Sharks in a single season as their starter (with a .918 SV% on a team that’s won at least one playoff round).
Three teams got creative to solve their goaltending woes, and while the jury is still out on two of them, the Sharks appear to have made a successful gamble with a 26-year-old goalie that had only played 34 NHL games before getting traded. In him, they found their starter.
So… how about Calvin Pickard?
Pickard is a 6’1, 200 lb. goalie from Moncton who only just turned 24 years old. Drafted 49th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, he appears to have graduated to the NHL level, usurping Reto Berra’s role as backup (remember him?). He is an RFA who needs a new contract.
Pickard has played 36 NHL games thus far: more than Jones had before he was traded, and at a younger age. He has a career .927 SV%; this past season, he posted a .922 SV% over 20 games.
For the most part, he’s had pretty good numbers throughout his career, particularly at the NHL level. And this is something to stress: he plays for the Colorado Avalanche.
As in, literally the worst possession team in the NHL.
Comparable former backups
When Jones posted a .915 ES SV% for the Kings in 2014-15, he was playing on the top possession team in the NHL (55.35% 5v5 CF) and extremely good defensive team (48.46 5v5 CA60, second best). When he posted a .949 ES SV% in 2013-14, it was behind a 56.82% 5v5 CF team (best in the NHL) that still remained exceptional purely defensively (47.60 5v5 CA60, second best).
Talbot, meanwhile, had a .931 ES SV% in 2014-15 for a Rangers team that was one of the lower possession teams in the NHL (49.47% 5v5 CF and 56.45 5v5 CA20, 20th in the NHL). In 2013-14, his ES SV% was .940 for a much better team (52.40% 5v5 CF, eighth in the NHL) that was decent enough defensively (54.35 5v5 CA60, 11th in the NHL).
This season, Jones went on to a .925 ES SV% with the Sharks (51.62% 5v5 CF, ninth; 52.80 5v5 CA60, 10th); Talbot a .920 ES SV% with the Oilers (48.90% 5v5 CF, 19th; 57.72 5v5 CA60, 24th). Jones’ numbers remained modest even as his team allowed more pucks in his vicinity while Talbot’s dropped as he joined a defensive trainwreck.
Now, back to Pickard. In 2014-15, his first year in the NHL, he had a .945 ES SV% on an Avalanche team that was second last in possession (43.16% 5v5 CF) and just as abhorrent defensively (63.31 5v5 CA60, also 29th). In 2015-16, he dropped to a .923 ES SV% on a still-awful team (44.20% 5v5 CF, 30th; 63.30 5v5 CA60, 30th).
Pickard, as a 22 and 23-year-old, was able to post relatively strong numbers on some of the worst teams in the NHL. Imagine what he might be able to do on a team even slightly better.
The Avs’ situation
Through 2015-16, Pickard had an NHL cap hit of $850,000. His numbers would suggest he’s at least due for a raise. Colorado is projected to have roughly $21 million in cap space to start next season, though they have a couple of players they need to re-sign:
- Mikkel Boedker, who they acquired at the deadline, will be looking for a new deal; one probably greater than the $3.75 million cap hit he carried this past season.
- Nathan MacKinnon, aka the 2013 first overall pick who has 153 points through 218 NHL games to start his career, is coming off of his entry deal. He is definitely going to get a raise.
- Tyson Barrie, who has turned into one of Colorado’s top defencemen, is an RFA. He’s not going to carry a $2.6 million cap hit any longer.
Let’s spitball and say Boedker ends up with a Soderberg-like contract ($4.75 million cap hit), MacKinnon a Duchene-style one ($6 million cap hit), and Barrie, somewhere near Erik Johnson’s ($6 million cap hit). That leaves Colorado with about $11.5 million left in cap space with three forwards left to sign, plus Pickard. The Flames could be in roughly the same boat once Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan re-sign, albeit with a few extra options (Hunter Shinkaruk potentially proving he’s good enough for the NHL; if worst comes to worst, getting an extra $4 million in cap space by buying out Dennis Wideman’s contract).
Also: the Flames don’t have anybody for Pickard to be stuck behind. The Avalanche are committed to Semyon Varlamov for at least another three seasons at a $5.9 million cap hit.
Also also: Pickard could be vulnerable to an expansion draft after the 2016-17 season.
Acquiring Pickard – whether by trade or, depending on how the cap works out, perhaps by even forcing Colorado’s hand via the rare offer sheet (a $2 million offer, for example, would cost a second round pick; recall from above that first round picks were quite the commodities in other teams looking to find their new starters) – would definitely be a risk for the Flames, though.
Let’s assume Joni Ortio returns to the club next season. He’s pretty much already penciled in as a backup goaltender, the just-turned-25-year-old having put up middling numbers as his career has progressed, though he looked to show more ability as he started getting consistent NHL starts towards the end of the 2015-16 season.
Pickard is staying in the NHL. So that could effectively leave the Flames with the 25-year-old Ortio, and the 24-year-old Pickard. No experienced returnees like Karri Ramo who have history of being, at absolute best, a 1B guy on the Flames; no experienced players from the free agent market such as James Reimer who may cost a pretty penny. Just two young question marks.
On the one hand, they may flop. We saw the Flames post the worst goaltending in the entire NHL this past season, but it’s still possible to go even lower. If they do flop, though, at least it would be with two kids who shouldn’t be too expensive and at least had potential, rather than on a retread or big name that could end up tying up a lot of money for years to come (and potentially blocking Jon Gillies all the while).
On the other hand, the Flames might just find their new starter.
The greatest risk to the Flames is their 2016-17 season, but not much beyond that. The potential rewards, however, could see Calgary solve one of its biggest question marks as it looks to move out of the rebuilding stage.