The Calgary Flames faced a problem this past season. Well, they faced several problems, but a big one was goaltending. … Well, there were actually several goaltending-related problems.
Things really came to a head in early November. With Jonas Hiller injured, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio were left to man the fort in the NHL. Other than the part where the goaltending was struggling to find its feet, it wasn’t a problem – except Jon Gillies had just been shut down with hip problems, meaning Kent Simpson became the Stockton Heat’s de facto starter.
That… wasn’t going to fly. So the Flames went out and picked up Kevin Poulin, stuck doing nothing on the Tampa Bay Lightning, for future considerations – and he ended up being Stockton’s main goalie throughout the 2015-16 season.
Poulin played exclusively for the Heat this past season. All in all, he played 29 games, posting a save percentage of .909 and a 14-11-3 record.
His season probably wasn’t what one would consider ideal, though. It kicked off with the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders, waiving him before the season started. The Lightning claimed him off waivers, but soon ended up waiving him again; the second time, he cleared.
So really, Poulin started his year as somewhat of an unwanted commodity, shuffled from team to team until one club – the Heat – desperately needed a warm body who could stop a puck. Poulin, coming for practically nothing and with a decent enough body of AHL and some NHL work behind him, fit the bill.
Of course, except for when Poulin himself was injured: roughly 10 days after the Flames acquired him, and also at the end of the season.
It wasn’t an ideal year; really, it was the best of a bad situation.
Impact on team
The Heat played with seven goalies in the 2015-16 season. Two of them – Ramo and Eric Hartzell – didn’t play full games. Two of them – Poulin and Ortio – were the only ones to hit the 20 game mark, Ortio just barely.
So for at least when Poulin was available, he provided a stabilizing presence to the Heat’s net. Gillies played seven games at the start of the year before he was injured. Simpson filled in for 11 here and there when needed, but his .861 save percentage was the worst on the team. Nick Schneider came in at the end of the year when his Medicine Hat Tigers were eliminated and Poulin was injured, but dropped to a .876 save percentage.
For most of the season, the Heat relied on both Poulin and Ortio. Ortio got his save percentage up to .893 before he was recalled to the NHL.
Poulin’s .909 was the best of anyone on the Heat not named Gillies by far. He was Stockton’s best option for most of the year.
What comes next?
Poulin is a restricted free agent. At 26 years old, he’s already played 50 NHL games, but only has a .899 save percentage to go with it. There is a chance he makes his way back to the big show, but in all likelihood he isn’t going to be anyone’s first choice for a goalie at that level.
So, do the Flames bring him back? Presuming Ortio has the NHL backup spot and Gillies is starting in the AHL, he could be worth retaining, if only to back up Gillies. Should Gillies falter, at least the Heat would have someone else in net they know they can rely on until he’s available again.
But is that worthy of taking up another NHL contract spot? It very well might be – if the worst happens and the Flames have to recall him, at least he’s someone who’s played at that level before. There really isn’t much downside to keeping him around for 2016-17.