How much better will the Flames’ goaltending be?

The Calgary Flames had a lot of problems last year, but none bigger than their goaltending. Not one of the four puckstoppers who graced the club’s crease last year finished with an average SV%. As a team, the Flames finished with one of the worst save rates in the entire league at even strength at .908. That’s 12 points back of merely average. 

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Brad Treliving clearly entered the offseason on a mission not to allow that to happen again. His moves to acquire both Brian Elliott and Chad Jonhson promise to vastly improve the netminding situation for the team next season. But how much of an improvement is it likely to be? 

A big one. 

We’ll confine ourselves to just 5on5 for now because predicting special teams can be a bit of a fool’s errand. Last year, the Flames surrendered 1,898 shots at even strength, so we’ll use that number as the benchmark. Due to the club’s aggregate .908 SV%, they surrendered 168 GA at 5on5 (good for second worst in the league). 

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To forecast the impact of adding Elliott and Johnson, I looked at each guy’s cumulative ES SV% over the last three seasons. Elliott’s is a near elite .9296 and Johnson a very solid .9226. Next, I parcelled out the 1,898 shots to each according to his probable role: 75% to Elliott and 25% to Johnson. Here’s the results:

Player SA SV GA
Elliott 1,424 1323 98
Johnson 475 438 37
Total 1,898 1761 135
SV% 0.9279 Improvement 33

So assuming each guy performs around his recent career average, the Flames could expect a 33 goal improvement over the same amount of shots as last year. That’s an enormous swing and theoretically worth 5+ wins or about 13 standings points. Last year, that would have moved the Flames from a -29 goal differential club to +4 and improved their 77 standings points to 90 (good enough to make the playoffs).

Of course, the Flames can further improve that number simply by surrendering fewer shots against. Allowing just 1,800 shots against rather than 1,898 would theoretically save another six goals against, for instance. 


Obviously we can’t say for certain that both Johnson and Elliott will play to their career norms next year. Also, we don’t really know what the shot mix will be – maybe Johnson will play more games than what I’ve forecast here. Keep in mind this more an intellectual exercise than rock solid prognostication since we can’t predict a lot of variables involved. 

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Still, it’s obvious the Flames should have vastly better goaltending this year. If nothing completely out of the ordinary happens, a 30+ goal improvement isn’t out of the question.

  • mattyc

    If we did this analysis with Hiller and Ramo going into this season (2013-2016) we’d have a SV% of 0.9195, and if we did this analysis before last year (2012-2015) we’d get 0.9254.

    So in all likelihood, we’re talking about a very small expected increase in save percentage. Though what the Flames got last year was not to be expected.

    Edit: as Scary Gary rightly points out: the big difference is cost.

      • mattyc

        It was horrendous – but we didn’t expect that this time last year. I don’t think anyone expected the Flames to have league-worst goaltending.

        My point’s only that there’s a lot of uncertainty in goaltenders. I like the moves – I think they’re a good bet. And the best part is even if they fall apart like last year, the contracts are cheap and expire, so we’re not stuck with a buyout or lost cap space.

          • mattyc

            Hiller’s EvSV% from 07-08 onwards: 93.1, 93.2, 92.9, 91.6, 93.8, 92.4, 92.7, 89.5.

            So only 2011 was below 92%. Basically he was great 6 of the 7 years before last year. Curious to see how that compares to other goalies but I’d guess it’s about par for the course.

          • kittensandcookies

            So what you’re saying is that Elliot will turn into a tire fire this year, because Hiller did the same thing?

            Or what?

            Also did you forget about Hiller’s vertigo issues?

          • Baalzamon

            You know, it’s funny. The only goalie who actually underperformed relative to expectations was Hiller. He fell off a cliff.

            The rest? Backstrom had been declining significantly for years, had been terrible for two in a row with the Wild, and then didn’t play hockey for over a year before he joined the Flames. Ortio’s performance was in line with previous years, and Ramo’s was trending that way from November onward (he had a .914 sv% excluding October).

          • mattyc

            It was a pretty monumental plummet. I wonder how often that happens.

            “How unluckly was Brad Treliving” sounds like a FN blogpost someone should write 😉

  • KACaribou

    Granted the goaltending was terrible in the first half of last year, but after Christmas we had a very steady combo of Ramo and Ortio. It wasn’t coincidence that the goaltending got stronger as our new defence began playing much better – especially Dougie Hamilton.

    I’d like to see what Hasek’s save percentage would have been with the Calgary team defence giving up countless golden opportunities each game including Hamilton cough-ups when he wouldn’t absorb a check or block a shot the first part of the season.

    Tree hung Coach Bob out to dry last year, having 3 goalies all lose their confidence at the same time.

    But predictably the GM protected his a$$ by bringing in solid goaltending this year – 2 only – now that the new coach is under his watch and not Jay Feaster’s.

    Elliott and Johnson had better hope our team defence is a lot better than last year or their averages will be plummeting.

    Our goaltending was far from our only problem last season. As Mattyc pointed out, we didn’t go into the 2015/16 year with atrocious track records.

    • DoubleDIon

      We were 11th in shots against last year and 30th in goals against. The defense wasn’t the problem. If you go by the high danger area we were 9th in the league.

      This means our goaltenders faced between the 9th and 11th easiest workload and finished with the worst results in the league.

      It’s hard to overstate how bad the goaltending was last year.

      • KACaribou

        Anyone who watched the team play, who has a knowledge of who should be doing what on the ice, can easily tell you our “team” defence was horrible.

        High danger area isn’t the same as quality scoring opportunities, though it is in the ballpark so to speak.

        But take those same stats and break them into before Christmas and after Christmas and I think you may come up with two different results.

        It would be interesting at least.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Post Christmas:

      5 wins, 8 losses

      7 wins, 11 losses

      No, I didn’t break down the OTL and regulation losses, but it doesn’t really matter. It was not a steady combo of Ramo and Ortio.

    • Prototype369

      Youre getting almost as bad as WW in terms of repeating the same thing over and over. Im more inclined to side with WW to sell Backlund while his value is at its peak, than not blame Hartley for inept usage of players, and refusing to change his defensive tactics to favor the flames strengths rather than highlight their weaknesses

      • KACaribou

        Just because the cattle here follow along with the repeated opinion that Coach Bob had an “inept usage of players” DOESN’T MAKE IT SO.

        People here don’t know sh#t about coaching a professional hockey team.

        1) Coach Hartley is a smarter hockey man who has forgot more than people here know.

        2) He did things for a reason he knows about, but people here DO NOT know about.

        It is incredibly arrogant for FN bloggers to think they know more than an experienced professional hockey coach. Ignorant really.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          IN TRE WE TRUST!!!!

          If Tre says, sayonara Hartley that’s good enough for me. If Hartley were any bloody good, do you think Tre would have dumped him?

          Even if I don’t understand all the moves Tre makes, I still trust heart and soul that they are the right ones because IN TRE WE TRUST!!!!

          • KACaribou

            Hey bro, good for you. Tree has been pretty good so far, but don’t forget people are unforgiving. Tree will have to do 10 good things for every bad move he makes and I hope I don’t have to tell you the bad moves he has already made.

            GMs have a shelf life. Burke was fired and so will Tree eventually. I think Burke is a smarter person.

            But you put all your faith in Tree until then. I wish I could be so blindly trusting.

            Wasn’t picking Johnny Hockey and Mony on Feaster’s watch? Sign them for gawdsake Tree!

        • Prototype369

          alright good sir, please do explain in small words for me, as i “know less than bob hartley will ever forget” why russell had one of the highest ice time for defenders on the powerplay? the same question applies to Colborne. Im pretty sure you were watching the exact same flames games i was, did either of those two merit higher ice time on the PP than D. Hamilton, Frolik, Bennett, or even Ferland? Im not a fan of Hartley not because Flamesnation said so, i saw him be outcoached almost every road game. You have yet to provide one good counterargument, on any article since the anti-hartley train started up, as to why he IS a good coach. Simply saying no to anything us FN bloggers say doesnt make it a convincing argument. Unless you’re secretly his son, wife, or even Hartley himself…

        • Truculence

          “He did things for a reason he knows about, but people here DO NOT know about.”

          Hahaha. I had a good laugh when I read that about Hartley. I’m guessing you, too, do a lot of “things” for reasons nobody understands. No, no, it’s not because your bat-sh!t crazy, it’s just because nobody understands your superior logic, man. I get it.

          • Prototype369

            I sometimes want to do a trade with oilersnation.

            To Oilersnation:
            1) KACaribou, and all commenting rights,
            2) The Great Walter White, and all commenting rights.

            To Flames nation:
            1) a solemn agreement that those two aren’t allowed back on here again

        • SmellOfVictory

          Why not apply this to everything, since the NHL is a pro organization? It’s incredibly ignorant to think fans can properly assess a player’s abilities! And it’s ignorant to think they can tell a soft goal from a legit one! Ban all opinions and close it up, boys. No more need for comments here.

          It was painfully obvious that the Flames’ stretch passes weren’t working a great deal of the time when attempted by someone with a last name other than Brodie. They’d try for a 60 foot pass, it’d get picked off, and the opposition would get possession in the Flames’ zone. Who do we blame for that? Were all of the other Flames dmen just stupid, or maybe, just maybe were they following a system that was no longer working as intended? We may not be pilots, but if we see a helicopter sitting in a tree, we can still tell someone screwed up.

  • lionlager

    That’s reason for a ton of hope this year. Should be great to see. Especially coupled with the bad off seasons this far for the Blues, Ducks, etc, we could definitely see some playoff games next year if the goaltending is passable, or slightly above that.

  • everton fc

    There’s not a sane person in hockey, fan, scout or GM, who’d take Ramo/Ortio over Elliott/Johnson. This may be one of the best tandems we’ve had in quite a while. I feel very good about these two. If we can dump Wideman and replace him with Nakladal, sign the two young guns, hold onto Nakladal and Jooris…. I think, even w/o an elite 1st line RW… we’ll be a difficult team to play, particularly if Bouma bounces back, Ferland learns how to finish… Shinkaruk and Tkachuk make the team and play well… Chiasson gives us what he produced in Dallas….

      • everton fc

        Yep. Since Kipper and Joseph. Eight years ago. Except Joseph only played 9 games…

        I’d even say Elliott and Ramo would be a good tandem. Or Ramo/Johnson. But Elliott/Johnson… Fantastic, cheap short-term solution. And if Gillies fails to develop, you re-sign both much cheaper than Hiller and Ramo.

      • KACaribou

        Under Sutter’s great team defence, Kipper’s averages were incredible. HHOF worthy. Then our teams got worse, our team D became terrible and his averages plummeted. His goaltending was still top notch. As you say, the tire fires made his stats look “average” at best.

        We had a lot of tire fires last season.

        • Christian Roatis

          I meant the backups. I remember a time when a Curtis Mcelhinney start was guaranteed loss night.

          Or is that what you were talking about and I misunderstood?

          • KACaribou

            Yeah, misunderstood you. I thought you meant he had a tire fire in front of him. That’s kind of the way the Flames played in Kipper’s later years I thought. But yes, he had nothing behind him either. On the other hand who wanted to be that goalie with no chance of ever playing really? Most NHL goalies think they should be starters with a couple of breaks.

    • Schmenkley

      That’s a lot of “ifs”, but I admire your optimism! I will be happy to see improved team play, competitive never give up attitude that went missing last year, and some playing time for the farmhands, whoever they might be, that force management’s hand for playing time.
      Playoffs would be a bonus, but I think contending for them will be expected, and if you can make it in, all bets are off!

  • freethe flames

    Indeed our goaltending has gotten much better on paper and I believe will give us league average or better goaltending. Good job BT.

    Unfortunately not much else has changed. Brouwer is an upgrade from Colborne but how much? Same old problems of having a poor 4th line, still have one of Wideman or Eng’s playing in the top 4. No real help to play with Bennett; not much has changed except that Elliott and Johnson should be better than Ramo/Hiller/Ortio.

    GG is BT’s hire but has he done enough to help him be successful. Only time will tell.

      • freethe flames

        Do you know this for sure? Are they ready for the NHL? Will they get a chance to push out the overpaid vets? I don’t know this for sure but I would love it to be true. But a team that is likely to ice Bouma/Stajan/Bollig on many nights has issues. If the same team is playing either Wideman or Eng’s as their #4 defenceman they have issues. Imagine for second Bouma/Stajan/Bollig and Wides/Eng caught on the ice at the same time. How many icings before the other teams scores or we take a penalty; it happened far to often last year to believe anything will change.

        I really want to believe that the Flames are better but I don’t see enough changes to be convinced. We often talk about pairings up front; Johnny/Monny who plays the RW? If it’s either Brouwer or Frolik the second and 3rd line suffer. If it’s Bennett/Brouwer(which for me makes a lot of sense) who is the LW? If the 3rd line is Backs/Frolik(like it should be who plays the LW? And the 4th line?

        Here’s who we are counting on to make the difference: Chiasson(reclamation project who I’m pulling for probablly 4th line RW but who knows), Bouma (reclamation project after a tough year, again I’m hoping a bounce back year 3rd liner maybe), Ferland (was given plenty of chances to play top 6 and it did not work out; I think he is the best candidate for LW third lie with Backs/Frolik). After that either Tkachuk(LW second line), Shinkaruk(LW second/third line), Poirier (reclamation project from a bad AHL season and again I am really pulling for him to bounce back) and a bunch of first year pro’s all of whom need time to develop. I really do want these guys to step up but until they do I will remain a pessimist. Way to many questions need to be answered in the top nine and a 4th line needs to be revamped and if GG does it then things will get better.

        You keep being the optimist and I hope you are right(and all those others who agree with you) and I will keep my views out there as well. I’m hoping to eat crow and that you are right. We will see how it shakes down at Christmas.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Who’s the third man?

    Either Johnnie Johnson or Bee Bee Eliott goes down, who comes up? Will Ramo or Ortio be retained? Jon Jon might be okay if the backup stint is short, but I don’t want to see him opening and closing the Flames’ gate for 4 to 6 weeks. Kid needs heaps of playing time to make up the lost year. Flames should try and hang on to Ortio for the upcoming season as he fits the bill as Jon Jon’s backup, but that might not happen. So who is the third man?

    • WildfireOne

      Don’t know why you’re getting trashes. This is a legitimate question, since retaining Ortio seems very slim.

      Our 3rd guy is probably gonna be one of Gillies, Parsons, MacDonald, and isn’t there a new Czech guy as well…? Well, barring further signings.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think GG is going to find huge value in Backlund that BH never did. I know a lot people on FN are not fans but, I feel he is truly one of those rare players that make players around him better.

    He has underrated skill and speed, his biggest weakness is his shot. If he could ever improve his shot tot be even average, he would be a consistent 20g and 55 Pt player. If GG plays Backs line and Bennetts line as 2a and 2b he should see more offence.

    • OKG

      His biggest weakness isn’t his shot, it’s that he’s always played with pretty terrible wingers. I mean before Frolik/Bennett the best winger he ever had was Stempniak and a handful of games with Cammalleri. Backlund may never be a 30 goal scorer but he’d be a big point producer playing with a Marchand-level #1W.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Hard to argue….except not playing with better players is not anything he can control so it is not a player weakness rather an organizational over sight.

  • CalgaryCandle

    I think Hartley had his strengths–he developed certain players like Colbourne very well and was never afraid to throw rookies out in the last minute under high pressure situations.

    • Parallex

      Yeah, way better. I put a lot of that on Hartley… the team played the way he wanted them to play and when that didn’t work he refused to make adjustments.

      Gotta say I’m looking forward to seeing some actual structured breakouts and less shotblocking by design.

  • JKG

    It’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference the smaller equipment will make this year too.
    I feel like its going to be a bigger deal than we might think.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    If we are halfway through the season and the flames have similar goals against maybe it’s time to start questioning the defensive play instead of lambasting your goalies.
    The year they got into the playoffs everyone was saying what a great d they had then they fall apart last year and the goalies are to blame??

    • Baalzamon

      Do you actually read these before you post them? What seems more likely to you? One goalie abruptly declines, the only competent goalie in the system gets hurt, and the rest of the goalies are just legitimately bad; or seven defensemen suddenly forget how to play in their own end.

      And yes, it was in fact just one goalie. Hiller’s performance fell off a cliff. Age-related decline, presumably. Outside October (the month where the entire team was playing like a bunch of drunken, decapitated chickens) Ramo had a .914 sv%. Ortio wasn’t an NHL-level goalie yet, and Backstrom was just continuing a decline that had started three years previous.

      So again I ask you, what seems more likely to you? One goalie forgets how to play, or seven defensemen?

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        I’m saying maybe the d played over their heads and they are not as good as you think they are.

        If they were as good it wouldn’t have been a tire fire in their own end. Remember they were the 2nd highest paid d in the league last year.

        • KACaribou

          Normally you are just antagonizing people here. I have no problem with that BTW. Everyone has a right to express their opinions in Canada within the structure of the law, and I have never seen you post anything libelous.

          But, you make a good point here. Unfortunately you are preaching to a choir of ONE!. Nobody else here even questions the absolute greatness of the Calgary defence.

          Last year when the team was letting in tons of goals it was Russell’s fault but a lot to do with Engelend also.

          Now the excuse is terrible goalies, even though up to last season Hiller and Ramo had very good career averages and – saved our a$$e$ the playoff year. Suddenly both could not stop a beach ball.

          It can never, and I mean NEVER, have anything to do with Dougie Hamilton. He is Bobby Orr incarnate. Oh, and all those giveaways last year – were all Hartley’s fault.

          Your point is a good one. We’ll see how great the goalies are this season because they’re the greatest of all time. And Hartley’s gone, and so is Russell.

          Now we have the greatest D of all time, plus the greatest goalie, and more than likely the greatest coach to go along with the greatest GM.

          How could anything go WORNG.