The Flames have many goalie decisions to make, and not much time to make them

As it stands right now, the Calgary Flames have six goaltenders in main camp: Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Jon Gillies, David Rittich, Mason McDonald and Tyler Parsons. They also have Nick Schneider, who was one of their first cuts, under contract.

Because of a few factors – some of their doing, some outside their control – the Flames have a ton of decisions to make in the next few months.

Let’s walk you through them.

They Need Two Veterans

The Las Vegas Desert/Night/Snow/Whatever Hawks begin play with the 2017-18 season, and there will be an expansion draft in June to fill out their roster. As a requirement of the expansion process, the Flames need (a) a signed goaltender for the 2017-18 season to protect in the expansion draft and (b) either a signed goaltender to expose or one that will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017.

Right now, the Flames have neither of those things in their system. The recent murmurs that Brian Elliott’s agent has begun early contract talks with the Flames could satisfy the first requirement, but the second requirement is a bit tricky.

Why?

They Have Three Goalies Signed Already

The Flames have four pro goalies on the books for 2017-18, all of which will be 20+ and thus will have their deals running regardless of where they play:

  • David Rittich
  • Mason McDonald
  • Nick Schneider

Joining these guys will be Jon Gillies, who’ll be a restricted free agent following this season but can’t be exposed in the expansion draft because he’s only played two pro seasons under the terms of the CBA. (It’s the same weird quirk that allowed Johnny Gaudreau to be an RFA that couldn’t be offer-sheeted.)

Now, Schneider can be sent back to junior as an overager, but Rittich and McDonald will definitely be in the pro system somewhere.

What Is Jon Gillies?

The trickiest thing in the goalie progression is Gillies. He’s highly touted and has been great in college and quite good in a small AHL stint, all hampered by a hip injury. Now that he’s healthy, the sky may be the limit. But will he be ready for NHL backup duty in 2017-18?

If he’s not, you probably look to re-sign Chad Johnson… and then probably expose (and potentially lose) him in the expansion draft. If he is ready, then you still need to grab somebody to expose in the expansion draft, but it has to be somebody cheap enough that you don’t mind burying them in the AHL.

And given how crazy the goalie market usually is in terms of acquisition prices, you probably need to know what Gillies can do by Christmas or the All-Star Break so that you can wheel, deal and re-sign the pieces you need to have for 2017-18 (both for the expansion draft and to ice a competitive hockey club).

Tyler Parsons Is 20 Next Year

One more wrinkle: Parsons is a 1997 birthday and can play pro next season. Or he can go back to the OHL as an overager. The Flames retain his rights by merely offering him a contract by June 1, 2017, and he doesn’t actually need to be inked until June 1, 2018. But because of his age and his performances thus far in junior, he might push for a pro gig as early as next season.

A Lot Of Things To Decide

  • Is Brian Elliott the guy they want to go forward with for the next few seasons?
  • Is Jon Gillies good enough to be an NHL backup? If not, then who?
  • Do they keep Chad Johnson just to expose him in the expansion draft?
  • Is Nick Schneider going to be pro-ready next year? (Is Tyler Parsons?)

These are all questions that probably need answering by Christmas or the All-Star Break so Treliving can figure everything out well in advance of what will likely be a tumultuous summer of 2017.

  • Baalzamon

    I don’t see any reason why a team can’t choose to expose a player who would ordinarily be exempt. If the Flames don’t extend Johnson they could always choose to expose Rittich (who almost certainly wouldn’t be claimed).

    Don’t really understand why the Flames didn’t sign Johnson for two years in the first place though.

    • Hubcap1

      I had some similar thoughts about Rittich but I’m unsure what the answers are with regard to the rules. As for Johnson I had the same take when they signed him ‘Why not two years?’, but I assume they know the rules for expansion in and out so a one year deal fit their plans and/or they just wanted to play wait and see before giving Johnson another year.

    • Greatsave

      I don’t know legalese, but I suspect it would depend on whether “exempt” means “the player is automatically protected without the club having to use one of its protection spots”, or “the expansion team is forbidden from choosing the player.”

      In any case, the expansion rules are arbitrary bordering on nonsensical anyway. When they say “first- or second-year pro”, I think they only count seasons of NHL experience, which is nonsense because guys like Rittich, Nakladal, and Pribyl have been pro’s for many seasons in Europe. Heck, Matthews played in the Swiss league last season so technically he was playing pro hockey.

      • Baalzamon

        AHL years count too though (which is why Shinkaruk and Poirier require protection). The exception is with U20 players playing in the AHL (which does not include late birthdate 19 year olds, like Andersson, since those players are “considered” 20 year olds). An example of that is Kylington. Even though he’ll have played two pro seasons in North America by the time the draft comes around, the rules say he will have played 0… which is weird.

        The rules are really bizarre, I agree. Andersson will be expansion draft eligible a year before Kylington even though Kylington will have played one more year in the AHL. Random distinction.

  • Hubcap1

    I got to say that the Flames goaltending future looks as bright as ever, of course how that works out in the end is still in the future. But seriously, Gilles, Parsons, McDonald, and Schneider all between 22 and 19, there’s got to be a gamer in their somewhere post Elliott.

  • Greg

    To me, it’s that “have to expose one goalie” issue that’s the most interesting. Having two guys heading to free agency makes it tricky because Johnson might not want to resign if it’s just to become expansion draft fodder (which might explain why his deal was only 1 year to begin with). I was concerned there might be scenarios where Gilles might have to end up exposed, so good to know Rittich might possibly fill that slot. Is there a games played requirement for the exposed goalie? There is for skaters… We need JJ to play a half dozen games or so to ensure none of the big 3 on D are forced to be exposed for example.

    Regardless, I’m sure BT is well aware of what’s required and will manage it to ensure Gilles isn’t an expansion casualty. There’s a lot of other teams who’ll have much tougher choices on goalies (eg Pittsburgh).

  • Baalzamon

    @Shoestring & T&A4Flames

    From the expansion rules:

    One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list.

    There is no games played requirement for goaltenders, and Rittich is a RFA at the end of his current contract. He fits the rule, so long as he gets a qualifying offer.