Chad Johnson sure is the talk of the town now, isn’t he?
And why wouldn’t he be? He has effectively taken over the starter’s role, having put together multiple great performances, a couple of shutouts, and having been the sole reason the Flames have won a couple of times now.
He has a .928 save percentage, good for seventh in the NHL amongst all goalies with at least 10 games played; at even strength, it’s .939 and he’s eighth. Johnson is legitimately a top 10 goaltender in the NHL at this point in time, and the Flames are winning with him in net more often than not.
Maybe the coolest part of it all? He’s living the dream: playing for his hometown team.
I’d imagine there’s something a little extra special about getting to suit up for the team you grew up cheering for. What hockey-playing kid doesn’t dream of that? It doesn’t always happen, and I’m sure there are plenty of NHLers out there who this doesn’t matter in the slightest to, but it’s still cool.
The Flames bid farewell to Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond, and Kris Russell this past offseason: three guys who grew up cheering for the Flames, three guys who had the opportunity to play for them, score goals for them, be the catalyst for that burst of flame they themselves likely felt in the Saddledome years earlier.
Who’s in now? Well, Johnson, for one. Kris Versteeg of Lethbridge, for another. Hunter Shinkaruk was the hometown kid many were hoping the Flames would take at 22nd overall in the 2013 NHL draft; he ended up here eventually. And I don’t know if Provost is geographically in the realm of Flames country, but this is just about as hometown a team as Lance Bouma could hope to play for, isn’t it?
That’s essentially four local boys on the Flames’ roster: all at different stages of their careers.
Shinkaruk, 22, is only just getting started, and hasn’t even really made the NHL full time yet. He has a lot of potential, but at this stage of the game he’s getting third or fourth line minutes, and he has just two goals and two assists in a career 14 NHL games. His time should come shortly, but not yet.
Bouma, 26, is at about the middle portion of his career. He’s a fourth line guy; his one really good, out of nowhere season behind him. The unfortunate part is as of late, he keeps getting plagued with injuries, none of which have particularly been his fault. Still: he’s ultimately a fourth line guy who had one good year, and as he gets older, his body may not be able to fully handle the style of game he plays.
Versteeg, 30, almost ended up playing this season in Europe. It’s not that he’s not an NHL-caliber player – he very much is – it’s that NHL-caliber players fall by the wayside all the time. There are only so many spots to go around. Versteeg is ultimately on the downswing of his career, but he’s still playing decent minutes and he can still produce – as long as he’s healthy enough to, that is.
And then there’s Johnson, 30, who is probably playing the best hockey of his career right now. He’s generally put up pretty good numbers throughout his NHL career (just 101 games before he came to Calgary), but he wasn’t ever really given much of a chance until Buffalo’s starting netminder went down with injury the season before. The 2015-16 season very well could have been the best of his career, but the 2016-17 is looking like it’s going to pass it. And who knows how much more he has left in him?
The Flames really needed goaltending after last season. They addressed it perfectly in the offseason, getting pretty much the best bang for the buck tandem possible. Johnson isn’t the guy we thought would be running away with things, but as things stand right now, he is; it’s just a little extra cooler that he’s getting the chance to prove himself wearing this particular jersey.