The Calgary Flames’ recent renaissance has been authored in large part by the goaltending of (former?) career backup Chad Johnson. So far this year the 30-year-old has started 16 games, winning 11 of them while stopping 93.1% of the shots he’s faced.
That elite level of goaltending has helped the Flames dig themselves out of a very deep hole.
It has also raised some fundamental questions about the Flames’ netminding. First, is Johnson the de facto starter for the Flames moving forward over Brian Elliot? And secondly, should the Flames brass consider re-signing Johnson as quickly as possible (Jan. 1, 2017)?
For now Johnson is certainly the unquestioned starter ahead of Brian Elliott, but it’s reasonable to wonder how long the hot streak will last or if Elliott can re-take the net. Although Johnson has been very good over the last few years, Elliott has been near the top of the league for nearly five seasons prior to his struggles in Calgary. It’s entirely possible he could go on a run similar to what Johnson is managing now.
The far more important question, though, is whether the Flames should seek to re-ink Johnson sooner rather than later. There are potential risks and rewards associated with the move.
The risks are obvious: Chad Johnson is a 30-year-old goalie who has never established himself as a starter in the NHL. In short, a guy who may merely be playing through a hot streak. Many, many GMs have been fooled by a season or less of hot goaltending only to sign a contract they would soon regret. And remember – bad goalie contracts are really, really hard to shed.
The reward, though, could be inking a solid, above average starter for way below market price. If the Flames get Johnson in the fold for a few more years at a modest raise and he proves to be the real deal, he’ll be a big steal and hugely valuable asset.
In fact, the risks and rewards can be better illustrated by peering back into Flames history.
Turek and the Kipper
Roman Turek came to Calgary via a trade from the St. Louis Bluse with one year left on his deal. He was considered a potential starter in the league at the time, though there were questions about his ceiling after a mediocre season in St. Louis behind a very good team. Nevertheless, it was hoped he could help stabilize a young, underdog Flames club.
He got off to a red hot start in Calgary, with the club winning 13 of their first 17 games – a run that included four shutouts for the new starter. In fact, in 14 of his first 17 games, Turek allowed two goals or fewer. He looked to be a saviour for a floundering franchise. GM Craig Button eagerly signed Turek to a three-year, $9M extension as a result.
Everyone knows how this tale ends. Turek came back down to earth and the team with him. The Flames ended the season with a .906 team SV%, three points below the league average of .909 that year. They also missed the playoffs.
Turek followed up that year with a .902 SV% in 2002-03, marking him as a completely mediocre and overpaid starter. Fans turned on him and Button by that time, marking the contract extension as a key error by a green general manager.
Calgary was saved from the Turek blunder the next season by Darryl Sutter’s acquisition of Miikka Kiprusoff. With Turek battling injuries, Kiprusoff arrived, displaced the struggling incumbent, and helped carry the Flames to their first playoff appearance in 10 years thanks to a league-best .933 SV%.
Unlike Turek, Kipper turned out to be the real deal. His next contract with the Flames was also in the $3.33M/year range, but it proved to be one of the best contracts in the league at the time.
What Would You Do?
Turek’s brilliance lasted about 17 games in 2001. Kipper’s grand entrance onto the elite goalie stage was 38 regular season games (plus 26 playoff games) in 2003-04. Both guys were rewarded with three-year, $9M(ish) deals. One turned out to be a terrible mistake. The other, an underpaid Vezina candidate.
So should the Flames be talking to Chad Johnson’s agent? How many games should Brad Treliving wait before he’s comfortable to make an offer? Remember that the bigger the performance sample, the less risk (but the pricier the contract demand).
Sound off in the comments.