WWYD Wednesday: Re-sign Chad Johnson?

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. 

  • Primo

    Extend both goalies….Johnson 4 yrs $15M. Getting Elliotte extended on a 1 year “show me” deal is not out of the question. Gillies is still 2 years away.

    • Parallex

      Something to keep in mind in regards to this missive… if the Flames extend Elliott we lose another draft pick per the condition on the St. Louis trade.

  • Ole YELLEr

    I would wait until at least after the trade deadline. That way you can see more of Johnson, Elliot, Rittich,and Gillies in action. Plus with the expansion draft there’s always the possibility of getting a steal of a deal on a goalie.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Agreed, but I’d wait until the end of the season.

      Signing Johnson on 01 Jan versus in April or May will save the team how much dough? The guy has been a career back-up. If he tried to overplay his hand and ask for crazy stupid money, then Tre should usher him out the door. Give me a full season of work and then decide.

      Remember Hudler and Russell might have been regrettably resigned prematurely.

      While on this topic, let’s go crazy and say that Versteeg scores 30 goals and gets 30+ helpers. Are you going to sign him during what would be an extended torrid streak or wait until the season is over to make the call? Sign a guy too early, and you might badly overpay. Wait until the season is done and then offer the guy a fair deal. If he balks, let him walk. Let somebody else pay him crazy stupid money if that is what he is determined to get.

  • kittensandcookies

    Not sure if the infamous Turek story was ever mentioned here: The day after he signed that deal some Eastern European/Russian mafia group showed up at his house and demanded that he pay them “protection” money.

  • cjc

    Wait… ish. After Jan. 1 but before the TDL? Gives you a larger sample size, but not so much that the raise is hefty. I’d be happy with $4mil x3 or $3mil x 4. Johnson is a career .917 goalie, so it’s not like he’s a completely unknown quantity.

    As for Elliot, if he can’t make the starting job interesting this year, there isn’t much point in bringing him back. There will be younger/cheaper options out there.

  • everton fc

    Sign Johnson.

    Do nothing w/Elliott until he proves he’s not so fragile.

    Hope Rittich is for real, as he may be closer to “ready” than Gillies. In fact, he probably is…

  • PrairieStew

    That $3.33 for Kipper was when the cap was $39 million, so it was a relatively much larger number. He was younger than Johnson is.

    Wait until All star break. 2 years $6m or 3 years and $8.

  • Nighteyes

    I think Elliot has a lot more to give to this team, and I think he will at some point in the season. The Flames play better with Johnson in net because they feel safe–the same things needs to happen with Elliot, eventually.

  • jakethesnail

    Sign him early 3 years or we could be looking at big bucks like Devan Dubnyk…after only one-half year of a good showing at Minny after wandering in the desert..

    He got 6 years, 26 million.

    • Nighteyes

      I think there is also the question of whether he has the stamina to perform at this level over a whole season–he’s never been a full blown starter before.

    • Greg

      Honestly, probably next November sometime. Lots of goalies have 1 great year and then go crashing back down the following year. Everyone will assume he’s still a .917 goalie unless he keeps it up well into next year.

  • icedawg_42

    I always thought that a good team could succeed with mediocre goaltending. The last couple Flames seasons have turned that opinion on it’s head. We’ve seen bad goaltending completely boggle this team. We’ve seen how stellar goaltending can cover some significant deficiencies. With Johnson, history aside – the sample size would scare the poop out of me when considering a long term deal. I would have said sign Elliot long term for the same reason. Again – logic turned upside down. This one is a toughie. Kent – what would YOU do?

  • flamesburn89

    I’d wait till probably around the All Star break before having serious talks with his agent. This could all just be a mirage, or he could be the real deal. Only time will tell.

  • Locker Room Talk

    I dunno, he’s hot right now, let’s see if he can keep it up. He has proven himself to be consistent through his career, but you never want to rush into things. Personally I feel that Johnson is capable of a full workload and I do believe he can provide above average goaltending for the Flames consistently. I trust Tre will make the right choice, and I think that means we’ll see Johnson back next year. We’ll see!

  • Nick24

    It’s still too early for my liking. It’d probably be better to see how the season plays out. He’s still, up until now, been a carer back-up and he’s 30. I’d try to get Elliot going again before the TDL, as it seems odd that he would fall off so hard from his previous 4-5 seasons.

    When the time comes, and if Johnson does continue this pace, or even if he comes down to .920sv%, a 2-3 year deal at $2.8m-$3.3m would be about as far as you’d want to go.

  • JohnnyRecHockey

    I would see if you can sign him to backup money July 1, say 2.5 mil per/3 yrs tell him he will compete for the starting job. I think you budget 6-7 mil for your goal-tending, that would leave you 4.5 to sign someone else if you think he can’t handle starting duties, or you bring up Rittich or Gillies as his backup and then you have a very cheap goal-tending position, but still have flexibility to bring someone in if it falters.

  • deantheraven

    Johnson is the real deal- on the ice in games and practice as well as off the ice. He’s so cool, ice wouldn’t melt in his cup. He could be great for the team and The Next Starting Goalie. Let him lead or do tandem with the readiest of the boys from Stockton next year. Wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes his career here.
    Don’t re-sign Moose. Yes, his kit is awesome but his struggles have had a ripple effect. And I don’t think either Elliott or Johnson were supposed to be more than placeholders anyway. Gillies is supposed to be the future, and Rittich has made the conversation interesting.

    Longerish-term Johnson fits better, and you can’t protect two goalies in the expansion draft anyway, so no point in signing both.
    I say sign Chad Jan 01, for a hometown discount of something between 2-3.5 mil for 3 years.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I think giving both Elliot and Johnson backup rate, plus 10-20% would be a good place to start. Wouldnt go further than a 2 year deal for either.

    I think both have more to prove to the Flames before a major deal is inked.

    Vegas has already publically stated they will be looking for undervalued assets for their picks. If Johnson gets the protection spot there is a real risk that elliot could get snagged. In that regard, it may actually be in the Flames best interest to keep Elliots numbers low. I am quite happy with him staying in the shadows until next year, after the expansion draft. I think he will prove himself. Honestly, I think its more the early season play of the Flames defence that make his numbers look so bad, not as much his own play.

  • Justthateasy

    Wait and pay the freight on Johnson.
    Elliott gets nothing. We have many goalies in the offing. Goalies will not bolt if they don’t get what they want. Starting over in a new city with a new team is a flip of the coin + 100% they would rather stay where they are.
    There is never any rush on a goaltender.

  • Dan the flames fan

    I would say a serious contract look at around game 50. That gives us almost a solid year of hot play. Contract should look like 2 years @ 3.5 mil.