Nearing the trade deadline, Calgary’s goalie decisions aren’t any clearer

Way, way back when the Calgary Flames signed free agent Tom McCollum to a contract, we remarked that the organization had a glut of goaltenders in their pipeline. The thought was, at the time, that the season would make things a lot clearer.

In Calgary, presumably one of Brian Elliott or Chad Johnson would distinguish themselves. The same goes for Stockton’s tandem of Jon Gillies and David Rittich. Unfortunately, it’s two weeks until the trade deadline and with a lot of other decisions contingent on figuring out who’s going to be in net for them next season, nothing is any clearer for the Flames.

Calgary Confusion

Through the first 57 games of the season, two things have become clear: Johnson is as good as everybody hoped he would be, while Elliott has some holes in his game. Brought in to be a really good backup, Johnson has started slightly more games than Elliott (32 for Johnson, 25 for Elliott) and put up consistently stronger numbers. Johnson’s .921 even strength save percentage puts him 22nd among the 46 goaltenders who have played 20 games or more, while Elliott’s .906 places him 42nd.

If nothing else, Johnson’s done enough to earn another deal here. But his solid-if-unspectacular style hasn’t done much to help him shed his “really good backup” reputation. If you keep him, you probably need to bring in a goaltender who’s at the same level to work in a tandem since he still hasn’t shown he’s an upper-echelon goalie or a bonafide top guy. He’s really good at his role, mind you, but there’s probably some hesitancy to just hand him the keys to the kingdom.

Elliott and Johnson are both pending unrestricted free agents. One of them will need to be signed and protected before the expansion draft. If Johnson is retained, I’m thinking Elliott goes to market. That said, I don’t think it’s a certainty that Johnson is re-signed if there’s a better fit in the trade or free agent market.

Minor Pro

Throughout the summer and fall, my feeling was that the Flames were going to keep one of Elliott or Johnson to be their 2017-18 starter and then promote either Gillies or Rittich to be the backup in Calgary. I’m a lot less sure that’s the plan.

Gillies has been decent for the Heat, though his save percentage has wilted a bit and currently sits at a fairly unimpressive .909. Rittich was brought in to push Gillies and aid in his development, and you can argue that he’s out-shined his teammate during the season. He has a really solid .923 save percentage, but he’s played fewer games as the Heat keep going back to Gillies in an effort to get him going with more reps.

Beyond those two it thins out quickly. McCollum has played all of four games this season – one in Stockton, three in Adirondack – and dresses as Stockton’s backup infrequently. He’s only here for expansion draft purposes. Mason McDonald has a drab .896 save percentage in Adirondack, which not only places him outside of that league’s top 20, it places him eighth out of the nine rookie goalies who play regularly in that league.

Aside from maybe Rittich, nobody at the minor pro level has performed well to the degree that they should graduate to a higher level – and with Rittich there are the obvious “has he played enough to know what he is?” questions.

Junior Jumble

The Flames have two prospects that could be playing pro next season or be headed back to junior as overagers. There’s good news and bad news regarding those two netminders.

In the OHL, Tyler Parsons is a legit elite goaltender. His .926 save percentage is tops among all regularly-playing Ontario goaltenders. Between his performance in last year’s playoffs, Memorial Cup and this year’s World Juniors, there are few doubts about his abilities. He’s played well enough to merit promotion to the next level, though there are some minor qualms to take into consideration. 

First, he doesn’t have a contract yet. Second, he’s had a few lingering injuries this season and in an effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs the Knights have been carrying three goalies and occasionally don’t even dress Parsons as backup. His durability might be something to think about going forward.

In the WHL, Nick Schneider has won many games for the Medicine Hat Tigers. But his save percentage has cratered quite a bit, dropping to a drab .890 – 29th in the WHL among regularly-playing goaltenders. The Tigers also brought in another goalie at the trade deadline, adding Michael Bullion from Portland. Bullion is the same age and about as good as Schneider, and the Tigers have basically operated in a tandem system since he was acquired. 

If the Flames were hoping Schneider would grab hold of the net in Medicine Hat this season and make a case for a pro gig next season, the past few months have to be seen as a bit of a disappointment. Schneider has a contract for next season and due to his age when it was signed, it runs next season whether he’s playing pro or junior hockey.

Too Many Goalies

The “best” allocation of the goalies for next season, using the goalies the Flames currently have, doesn’t look amazing:

  • Chad Johnson and David Rittich in Calgary
  • Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons in Stockton
  • Mason McDonald in Adirondack
  • Nick Schneider in Medicine Hat
  • Tom McCollum hanging out somewhere

Johnson is a relatively untested starter for a team that’s hoping to take another step forward. Rittich is an untested goalie at the NHL level. They probably want both Gillies and Parsons to play a ton next season, too, but putting McDonald at the AHL level (even as a backup) probably won’t work either.

The clarity the Flames likely hoped to find this season hasn’t emerged. If anything, the situation between the pipes at all levels of their organization is even murkier than it was when training camp ended.

  • DangleSnipeCelly

    I wouldn’t want to be sitting without a contract for next season right about now if I was Treliving.

    No clarity on the goaltending front at any level, NHL team is not in a playoff spot, AHL team may be the worst in pro hockey right now and their best player is a Feaster pick, questions surrounding GG who you just hired, several bad UFA signings including Brouwer who’s realistically only going to get worse and two trades with a hated division rival that are currently CLEAR WINS for the Canucks.

    I actually like Treliving quite a bit and hope they resign him but not a lot is going right for him or this organization lately.

  • MontanaMan

    Neither Calgary starter has proven a thing this year which must be disappointing for them, heading into a new contract. For my money, I retain Elliott (hopefully with a decent 3 year contract) and hope he regains his form next year and throughout his contract term. If his salary expectations are too high, cut him loose. If you move on from Elliott, sign Johnson to a good deal as a back up. If Elliott doesn’t regain his form and show his #1 stock, we know Johnson can’t so the Flames would need to go out and sign a bonafide #1 for next year.

    • everton fc

      I have to agree on Elliott vs Johnson, based on both recent performances and past history. I am okay w/retaining either of them, with Rittich as the backup. Gillies doesn’t make me comfortable with the big club. Yet. (Fire the goalie coach prior to any contract extensions or offers).

      I also think Parsons will be our goalie of the future. If we are patient, and let two of Rittich/Gillies/Parsons develop properly… We could be in a very good situation, though we’ll need $$$$ to retain these guys, if two come through shining brightly.

      Did I mention we should look for a new goalie coach??

    • Kevin R

      I mainly get trashed but I think Flames should pony up a few more assets to get a trial run with Bishop. He’s been pretty darn solid in net for Tampa lately & if he plays like that in March/April for Flames, he is a legitimate #1. Convince him to take a 5 year deal & try to get that number under 6.0 mill per. Use Riitch to back him up at league minimum & then we will have a credible #1. Everyone is worried about age but goalies don’t regress with age as much as forwards, goalies are just plain outright voodoo. They’ll look unstoppable for a run of games & then can’t stop a beach ball. Look at Price lately. Bishop is a big man & I still think has 4 really good years ahead of him yet. Go with the proven #1 & former Vezina candidate.

      • freethe flames

        What would the cost of Bishop be to acquire? If it’s low enough fine, if not no. Then what is the cost of signing him for 3/4 years; based upon this year his bargaining power has gone down. Some goalies regress rather rapidly. If he is inexpensive enough fine but not at to high of cost.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          First, Bishop would cost a lot because there is competition for him.

          Second, the talent Yzerman wants in return for Bishop is exactly the talent the Flames need to keep.

          Third, Bishop would be a fool not to test free agency with the crazy, stupid money some of the sun-baked GMs throw around.

          Fourth, Calgary is not exactly a desirable landing spot for top-end free agents in spite of Tre more than willing to overpay for them.

          Finally, the situation in St. Louis is setting itself up to be a perfect fit for Bishop.

          If Bishop takes my advice and goes home to St Louis, the Flames may well find themselves in the hunt for Shakey Jake. I am pretty sure Tre can spin doctor this one to the locals just as he did with Brouwer and GG.

        • Kevin R

          I would say to make it worth Yzermans while you give him Elliott back, a 3rd & a prospect like Wotherspoon or Hickey. If we were to up it to a 2nd, then I wouldn’t add the prospect. ultimately it would be like getting Bishop for last years 2nd & this years 2nd. Worry about the extension once we see how he does in a Flames sweater. There aren’t that many #1 NHL goalie positions available in the real world. I think yzerman was trying to extract our 1st last year & to me that would have been unacceptable. A couple 2nd rounders I have no problem rollin the dice on a position we need to get a handle on.

          Now I wouldn’t be all that opposed to MAF & again one of our goalies would be going back but I would want maybe something to compensate for the extra 2 years & cap space we would be giving them. 1st off, they take Wideman & they take Elliott & then I would ask for Poilliott(sp?).
          Before throwing up, we need a bonafide #1 goalie while we wait for Gillies & Parsons to ripen. Two years of Fleury fits the time wheel house. I would also love to see what Poilliott could do as well. With Wideman, Smid & Engellend leaving in the summer, it would be nice to get a few young NHL ready dmen fighting for some jobs for the first time in a long time.

          • everton fc

            We need a new goalie coach prior to signing or trading for any goalie.

            Of course, they’d have to miss the playoffs “significantly” for any coaching changes to occur. Head coach and “otherwise”….

      • MontanaMan

        Well, if they sign neither Elliott or Johnson, they need to sign two goalies. Yes, signing Elliott to a three year deal has some risk, but they will likely need to bring one of the current tandem back or risk going with two new goalies again. The key is a good price point for limited years. If it can be done, sign Elliott. If not, move on.

  • PrairieStew

    Flames are 8-3-1 in the last 12 started by Elliot. 4-8 in the last 12 started by Johnson. Johnson’s cumulative numbers better, but Elliott narrowing the gap.

    Who you keep is also affected by what they are asking and what they might bring back in a deadline day deal. If Elliot wants $4m and Johnson $2m, I’m going with Chad. If we can recoup the 2 picks(one second, one third) traded initally for Elliot on March 1, then you have to look at that as well.

  • Raffydog

    Dump both Elliot and Johnson, they have done nothing to warrant resigning, Johnson must have the worst glove hand in the league, and everyone knows it, and Elliot…well I don’t know what happened there. Not sure what the answer is, none of the goalies on the farm clubs give me any hope, so I guess a trade of some sort might work.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Elliot nor Johnson is the answer here. Especially without upgrading our defence. Am I beating a dead horse? This team needs better defensive defenseman. Until they address that problem we could have Carey price and we still wouldn’t be doing so great. Trade one of our top 3 for a dman and then focus on a goalie.

    • BlueMoonNigel


      Flames had an awful defence during Kipper’s first few years here yet the team still made the playoffs.

      Do I need to remind you what the Dominator did to the sub-standard teams he played on?

      Neither Elliott nor Johnson are anything close to Kipper, so keep looking.

      • JoelOttosJock

        Are you kidding? Terrible d then? We were playing Sutter hockey..defense first. Robyn Reader was our number 1 dman. A defensive dman, that allowed guys like dion to flourish in 2nd pair roles..also Ferrence and sari check. Then Bouwmeester. Warrener was there too. Way better deal than what we have now. Look at any top goaltender in today’s nhl, not pre-lock out and they are playing with one or more gifted DEFENSIVE defenceman. Rinse had weber/suter/josi/Jones etc
        Holt by has Alzner/orpik/Carlson etc
        Elliot had Bouwmeester/shattenkirk/Pietra gleo etc all HUGE upgrades on our terrible back end

  • Jakethesnail

    Who will Calgary go after with their extra 12 million this summer? They’ll be looking at Russel for sure for the number 4 d position.

    He might want to stay with McDavid and that shiny new building.

  • Raffydog

    Actually quite worried about where the Flames are right now, kind of reminds me of the Iggy era. Not good enough to be contenders, but not bad enough to score a good draft pick. If you can’t draft good prospects, the only way to improve is by trading draft picks, current roster players, or what prospects we have, and what that leaves you with is an aging group of has beens, until you have to blow the whole thing up, and start over. Just seems like we are spinning our wheels and not going anywhere.

    • Kevin R

      Dont understand this post, how in the world can you compare now to our aging bubble team Sutter constructed around our aging stars of Iggy & Kipper?? Last I looked Bennett, Tkachuk, Monahan, Gaudreau, Brodie, Hamilton are pretty young players. Spinning wheels? These guys are just starting to learn what it takes to win in this league.

      • Raffydog

        I agree, they are a young team, but I see no improvement, but lots of regression. Monahan, best of the bunch but still not as good as last year. Gaudreau, I can’t think of any positives this season, a shell of the player last year. Brodie, in my opinion the best dman we had last couple of seasons, but again a complete disappointment this year. Gio, not getting any better. Bennet, well enough has been said of his play this year. Backlund, having a great year, but when Backlund is your leading scorer, things aren’t looking good. And the list goes on and on. I see nothing from how these guys are playing, that gives me hope for the future. And the few times they called up guys from the ahl, they aren’t doing enough to make the team want to keep them up. If we start drafting 10th, 12th, 13th spot for the next few years, that gets us nowhere. Like I said, not good enough to contend, not bad enough to stockpile good prospects, spinning their wheels.

      • SydScout

        Agree, we have a bunch of kids out there, learning their trade with the big boys. St Louis lost a bunch of old heads last year and look at them – they fired Hitch who is a marked upgrade over GG!

        Give these young blokes time, their talents haven’t disappeared overnight. I do have a growing concern over the coaching though.

        Trying to give GG plenty of rope but its short now. The possession game has really improved, but so many gaps in his thinking otherwise (Gaudreau’s ability and GG’s style doesnt at all mesh – bring back the kid’s space…how I miss a Brodie stretch pass to JH streaking into the O zone).

        The Wideman decision is baffling….UNLESS he is being told to play him to increase trade value. IF so, there are two massive flaws in this argument at this point in the season:

        1. DW’s play is hurting the team’s chances of a playoff spot. Reason enough to end the Brodie / Wideman experiment.

        2. DW’s play is hurting his tradability… His play is abysmal, so who would want him anyway?!

        Still a fan of BT, but he needs help from his lieutenants – GG and Huska specifically (dammit, starting to sound like Wally – maybe the ole boozehound is right)

    • Greg

      The goaltending situation is a mess, sure, but worries about the whole team? Already concluding they’ll never get to contender level?

      At the start of the season, all predictions were the Flames “might” push for a playoff spot, and at 9th in the West, that’s exactly what they are doing. i think you’ve gotta wait and see if they take another step forward next year before you can start to worry about the rebuild being a failure.

  • Brodano12

    Scott Darling or Phillip Grubauer. Both will be cap or expansion casualties, and both seem like the next Martin Jones or Max Talbot – good starters held back by the elite goalie in front of them.

    Both can be had for cheap and short term, both are on the right side of 30, meaning we can spend more on getting a top line RW and/or top 4 LD.

    • jakethesnail

      So would I…likely won’t happen until Flames clinch a not-in-playoffs spot.

      Based on recent stats posted by ….. Elliott is doing much better than Johnson lately. See what can be had for Johnson at TDL: if no decent offers he stays. But see what Rittich csn do if we get bounced out of a playoff spot.

      • everton fc

        A Rittich start would certainly shake things up. Especially if he gets a shutout.

        Wideman should be benched for Kulak and Jokipaaka. This, too, would shakeup the room a bit.

        Bouma needs to be moved as part of a package – maybe he, our first and Jokipaaka could get us a player who can put a spark in this group (or, hate to say it, Kulak, who I think we should keep because he’ll end up a top-4 d-man soon)

        On the farm, Lomberg may never play an NHL game… But his game, if he could apply some offence (I think he could, though nothing more than Hathaway/Chiasson…) We need a scrappy mucker like Lomberg. Outside Ferland, Engelland, Hathaway and Tkachuk, we are “Bounty Soft” most nights. This, with Brouwer, Bouma, Gio…

  • Pond Hockey

    What is the similarity between Johnson and a shooter tutor?

    They’re always open high glove side.

    Hmmm…two trashes so far. I guess Chad and his goalie coach must follow this site.

    #’s 3 and 4 must be Glen and Tre (the team probably has a group chat.

    I’m a bit surprised that Elliot isn’t propping the #!?% out of it – job security.

    Chad, is that you trashing away?