Brad Treliving probably thought he’d solved the Flames’ goaltending woes last summer. At least, he likely thought he was inching closer to a long-term solution.
In the 2016 offseason, Treliving traded for Brian Elliott and signed Chad Johnson to a cheap, one-year deal. Together, Elliott and Johnson promised to improve Calgary’s netminding by over 30 goals against if they could manage career average save rates at even strength. In addition, adding two veterans gave Jon Gillies another season to develop in the minors so he could potentially challenge for a spot in 2017-18.
Unfortunately, nothing has worked out in Treliving’s favour. Neither of the veterans he brought in have managed to quell the organization’s goalie anxieties. Calgary still boasts some of the worst netminding at even strength this year and Gillies has struggled through a mediocre season in the AHL.
Which means there are no easy answers moving forward. Johnson and Elliott are both pending free agents and Gillies hasn’t made a convincing case that he’s ready for prime time. So what do the Flames do? Should they re-sign one or both of the current incumbents and hope they rediscover their form? Or do the trade for one of the goalies who will no doubt hit the market in advance of the expansion draft?
The first option is to re-sign Brian Elliott. The one upside of the 31-year-old having a miserable season is that he won’t be able to argue for dollars or term for his next contract. That gives Calgary the option to gamble on a cheap, short-term contract that Elliott will rebound and once again become one of the best goalies in the league.
On the downside is just how badly Elliott has stumbled in the face of higher expectations in Calgary. While he has a strong resume and years of above average play to his credit, Elliott has struggled badly with consistency in the Flames crease this year. He’ll also be 32 when the next season starts, a time when many NHLers start to see their performance erode.
If Treliving decides to keep Elliott, it is likely as a potential backup or 1B option rather than the guaranteed starter.
The Flames’ best stretch of goaltending came from Chad Johnson this season. Between the end of November and middle of December, Johnson played 11 games and stopped nearly 94% of the pucks he saw at even strength. That outburst allowed the Flames to get back into the playoff picture and likely helped save the season.
Unfortunately, Johnson has been worse than mediocre since his strong run. Since the calendar flipped to 2017, Johnson has appeared in 10 games and put up an 89.9% save rate at ES. It’s the primary reason Elliott has recently taken over as the Flames’ starter again.
Johnson is younger than Elliott, but doesn’t have as strong a resume. He’s never been a starter in the NHL, though has consistently provided better than average backup performances for many of his teams in the past.
Like Elliott, Johnson won’t be expensive to re-sign given his season. However, he is even less of a solid bet to rebound and become a starter next year. At best the team would be pencilling him in as a veteran backup.
Trade for a goalie
Which brings us back to where the organization was this time last year: looking to a trade for help.
Thanks to the Vegas threat, a lot of teams will be putting their second netminder on the trade market in the near future, likely starting as early as the trade deadline. Pittsburgh needs to move out Marc-Andre Fleury in order to retain Matt Murray, while the Lightning will want to flip Ben Bishop before he goes to free agency.
There are other options aside from the big names as well. Antti Raanta will cost just $1M next year, but has outplayed Henrik Lundqvist this season (in terms of SV%). Philipp Grubauer is a 25-year-old pending free agent who has managed a .935 SV% for Washington in 16 games so far and comes with sparkling AHL numbers. Finally, there is Petr Mrazek, also 25, who has struggled in a down year after apparently becoming the Detroit Red Wings’ starter last season.
Fleury and Bishop come with question marks and bigger salaries, so the Flames may want to take a chance on one of the younger, less established guys instead. In fact, having one of Elliott or Johnson to swap in a potential trade at the deadline could help snag one of the guys in question, while giving the other team a decent backup in return for their playoff run.
What would you do?
Re-sign Elliott and/or Johnson? Trade for one of Fleury or Bishop? Gamble on a younger, cheaper option like Grubauer or Raanta? More than one of these? None? How would you plan to solve the Flames’ goaltending conundrum?