WWYD Wednesday: Solve the Flames’ goaltending problem

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?

Re-sign Elliott

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. 

Re-sign Johnson

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?

  • Greatsave

    What often gets lost in these conversations is the fact that Fleury and Bishop both have NMC’s. I don’t doubt that Pittsburgh and Tampa would love to move them, Pittsburgh especially, but the goalies have a say. Tampa can probably just let Bishop walk, or gamble that Vegas won’t take him due to impending UFA.

  • Stan

    I would look to see if I could find the next Talbot (ie. backup ready for prime time). Raanta and Grubauer intrigue me. I also really like Mrazek, but I’m not sure how much you’d have to give up for him.

    Depending how Elliott plays down the stretch, I wouldn’t be opposed to resigning him either. Lately he has looked like the Elliott I thought we were getting from STL!

  • TrevorKidd37

    Bishop: Bringing in Bishop makes a lot of sense, but at what price? There is speculation that Bishop was aware that Calgary wanted to acquire his services at the 2016 draft, and was all for coming here. That said, do we give up a draft pick / picks to acquire his services now, or, do we wait until free agency this summer?

    Fleury: I would rather keep what we have

    Mrazek: Makes a lot of sense, especially at his age and what he has shown as a 25 year old

    Rannta: To Stan’s point… he could be the next Talbot

    • everton fc

      I’m still not convinced we need a new goalie coach, before we invest in new goalies….

      Grubauer’s interesting, but how much is his success is his being w/the Caps? Raanta’s also interesting. Ditto Mrazek. All want a chance to start somewhere, for more money…

      Would be nice to give Rittich a few games this season, just to see how he does, but won’t happen in the current playoff race unless one of the current duo goes down to injury. Parsons looks great down the road. Perhaps Parsons will be an “elite” goalie for us sooner than later? Hope so. I still like Gillies, as well, but think Rittich. I’d not sign anyone long term for big bucks. Makes no sense.

  • Prototype369

    No to Fleury, yes to Bishop, absolutely no to re-signing Elliott, yes to re-signing Johnson. Raanta or Mrazek I honestly don’t know much about to formulate an opinion

    • Greg

      Beat me too it, but I hope that’s an option the flames are looking at.

      There was an article here a couple weeks ago showing that based even on these poor results, the Elliot and Johnson combo still had the best results of all the options the flames had from last season.

      Goalies are voodoo… if BT had somehow traded Elliot for Price around Christmas, we’d actually be so far out of the playoff race right now we’d be talking about the entry draft.

      Elliot has stabilized a lot since his rough start and I’m comfortable continuing on with him as a 1A/B option (over Fleury??? For sure!!!). I’m just not sure in comfortable enough to cough up another 3rd to do that. He’s got another ~20 games to convince me, otherwise you resign Johnson and look at other options for next year (Halak?)

  • Nick24

    I thought the thing with Bishop was there was a deal in place, but Bishop wouldn’t of wanted to stay here long term, so the it didn’t go through.

    I’d be alright with keeping Elliott another year or two, provided he has a strong run to the end of the season.
    Finding a goalie on the younger side of 27 would probably be ideal, but I can’t imagine too many teams would be eager to part with an NHL caliber goalie in that range.

  • Bob's Hockey Stick

    To me it seems the Goaltending Coach has to take a big share of the goaltending failure’s we’ve had the past couple seasons. So the first thing that needs to happen is Fire the Goalie Coach.

    Next I’d talk to Detroit and inquire if a deal for Mrazek can be had. I’d dangle either Johnson or Elliot up,Detroit’s choice whom they’d accept. Which ever Goalie Detroit Didn’t want is who you re sign. Then Run with Mrazek and leftover as your tandem next season with a new Goalie coach. Then pray the Goalie Coach you hired isn’t hot garbage.

    Then Further help the Goaltending by NOT bringing back Wideman, Smid, Jokipakka. Engelland while terrible contract has at least been a servicable foot soldier whom I would be okay with bringing back on a cheaper contract. Thinking addition by major Subtractions with our defense core will also help improve the goaltending.

    It’s not like the situation can possibly get any worse right ?

  • Trevy

    Hard pass on MAF or Bishop. I would definitely gamble on Raanta or Grubauer and keep Johnson as insurance. Gillies and Riitch both need more seasoning before they graduate to the show. I would also hire a new goalie coach!!

  • Backburner

    Raanta has the best numbers, but I just don’t think he will be available.

    I’d go for Bishop. He just turned 30, has had great numbers throughout his career, playoff experience. Good chance he will return to form.

    If he plays great, Flames stand a good chance of resigning him next year as they have the cap space to do it, and will have negotiating rights.

    If he doesn’t, Flames walk away.

  • TheKurgan

    I would be fine with the Flames resigning Elliot and/or Johnson if we can get them on a reasonable deal. Both have preformed well at times this season and there is no guarantee a big name like Bishop or Fleury would be able to do any better in front of our defense. I don’t think Mrazek and Rannta are any better or worse than what we already have. Regardless, with the expansion draft there will be a good selection of goalies floating around so hopefully we will be able to land a couple decent ones on good contracts.

    Instead of blowing a bunch of cap space on a high profile goalie I hope the Flames spend the money a solid 3/4 dman to play with Brodie. That alone would go a long way to improving our goals against.

  • Brodano12

    What about Scott Darling? He’s been backup to Crawford for a number of years with a 0.928 sv% this year and 0.924 career sv%. Between Darling, Raanta and Grubauer, I think we can find the next Talbot or Jones. I also think we should sign Johnson over Elliot as a back up – he’s better at the back up role and we get to keep our 3rd rounder.

    • Lucky 13

      I see the logic in this. For one, Johnson has numbers similar to Bishop.. in fact almost identical in every respect without the high price tag.
      Elliott would no doubt be more tradeable with his playoff games and history.

      Darling has been solid as you say as a backup to Crawford and perhaps Treliving does a magic show for us.Darling is 6’6 and 230lbs , great big hulking of a man and only 28 years old.
      Would be a nice pickup

  • Super Scout

    Sign both to a one to two years and keep developing the prospects for that time period. Are you sure there are better goalies then what we have now overall. Plus they both will sign for a reason contract that will make things cost effective.

  • Danomitee

    Re-sign one of Elliot/Johnson, but decide when the season is over. MAF no thanks, Bishop test in free agency if we’re still looking. If you could get a Darling, Raanta, Grubauer for a reasonable price then go out and do it. Unfortunately I think the price will be pretty high on all three, so then it becomes what are we willing to give up?

  • Zalapski

    I’m all for Mrazek or Darling. Darling is your prototypical hulking netminder that teams covet. Re-sign Johnson then use the 3rd in 2018 to trade for Darling. I think he may be easier to get because of Chicago having such a good team year in and out. Mrazek is young and dynamic and I’ve always loved his pads, so that’s a good enough reason for me. We should consider firing Sigalet. The goalies who have come here just haven’t performed. Plan C is sign Russel and convert him to a goalie. He’d probably be more valuable that way.

  • cjc

    Worrying about the goaltending situation is pointless until the top 4 D situation is resolved. I would use assets to improve that position after the expansion draft, then look at goalie options – a better option than Elliot and Johnson may arise and there is no need to decide right now, as they will expose McCollum for the draft.

  • Kevin R

    If the cost of Bishop isn’t too bad, I would rent him for these last 20 games to test drive him & see if he is even worth pursuing in free agency. If he plays well, gets us into the playoffs & maybe even steals a series, then we found our guy as he is the real deal. I really don’t want to go through another hail Mary that someone should be a #1 because they happen to have a decent save percentage with a totally different team & small sample size. Seems like we have been there & doing that.

  • The Doctor

    I tend to think that perceptions of Elliott (and his numbers) are negatively skewed by that horrible start that the Flames had this year, when they played him quite a bit. Our defence has had issues all year, but during that stretch, it was especially horrendous. I think he’s been generally better as the season has gone on. And you look at last night, he got absolutely hung out to dry on 3-4 of those goals, and was at least borderline interfered with on Subban’s. This team is still young and a work in progress, and is still making too many team boneheaded defensive errors. I’d take him over Johnson at this point, I think Johnson has had a hot streak or two this season, but he’s not #1 material.

    IMO this team has other priority issues, such as getting the defence personnel and parings settled, perhaps beefing up the RW position and permanently putting Chaisson on the fourth line where he belongs. Veering off-topic, but I think the problem with Chaisson is the legacy of being a 1st round pick. GMs and coaches can’t wrap their head around the fact that he’s not cut out to be a big producer and he’s arguably a perfect and natural 4th liner — and there’s nothing wrong with that. Very similar story to Matt Stajan’s.

  • freethe flames

    Don’t get into a bidding war for a goalie; if one can be had cheaply fine. My question is why no one has mentioned Condon out of Ottawa; his numbers have been good this year and he helped save their season when Anderson was out.

  • jakethesnail

    Can’t even get into the playoffs without a strong number one goalie. If the Oilers Tallbutt had a season like his previous one they would be on the outside of a playoff shot too.

    I wouldn’t take MAF and I don’t think Bishop is on the block since Tampa Bay is still within reach of a playoff spot.

    I would stay with Elliott and Johnson the rest of the season, with Elliott getting the majority of starts. If they fall out of the playoffs find out what Rittich can do.

  • Ktop

    So how bad would Elliott have to play before people would give up on him. He let’s in one bad goal a game. He’s older, going to be more money and the team plays worse in front of him.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    I’m all for seeking out a Raanta, Grubauer, Mrazek, or Darling. I see this team as having a legit window to compete in the next 1-4 years and these guys fit the age and potential to help us do it. No doubt there is risk, but I like some risk in my sports teams.

    Now, if we could only leave Brouwer unprotected and have Vegas pick him up…