Photo Credit: Billy Hurst / USA Today Sports

Who will the Flames’ goalie be next season?

New offseason, same as the last. After a disastrous 2015-16 in net for the Flames, they bid goodbye to all three of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, and Joni Ortio, and started afresh with two new goalies: Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. Elliott was acquired for a 2016 second round pick (and, if he signs an extension, a 2018 third round pick), while Johnson was brought in via free agency.

Both their seasons had high and low points, and both finished with a .910 save percentage (all situations) and Elliott with a less-than-ideal playoffs. Their combined cap hit was just $4.2 million, and the Flames did genuinely upgrade their goaltending; that said, there’s clear room for improvement.

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Fortunately, there are a lot of different possible netminders to choose from for 2017-18. Calgary could trade for one – a possibility made more interesting by the threat the expansion draft poses – or pick up a goalie in free agency. That is, of course, barring the possibility they re-sign either of their current netminders, or even promote a prospect, as the Stockton Heat’s crease may be getting a little crowded next season.

There are also a number of factors to consider. The 2017-18 season should be the official opening of the Flames’ window, so they’re going to want a good goalie right off the bat. They also need someone who will actually be ready to start. It’s one thing to trade for a prospect with high potential, but depending on how much experience he has, that could also be the equivalent of anointing Jon Gillies the starter and wishing him luck; in other words, maybe not the best move.

An older goalie – as long as he’s still capable of playing well – may not be the worst solution. Best case scenario, he provides exactly the stopgap years needed for the Flames’ prospects to develop and has the team competitive during that time. Worst case, he bombs and the Flames are stuck having to wait even longer to really get going competitively.

A trade?

Trading for a goalie could be a little tricky, as not all of these goalies may actually be available. This is also attempting to make an educated guess at which goalies will be left available for the expansion draft, as any goalie who is going to be protected is very unlikely to actually be made available to the Flames. There could, however, be a deal to swing for someone who won’t be protected, whether it’s so the other team doesn’t lose a goalie to Vegas for nothing, or even a swapping of less-than-ideal contracts.

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All stats, from the 2016-17 season, via Corsica. Goalies sorted by games played, since we’re looking at potential starter candidates. Ages are how old they’ll be to start the 2017-18 season.

Goalie Team Age  Remaining contract GP  SV% 
Kari Lehtonen DAL 33 1 year, $5.9 million 59 90.24
Mike Smith ARI 35 2 years, $5.67 million 55 91.42
Calvin Pickard COL 25 1 year, $1 million 50 90.42
Roberto Luongo FLA 38 5 years, $5.33 million 40 91.46
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 32 2 years, $5.75 million 38 90.94
Antti Niemi DAL 34 1 year, $4.5 million 37 89.22
Antti Raanta NYR 28 1 year, $1 million 30 92.20
Jaroslav Halak NYI 32 1 year, $4.5 million 28 91.53
Jimmy Howard DET 33 2 years, $5.29 million 26 92.74
Philipp Grubauer WSH 25 RFA 24 92.65
Joonas Korpisalo CBJ 23 RFA 14 90.52
Goalie  5v5 SV%  5v5 LdSV%  5v5 MdSV%  5v5 HdSV%  4v5 SV% 
Kari Lehtonen 92.50 97.59 93.06 83.11 81.09
Mike Smith 92.53 98.01 91.89 83.73 85.52
Calvin Pickard 91.30 97.69 91.19 76.27 83.92
Roberto Luongo 91.49 97.93 92.39 76.34 91.95
Marc-Andre Fleury 91.69 98.63 91.09 81.62 86.50
Antti Niemi 90.88 97.70 89.59 78.47 86.07
Antti Raanta 93.31 98.47 92.77 84.09 84.68
Jaroslav Halak 91.87 96.83 93.84 81.07 91.08
Jimmy Howard 92.51 96.41 94.12 81.42 93.26
Philipp Grubauer 93.98 99.43 93.94 83.70 88.18
Joonas Korpisalo 90.80 96.18 92.91 76.47 88.89

Most of these players are a fair bit older, which isn’t necessarily a surprise, considering how many are in danger of being usurped by someone younger, with more potential, and likely more playing seasons in their futures. That said, they could still be options for the Flames, whose best goaltending prospect – Tyler Parsons – has yet to actually play a professional game. Picking up a guy with a year or two still on his contract is entirely feasible.

Which of these guys, though? There’s some hefty salary there, which could possibly see the Flames benefitting even further in a trade: not only would they get a starting goalie, but they may have the chance to send back an unwanted contract, or acquire another player who could also help them.

The name that stands out the most in this group, though? Antti Raanta, who would likely only be available to begin with by the grace of the expansion draft. He has fantastic numbers across the board – some of the highest save percentages among this group, including the best in high danger situations – not to mention he’s cheap, low commitment, and age appropriate for where this team already is. He’s never been a starter, though, which poses its own danger, as we saw this past season.

Philipp Grubauer is also interesting in that regard, but poses the same risks as Raanta. Calvin Pickard is the only young goalie who got a starter’s workload this past season, and there could be potential there – especially because, if he plays on literally any team other than the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche, there’s probably a good chance his numbers are much better.

A number of veterans with bigger contracts are interesting, too. If Dallas makes Kari Lehtonen available, then he’s one to look at; he got torched on the penalty kill, but actually had a pretty decent even strength save percentage, which is a bigger draw. Jimmy Howard has had poor seasons as of late, but did rebound this past one; however, that’s a fair chunk of change to commit to someone who only just had his first good year since the lockout. Mike Smith could be the better bet in that case.

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Jaroslav Halak would be really interesting. He’s seemingly fallen from grace, but he hasn’t had any truly awful seasons in recent memory: plus he’s on a one-year deal, so if things went awry, well, there’s no risk.

If the Flames are going to trade for a starter, they’ll have a lot of options, Raanta probably being the best bet – especially because you have to think Vegas is eyeing him in particular.

A free agent?

Signing a goalie is probably much easier. There are other teams to bid against, but the only thing that actually has to be given up is money. As upcoming free agents, Elliott and Johnson are included in this category.

Stats are the same as they were in the above trade section.

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Goalie Team Age GP SV%
Peter Budaj L.A./T.B. 35 60 91.51
Steve Mason PHI 29 58 90.81
Ryan Miller VAN 37 54 91.36
Brian Elliott CGY 32 49 90.97
Jonathan Bernier ANA 29 39 91.55
Ben Bishop T.B./L.A. 30 39 90.96
Chad Johnson CGY 31 36 91.02
Scott Darling CHI 28 32 92.36
Goalie 5v5 SV% 5v5 LdSV% 5v5 MdSV% 5v5 HdSV% 4v5 SV%
Peter Budaj 92.53 98.46 91.69 81.52 86.53
Steve Mason 91.77 98.55 92.11 76.74 86.21
Ryan Miller 92.65 97.55 93.63 81.88 84.96
Brian Elliott 92.12 97.82 93.25 79.13 87.32
Jonathan Bernier 92.27 97.34 92.81 80.56 90.34
Ben Bishop 92.45 98.85 90.75 82.14 88.08
Chad Johnson 91.57 97.99 92.25 79.78 86.99
Scott Darling 93.74 97.31 94.67 86.52 88.17

There’s some serious potential in free agency, as well. Again, it’s mostly older players being dealt with; however, as the Flames would be the ones to set the contract terms, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would have to kill their cap to get one of these guys. There are a lot of $5 million goalies to trade for; it’s harder to see most of these players costing that much.

Scott Darling is the most intriguing option here; he’s basically the free agent Raanta (a coincidence that they both backed up Corey Crawford? Absolutely). He has the best numbers – though playing on a good team probably played its part in that – and at 28, there’s probably a bright future ahead of him. He’s never been a starter, though; then again, he’s never exactly gotten the chance (and it’s that chance that would probably see him actually leave his hometown of Chicago).

Ben Bishop is definitely another player to look at. He’s a bit older than some of the guys on this list, but hardly ancient, and while this past season was poor for him, it looks more like an anomaly compared to his previous seasons in the NHL. (Plus, silver lining: he’s probably not going to command $6+ million now.) We know the Flames had their eye on Bishop last season, and that may not have changed.

And Brian Elliott still can’t be discounted. He’s familiar with the team, and like Bishop, he had a down season, too. If the Flames wanted to roll the dice on another non-starter type, such as Darling or Raanta, then the Flames could do a hell of a lot worse than Elliott returning for insurance purposes. It would basically be hoping that he returns to the form he held the five seasons prior, while upgrading on Chad Johnson – and though the Flames struggled with a similar strategy this past season, with what should be an improved team up front, it could pay off this time around.

Who’s it going to be?

Digging through free agency and expansion draft rosters, I’ve identified 19 possible goalies to be the Flames’ starter next season – and that’s just among guys currently in the NHL who it’s feasible to see on the move. (Wanna dream REALLY big? Marc Bergevin said he wasn’t gonna trade P.K. Subban, and look how that turned out.) The field is wide open, and the Flames should have a lot of guys to choose from. Whether they’ll be able to acquire who they want – and whether he’ll put together a season that’s expected of him – remains to be seen.

But while Calgary waits for its goaltending prospects to be ready to take on a full-time NHL job, they’ve got to find someone who can perform well now. Because this is when their window should be opening, and in order to make it work, they can’t be brought down by their goaltending.

  • freethe flames

    I suggested Raanta a year ago and still believe he a viable option. Darling is also a legit option. Don’t overpay for one of the older options. The budget for a starter and the back up needs to be less than $6m. This team still needs to fill other holes. Hope Vegas helps us by taking Brouwer and freeing up some long term cap space; if not him then either Stajan or Bouma at least would free a space up and some short term cap.

  • Bilman

    Pouring a ton of money into a goaltender (i.e. Bishop) without fixing the bottom 3 defence won’t fix anything. I would rather they gamble on either Raanta, Darling or even go back to Elliott (with one of the farm kids as backup) and use the savings for the D, and a Right Winger.

  • I am Batman

    Great times to be a flame fan. Talking about free agents, future goalies, prospects, draft, whether to bring back x or y player….

    In the meantime Oiler Fans getting extremely bored with the win over the Sharks in a terribly boring series, and in a lame game they beat and now lead the ducks in round 2…. it’s awesome to be a flame fan right now!

  • BendingCorners

    Are the Flames obligated to protect a goalie in the expansion draft? If so the only “free” goalie in the list is Chad Johnson. Brian will cost a draft pick, talking to a free agent will cost a draft pick and require a sign and trade deal with the goalie’s current club, and of course a trade will cost an asset.
    With three strong prospects in the lower leagues (not including Mason since I don’t believe he has an NHL career in his future) it would be better I think for the Flames to aim for the cheapest adequate option and avoid the more expensive choices such as MAF and BB, unless we can trade Troy as part of the deal.
    If protecting a goalie is optional then the choices open up a little except several other teams will be targeting the same free agents as the Flames.
    Overall I think the Flames are best served by bringing back one of their current netminders on a modest two-year deal.

  • FlamesDiehard89

    I would love to see Chad Johnson get a chance as the undisputed starter. He basically saved Calgary’s season when Elliot decided to take the first half of the season off… Unfortunately I feel like Calgary’s coaching staff/managment may have burned that bridge when they didn’t see fit to give him a start in the playoffs, even after Elliot struggled again.