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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

    • supra steve

      So…Rittich is one year older than Gillies, has played professionally in Europe, and outplayed Gillies in Stockton this season. Further, the Flames still have high hopes for Gillies and would like to see him continue to develop, which is easier to do as a starter in Stockton than as a backup in Calgary. Considering all that, why would Gillies be your choice as a backup in Calgary?

  • KenBone18

    Don’t re sign Elliot – any GM who re-signs Elliot needs to be immediately fired.

    With even average goal tending (i.e. Talbot) we would have won Game 3 and avoided the sweep. How the F can the Oilers win game 1 on the road in Anaheim but we can’t even hold a 2 goal lead???? Find someone who can stop a beach ball.

    • KenBone18

      We would have been in the hunt for the entire season if he could make a save. He got us OUT of the hunt early and then only by playing average did we make it back. Elliot isn’t worth the money. Need to find someone else.

      • Jessemadnote

        He played waaay better than average toward the end of the season being one of the top goalies in the league stats wise. However, the highs were too high and the lows were too low. I feel like logically he could work but mentally he really imploded at a terrible time and this team has issues with a lack of confidence in their goaltending.

      • JusAFlamer

        whole team was garbage to start the season and during that stretch in Jan.
        Johnson and Elliot fighting back to .910 a piece both did what they were expected to do … especially IF can ignore the first month of entire team meltdown.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Rittich was brought in as insurance if Gilly had lingering effects from his operation or if Gilly had to come to Calgary because one of the two goalies here wasn’t cutting the mustard. Deal worked great for Rittich as he got to showcase his talent in NA. That should get him a contract with another NHL club as a farmhand or even a KHL gig. No place for him in the Flames system.

      • class1div1

        Yea I’m not sure why management signed so many goalies. There is not enough work now for all of them. They must be planning to move at least two of them.If Parsons is going to Stockton as a back-up,that means one of Rittich or Gillies is moving on. Neither one has enough experience to back-up at the NHL level and both require lots more work.

    • Avalain

      No, ultimately Elliott is not worth the conditional 3rd that we would have to pay to keep him. Especially with so many really good goalies floating around. I love him and Johnson but I think that it’s time to bring in a goalie for the AHL as a backup.

  • Stu Cazz

    That’s a great article Ari! Not sure why you think Elliott is still an option particularly in view of the numerous options available. What would the players think if he was brought back? This guy does not play consistent enough to be a top rated goalie which the Flames need to advance beyond the 1st round. The rebuild is over…expectations are the team makes the playoffs and makes noise in the playoffs…a top goalie is needed. I would not be afraid to sign Bishop with term. Gillies and Parsons still need more pro development. Gillies can backup and eventually both he and Parsons play. Bishop will always be a hot asset and can be traded in year 4-5 of a long term deal….