Photo Credit: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

Becoming contenders: Offseason Agenda 2/3: Goaltending

Continuing one with the “Becoming Contenders” series, we turn to the second most important item on Brad Treliving’s agenda this offseason: goaltending.

Now, just because I don’t believe it’s the most important area of need for the Flames this offseason, doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. The Flames do need a competent puck stopper this offseason, and thankfully there are a ton of options, with fewer obvious traps than in the defenceman market.

2. Getting a starting goaltender

The biggest “trap” I can see is Marc-Andre Fleury because of his average recent regular season results, yet likely large acquisition cost stringing from inflated value from his small sample size playoff performance. Calling Fleury a trap is admittedly a bit overstated though, seeing as he is a proven, competent goaltender and would likely be fine in Calgary.

But Brian Elliott was also fine, and Fleury is a carbon copy of Elliott in terms of inconsistency and streakiness, plus the Flames have already expended a second rounder on Elliott and would have to give up an additional third in 2018 should they re-sign him. If Fleury costs more than that to acquire, is it really worth it? Keep in mind, Elliott had a supremely better regular season and similar playoff numbers as Fleury in his pre-Flame season. So good previous season results do not ensure good future results.

Who could be a fit?

There exist other intriguing options besides the two 32-year-old enigmas if the Flames are keen on dishing some assets for a puck stopper. Antti Raanta, Joonas Korpisalo and Philipp Grubauer – current backups in Manhattan, Columbus and Washington and aged 27, 23 and 25, respectively – are all viewed as potential future starters and targets for the expansion draft.

They are all also either under contract for next season, or under team control. Given this peculiar wrinkle introduced by the expansion draft, their current teams may want to capitalize on some sort of asset for their services instead of just losing them in late June. Here’s a more comprehensive breakdown of the three.

Name GP GAA SV% ES SV% LD SV% MD SV% HD SV% Record
Antti Raanta 30 2.27 92.20 93.31 98.66 91.81 82.72 16-8-2
Joonas Korpisalo 14 2.88 90.52 90.80 95.80 91.46 80.85 7-5-1
Philipp Grubauer 23 2.05 92.60 93.98 99.5 93.19 82.55 13-6-2

Raanta’s name has been thrown around on Twitter as a potentially good fit for the Flames, sporting a clean .922 SV% in 22 starts as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. His .933 ES SV% was eighth best in the league among goalies who played over 1,000 minutes. At 27 years old and coming off two seasons in New York, Raanta is eerily similar to the man he succeeded as backup with the Rangers, Cam Talbot, who is currently enjoying great success with the Oilers. His numbers overall are positive, narrowly trailing Grubauer in just about every category.

Korpisalo is an interesting case because at 23 years of age he’s already played 45 games, including a stint as a starter last season when Sergei Bobrovsky went down. That season, 2015-16, he put up a sparkling .920 SV% in 31 games, but struggled a bit in his sophomore campaign, with just a .905 SV% in 14 games behind the beastmode Bobrovsky. His numbers trail the other two names in just about every category, including quite a bit in low danger SV%. He is just 23, however. There seems a lot of room for growth, and he’s already proven he can play at this level. Having said that, Jon Gillies is also 23, and convoluting the position at that age group might be bad for the development of both guys.

Now, Grubauer is the most intriguing option of the three. His ES SV% ranks third among goalies with over 940 minutes played in the entire league, and he leads the other two case studies in nearly every category. For a team that has been plagued by bad goals for years, like the Flames have, seeing that sparkling .995 LD SV% is like a million bucks. Given Holtby’s foothold in Washington, Grubauer isn’t getting that net anytime soon, and he’s all but surely a Golden Knight if a deal isn’t made before the expansion draft. Given Gillies’ uneven season and Tyler Parsons being 19 and all, the Flames shouldn’t be afraid to take a shot at a potential goalie of the future like Grubauer. Talbot cost the Oilers a second, third and seventh round picks, but the Flames could luck out and snag Grubauer for cheaper given the fact he’s as good as gone from DC this summer.

The route of trading for a young, potential starter is the one I’d like the Flames to go down, whether it be one of the names I’ve mentioned, or a longer shot like Matt Murray or Juuse Saros. A man can dream.

What about free agency?

If the Flames don’t feel like throwing any more assets at what’s becoming an asset black hole for the them Scott Darling would’ve headed my list of UFA options, but he recently signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, who had acquired his rights at the end of April. Nonetheless, the free agent market has plenty of goaltenders who could put up reasonable numbers as number ones, or in platoon roles with one another. From Steve Mason and Chad Johnson to Michal Neuvirth (who fits the “How Many Ways Can We Spell ‘Michael’” theme of the Flames) and Mike Condon, to even Jonathan Bernier or Ryan Miller, there is an unbelievable amount of (as our own Ryan Pike would say) “fine” options available.

Given the way supply and demand works, it’s likely they won’t be terribly expensive, either.

The one name I left out is Ben Bishop, because frankly he’s in a category of his own. Before this season, Bishop was widely considered among the best goaltenders in the league. Standing 9 foot 10 and weighing 450 pounds, Bishop doesn’t need to move much to make saves. In all seriousness, Bishop’s blend of size and athleticism has made him an excellent stopper of pucks, and though his numbers dropped this year, there’s no reason to believe he won’t bounce back. He was in a contract year, his team suffered many injuries and then he was traded to literally the opposite coast and only played on the second night of back-to-backs with his new team. It was a bit of a zoo of a season for Big Ben.

The Flames have been linked to Bishop for nearly a year now, all the way back to the 2016 NHL Draft where they agreed to trade the sixth overall pick (and one of their second rounders too, by all accounts) in a package for Bishop. Thank the heavens it fell apart when he and the Flames couldn’t come to terms on a contract rumored to be in the neighborhood of seven years, $49 million. Good grief what a bullet dodged, that was.

Bishop won’t be getting $7×7 this time around, but $5×5, $6×5 isn’t out of the realm of possibility given his pedigree far exceeds that of anyone else available. The Flames would also be competing with goaltending starved teams like Dallas and Philadelphia for Bishop’s services. As much as I like Bishop as a goaltender, I think giving term and dollars of that magnitude to a 30-year-old coming off a down year isn’t particularly wise.

Unlike the Raanta/Grubauer suggestion, Bishop really doesn’t figure to be a goaltender of the future given his age and what we know about goaltender decline. He’d just be the goaltender of the near future, and then he’ll morph into the anchor of the future, possibly quite suddenly as we’ve seen recently with Hiller and Elliott. At that point, he would just be a roadblock for the young crease talent the Flames have trying to crack the NHL, and will just create unnecessary headaches for what figures to be quite the good team at that point. Best to just to let it be, I’d say. There’s a myriad of alternatives, as I’ve laid out.

For comparison’s sake, here’s a comprehensive breakdown of potential free agent targets, with Fleury and Elliott added for comparison. Mike Smith, who has been talked about as a dark horse trade option given Maloney and Treliving’s history with him and Arizona’s current direction, is present as well.

Name GP GAA SV% ES SV% LD SV% MD SV% HD SV% Record
Marc-Andre Fleury 38 3.02 90.90 91.69 98.56 91.13 81.61 18-10-7
Brian Elliott 49 2.55 90.97 92.12 97.92 93.32 77.74 26-18-3
Chad Johnson 36 2.59 91.00 91.57 97.72 91.71 80.33 18-15-1
Steve Mason 58 2.66 90.81 91.77 98.25 91.59 76.47 26-21-8
Michal Neuvirth 28 2.82 89.10 90.21 94.76 91.87 74.62 11-11-1
Mike Condon 41 2.50 91.44 91.98 97.06 90.93 82.53 19-14-6
Jonathan Bernier 38 2.51 91.55 92.27 97.16 92.75 80.09 21-7-4
Ryan Miller 54 2.80 91.36 92.65 97.46 92.82 79.95 18-29-6
Ben Bishop 39 2.52 90.96 92.45 97.97 89.56 81.62 18-15-5
Mike Smith 55 2.92 91.42 92.53 97.74 91.92 81.60 19-26-9

For reference, the highest LD, MD and HD SV%s in the league among goaltenders with over 500 minutes played this season was 99.51, 95.21 and 85.71.

As is made clear in this chart, there really isn’t a major discrepancy between all the options. It’s very likely randomness and Lady Luck will decide who will be the best of the lot next season. Funny enough, both Raanta and Grubauer sport better stats than most of the guys above, granted in fewer games played generally.

A quick analysis of the chart also brings into question why Bishop is considered head and shoulders above the lot, given his numbers are smack in the middle of the group. Bishop did have a relative “down year” as previously mentioned, though. The potential for a platoon system seems ripe given this group of available goalies, but after two years of that, one would think the Flames are sick of it – I know I am.

If I were calling the shots this offseason, I would pursue one of Raanta or Grubauer, and then dip into free agency for a backup goaltender like Chad Johnson or Mike Condon for support. The Oilers have found great success with Talbot, and there seems to be a similar situation available with Raanta and Grubauer this summer. It’s far from a sure thing, but it’s a quality opportunity nonetheless.

Becoming Contenders series

Agenda Item 1/3: Defence

Agenda Item 2/3: Goaltending

  • BringtheFire

    What do you guys think of Calvin Pickard? I like that guy…he showed well this year in his games against the Flames…don’t know much about his real stats, though…

    • Nighteyes

      I think Pickard is actually a really good goalie, watching the Avs this season and how abysmal they were, you could see he never gave up and kept them in a lot of games; it shows good on his character. However, if Varlamov continues to stay injury prone and inconsistent, they might want to keep him as their starter. If Grubauer can somehow be snagged before Vegas can get him, i think he has great starter potential too.

  • deantheraven

    I still stand by Chad + Rittich to start the season. Both would be cheap and at hopefully least average, as a tandem for the first 20 or so games at least before anyone throws money, roster players or prospects at another ‘proven’ starter. These two guys both have enough upside to warrant deals.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      The only problem is that the expansion draft window is very small and once it closes, teams will no longer have the fear of losing something for nothing, all prices may go up or players may not even be available afterwards.

  • cornwallroyals

    What about the 3 headed goalie monster with Carolina? Maybe Ward or Lack could be a short term goalie fix until we have one of our prospects ready. Both are on reasonable 1 year term left on their contracts.

  • Just.Visiting

    I think we’re at the stage at which we need to look beyond next year to the years after that. I’m comfortable starting off with Chad and seeing if any of Rittich, Gillies or Parsons can seize the brass ring as the season progresses. If Chad offers less than serviceable work and the less experienced disappoint, we could look at a trade then, as there will be options open for us. Despite a few rough spots, what I liked about Chad’s game was that he seemed very solid from a positional perspective and that the team played with confidence in front of him. He also seemed to be a great fit with the team and in the community. I would be cautious about downplaying his contributions because of the latter part of the year when he wasn’t used often or was trying to come back from an injury. I loved what I saw from Gillies in the game he played and in how he thinks the game. And it would be a mistake to underestimate Parsons, as he has a winning instinct that cannot be taught. I think we have to be careful that we’re not always trying to chase the next new shiny thing, where one of the question marks for me about Bishop, for example, is how he will perform with the new restrictions on equipment.

  • Chiz

    The reason I like Fleury as an option is because of the fact he has two years left on his deal. In two years, I think we all believe that parsons, rittich and gillies will be the guys.

    • Denscafon

      That’s a good thing I think. The term Bishop would demand would be way too long for the flames and hopefully Tre looks at Raanta/Grubauer now. Even MAF will be ok since it’s only 2 years left.

    • supra steve

      And there goes another one of the clubs that NEED a starting goalie, assuming Dallas can work out a deal with Bishop. Who’s left at this point to compete for Fleury, etc.?

  • L.Kolkind

    I think that one of; Johnson, Grubauuer, or Raanta with Rittich as the backup would be optimal. Rittich was great for Stockton and would allow Gilles to be the starter in the AHL this year, and recieve more starts.

  • C Watson

    Before doing anything Flames should first reevaluate Jordan Sigalet.
    Good Riddance to Ben Bishop!
    Interesting fact – Joonas Korpisalo, Jon Gillies, Matt Murray and Frederick Andersen all drafted in 2012 in the 3rd round.
    If unable to acquire either Raanta or Grubauer then maybe best to stick with either Elliott, Johnson or both for another year.

  • freethe flames

    I have a question; are Flames currently complient with the expansion draft rules? I know they have a goalie to expose but do they need a goalie to protect?

    • PrairieStew

      They can protect either Elliott or Johnson right now which would mean that LV couldn’t claim and negotiate with that guy. They obviously will decide what they do based on if they can work out a trade for someone in that window after the finals and before finalizing the list.