The Calgary Flames had awful goaltending for much of the 2015-16 season. Seeking to remedy the situation, one of the most prominent moves that general manager Brad Treliving made was going out to the free agent market and buying his team the backup netminder that the numbers said was the best available.
A product of Calgary, Chad Johnson seemed eager to come home. He immediately got a pair of masks made with colour schemes matching the team’s home and road jerseys – early in the season he got a third mask made to match the vintage third jerseys – and that seemed reflective of his overall enthusiasm.
Johnson was extremely happy to be a Calgary Flame. But was he good?
2016-17 season summary
Johnson’s season was basically split into three distinct sections:
- He barely played in October, when the entire team was playing poorly.
- He took over the next in November after Glen Gulutzan seemingly gave up waiting for Brian Elliott to work out of his funk. He remained the primary netminder until mid-January.
- He barely played from that point on, as Elliott was white-hot and so the team rode the hot hand.
Statistically, Johnson was 2-2-1 with a 2.93 goals against average and .893 save percentage by mid-November when Johnny Gaudreau was injured. From Nov. 15 to Jan. 24, Johnson went 14-10-0 with a 2.41 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. At that point, the net was handed over to Elliott and Johnson played just six games and went 2-3-0 with a 3.15 goals against average and .895 save percentage. He was good in the middle of the season when he played a lot, but otherwise he was fine.
For the full season, Johnson had a .917 even strength save percentage. He ranked 39th of the 52 goalies who played 20 or more games in that category. (That makes his performance for the season as good as Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury, and for a lot less money.)
Compared to last season
The phrasing I’d use to describe Johnson is “He was what we were told he’d be.” He was a solid backup, and he was really good when the Flames were trying to crawl out of their October chasm, but he wasn’t great in limited duty early in the season or late in the season.
He was similarly all over the place in 2015-16.
This lack of consistency is probably why Johnson has a reputation for being a good backup but hasn’t become a starter anywhere yet.
Where did the goals come from?
Johnson gave up goals primarily from the home plate area, with a slight skew towards the right (blocker) side of the slot. He also allowed a few goals from weird areas, with the “how did he let that in?!” grouping of shots being primarily from the far left (glove) side of the ice.
If we look at his shot map from 2015-16, the skew to the right side disappears and his weird goals against from odd angles distribution is a bit wider.
All in all, Johnson was a good-not-great goaltender whose consistency issues and tendency to give up weird goals from weird angles probably cements him as a backup for the time being. But where?
Johnson’s contract expires on July 1 and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. He’s from the area and seems to be a good fit here, and he enjoyed being a Flame enough to get three masks made. But he’s a good backup, not necessarily a good starter. The Flames desperately need a good starter, and the cap space they’ll use to get one will probably make it tough to keep Johnson unless he’s willing to give them a hefty hometown discount. Even if that’s the case, there’s a good chance that the Flames want to see if farmhands Jon Gillies and/or David Rittich are able to take on the backup challenge rather than bringing in (or bringing back) a veteran for the role.
Johnson was exactly as advertised in 2016-17. He was arguably the big reason the Flames were able to keep up with the playoff pack while (a) Gaudreau was injured and (b) Elliott was horrendous. But it’s beginning to look a lot like this hometown boy was a one-year stopgap.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|
|#23 – Sean Monahan||#25 – Freddie Hamilton|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#29 – Deryk Engelland|