22Chad Johnson
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

FlamesNation Player Evaluation: Chad Johnson

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?

What’s next?

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

  • Just.Visiting

    I see the upcoming year as another step in our journey towards being a serious contender. I think it’s a year of assessment to enable us to better understand the pieces we have and the pieces that we don’t. In that context, I’m fine with bringing Chad back on a two year deal, and seeing if one of Riitch, Gillies or Parsons can position themselves for a 1A role by the end of the season. Given the upcoming changes in goalie equipment, I’d be very cautious in doing a major trade until I better understood the impact of the new equipment on performance. Murray, for example, currently looks huge, but he’s actually really skinny, such that he will be take up less of the net when the dust clears.

  • jakethesnail

    Sign Johnson…we don’t need to start the season with 2 new goalies again! It takes a while to become adjusted to new city, team, players, coaches…..and having both on a learning curve well, could be a repeat of last season’s start.

  • deantheraven

    I like Chad as a 1A or 1B with maybe Rittich. Chad wants to prove himself, he’s Homegrown so he won’t be expensive. I think we can get league average goaltending there, and that should be all this team will need. Pluses also include Rittich making space (and more ice time) for prospect depth in the system without costing anything. And those two salaries would leave a lot of space for a quality upgrade FWD or D. Maybe both. BT’s gotta be cookin’ somethin’!

  • TheWheeze

    I’m not exactly a hockey expert, but considering the marginal to bad goaltending we’ve had for the past several seasons, could it be we need a change in the goalie coach department? Doesn’t sound like Sigalet is getting the job done.

    • L.Kolkind

      As a goalie, I can say that switching goalie coaches can be a huge learning curve as they often have you change some fundamentals of your style. This means that any goalie coming to the Flames likely won’t have a fantastic season, as first they have to adjust to a new team, then adjust to how the new goalie coach wants them to play and hope it all fits together. Learning to play with a different team also takes time and I think that if Johnson came back next year, he will likely have a better season. Also, it really is hard to judge Sigalet, as goaltending is 90% mental and anything can interrupt a goalie’s mindset. Maybe he isn’t doing a good enough job, but it is really hard to judge.

      Would you say Montreal needs a new goalie coach or that Price had a down year? What would say with Calgary’s merry-go-round of goalies who all experienced highs and lows? None of them played amazingly, but most played around league average and if you take out 2015-16 Sigalet would never have been brought up. I think while it may be fair to take a look at how he is coaching them, without seeing the day-to-day we can’t say who the blame should land on. The even tougher part to include is that some goals simply couldn’t have been stopped, and do you go through all the video and decide each goal that should have been stopped Sigalet gets 1/2 the blame? So without knowing any of the day-to-day coaching strategies or sessions, I don’t think we can really blame Sigalet.

      Elliot bad start, with new team, coach and the whole team in front playing horrible = not Sigalet’s fault

      Johnson came in did very well carried the team for a while. = Who gets the credit?

      Elliot caught fire near the end of the season = worked well with Sigalet?

      Elliot blows the season due to some bad luck, Elliot had one bad game and a couple ok games and Calgary didn’t score enough. I give Sigalet a pass Johnson saved the season and then when he was cold Elliot came alive until the playoffs.

  • Puckhead

    I can’t see Tre betting the farm on Johnson as 1A. I expect that he will bring in a 1A. We have amassed a glut of goalies and what remains to be seen is if they keep Johnson or graduate someone from the farm to assume the 1B position.

    I’m good with Johnson as 1B but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  • OKG

    Johnson looked like Price in November but Hiller in January. I wouldn’t be mad if he were brought back but I’d rather give a kid the backup spot. Rittich, or even bring back Joni Ortio.

  • L.Kolkind

    I disagree when you said, “The Flames desperately need a good starter.”
    The Flames are not fully out of the rebuild and do not desperately need a good starter. The Flames desperately need a top line RW and an average starter for a year. This next season should be the last one until the Flames can start competing for the cup and using all the cap space on a goalie before the team isn’t ready to compete will be a waste of assets. Just like trading for Elliot was a waste of assets, we now can say with 100% certainty that trading for Elliot wasn’t worth it and if Calgary had picked up a tandem of Johnson and Enroth we would have likely finished within 4 spots of where we did end up finishing. Not only that but since we may have barely missed the playoffs it could’ve been us instead of the Flyers with a super early draft pick. So for Elliot, we lost last years 2nd (DeBrincat currently in the memorial cup) a higher 1st rd pick this year and we probably wouldn’t have traded for Stone so another 3rd round pick. We may have even traded away a veteran so potentially adding a 3rd-5th round pick. If Calgary resigns Elliot then add 2018’s 3rd to the waste as well. Now all those assets individually aren’t worth much, but if add them all together you could probably come up with a decent trade for Nino.

    What the Flames really need to do is stop wasting assets trying to “win now,” it’s ridiculous throwing away picks like their pennies. Get any goalie that will sign for 1 million for 1 season to tandem with Rittich. Someone will do it unless they want to go play in Europe. The year after next season we can either have UFA/Rittich tandem with Gilles. The Flames need to focus on winning long term, as we focusing on winning now has just resulted in a bunch of wasted assets.

  • cjc

    I don’t think it’s a huge issue to have Johnson back on a short term, cheap contract, assuming Calgary makes a move to fix their starting goalie situation and Johnson is the backup. Is it really a good idea to have Rittich or Gillies as the #1 if that starter goes down to injury? Both are waivers exempt, so they can move back and forth between Stockton if the big club wants to give them a spin. There is no need to rush either goalie right now, other than to make space for Tyler Parsons in Stockton. This isn’t the same as ’15-16, where none of the 3 goalies were waiver exempt. I still see Calgary signing two goalies, or maybe even trading one of Rittich or Gillies in a deal for someone like Grubauer or Rantaa. The real question is whether there are better backup options than Johnson out there, but if you look at the list of UFA backup goalies, Johnson still has a pretty good resume.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I really hope johnson isnt brought back..lets develop our drafted players from back up uo eventual stsrter..gillies as tbe back up..parson and rittich in the A and lets trade our first this year and some spare parts for M.A.F.

    • L.Kolkind

      Why not give Gilles the starts in the AHL and have Rittich back up in the NHL? Gilles had a down year in the AHL and could use another year as the full-time starter to get his confidence back before facing the likes of Crosby. Rittich, on the other hand, was the 2nd best goalie in the AHL and could be a very solid backup. Which UFA goalie would you recommend to tandem with Rittich or Gilles either way? Johnson has probably the best resume, won’t cost more than 1.5mill, knows the team and likes playing here. I don’t see any drawbacks in bringing back Johnson for either 1-2 years. He isn’t going to be the greatest goalie, but he can play at the top of this league and excel. I also think that if he was given a real chance again after his original hot streak with more than 1 start in a row he would have gotten his groove back. Considering the team still, needs one more year of development/filling in holes on RW and on D saving cap space in net until Gilles is ready is the most logical solution. The difference between Johnson and Elliot was negligible and who know if Elliot will play like he did at the start of the year and during the most important time playoffs.

      Bringing in new goalies is really rolling the dice sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t I think to be patient until we have Gilles/Parsons as our NHL duo would be best. Handicapping ourselves to a big expensive contract without any guarantee that Fleury, Elliot or whoever we bring in will outperform Johnson doesn’t make sense. I doubt he will become one of the league’s top goalies, but look at Andersson in Ottawa he was a mediocre backup until Ottawa gave him a chance and now he and Karlsson are single handily caring the Senators to game 7 against the Stanley Cup champions. I hope you have an argument against him as personally, I see very few problems with Johnson overall.

      Pros: Cheap and will sign for short term, knows the team, has a really good resume, will allow our prospects to develop, could take off with starter roll (like he did in Buffalo,) seems like a good team player, and biggest kicker he cost 0 to acquire.

      Cons: Hasn’t had the role of starter for a full season, isn’t a “sexy” name goalie (Does that matter in this league? Niemi won the cup when he the cup with Chicago also on a cheap contract) Isn’t one of the top goalies, but the cap savings more than make up for it. He struggled with a small workload (As our starter that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

    • L.Kolkind

      Why in the world also do you think MAF who has been completely overtaken by Matt Murray is worth a 1st? He doesn’t have the trust of his coach and is also already 33 turning 34 in November has a massive contract and his save percentage is .909 which is far below league average. He could be a half decent backup, but that’s like having Brouwer on the 4th line a complete waste of cap space.

      • JoelOttosJock

        The Penguins are as far as they are in big part because of MAF. I think Sullivan made a mistake not sticking with him..Fleury is a proven winner, ptoven team guy and has proven he is still more than capable of winning some hockey games. He would be an ideal guy to groom a Gillies or Parsons and he is hands down better than anyone else whom is availabe..who would you suggest? Jimmy Howard? Phillip Graubeur? Noether are proven..

        • L.Kolkind

          None of the above trading assets for a band aid goalie is what got the Flames into this mess and bringing back Johnson to tandem with Rittich for 1 year on the cheap sounds perfectly reasonable. We can spend money and assets addressing the biggest two concerns which are the bottom 3 defence and RW. In 2 years we can have Gilles and Rittich tandem for 2 seasons. While we won’t win the Stanley cup next year no matter which goalie we have, we can let our prospects develop not waste any more draft picks on short term goalies, and have a guy who posted far superior numbers to MAF.

          Having a proven winner from 10 years ago doesn’t do any good now. Look at Bollig and Brouwer who came here “proven winners and team players” Bollig spent this year in the AHL which is also where Brouwer should be. Also, do you remember the last two time we brought in “proven starters” Hiller was chased out of town and Elliot flamed out in the Playoffs. Being a “proven winner” means nothing in today’s NHL, we need players who are still young enough to win and not be past their prime. We have 3 fantastic goalie prospects in Rittich, Gilles and Parsons. The last thing we need to do is overspend on a big name goalie who isn’t even an upgrade on our backup. If we get Johnson on the cheap for 1-2 years while Gilles and Rittich develop that would be prime for when Bennett, Tkachuk, Monahan, Hamilton, Gaudreau, and potentially Kylington and Andersson will be entering the primes. What is the point of bringing in a overpaid, past his prime goalie who has already been passed and looks at his numbers in the regular season? He would cost us so many games.

          I do like Grubauer, but if I was Washington I would simply make a trade with LV so they don’t take him. Also, we only have a 1st to trade for him so trading for Stone and Lazar has really handicapped what the Flames have to offer. Also if we do make a trade Nino Niederreiter is at the top of my wishlist. Imagine a line with him, Tkachuk and Bennett, that line would be so deadly to play against. The next line of Gaudreau Monahan Lazar can provide offence, While Ferland Backlund and Frolik do their thing.

          • JoelOttosJock

            Johnson is at best an AHL goalie..the d on calgary is suspect and they need someone whom can groom the future. Grauber is a gamble..inflated numbers from playing in Washington. Calgary needs a goalie that can win and teach. Im just happy we didnt end up with Bishop. My thoughts..not yours.

  • L.Kolkind

    For some reason, it won’t let me reply to your last comment so @JoelOttosJock

    What makes you think Johnson is an AHL goalie? He saved our season in November and Decmeber. He did get cold after that, but it is hard to come in every 7 games and play well. I think GG rode Elliot a little too much towards the end of the season. This did 2 things A. it tired out Elliot for the playoffs which he immediately blew. B. It gave Johnson no action so he came in relatively cold and then got injured. If you look at Johsnon’s resume he clearly posts above league average numbers and does not belong in the AHL. Is he a great starter no. He is howver someone who has been around the league for a long time and has played with some fantastic goalies. I have no doubt that he could teach either Rittich or Gilles loads about what it takes to play in the NHL. MY old coach played in the NHL and was not a star, but that meant he had to work 2x as hard to stay in the league and constantly make the smart plays. Just being in the NHL for as long as Johnson has is a testament to his character, work ethic and general knowledge of the game. I too am very happy we didn’t end up with Bishop. Why do you think we need a fantastic goalie for next season though? Would Cary Price, Holtby, Dubnyk, or even Rinne push this team to a cup contender? In my opinion no, hockey is a team game and if we have an average goalie who is happy to be in Calgary has a cheap short term contract and like you said can teach the prospects I consider that a win. With Johnson and Rittich Calgary would most likely be a bubble team again, this time however it won’t be because we had hot goalies it’ll be a full team in front of them and when Gilles is ready for the NHL I think we can be a true cup contender.

  • L.Kolkind

    original comment this is not a duplicate Flamesnation this a brand new comment.
    What makes you think Johnson is an AHL goalie? He saved our season in November and Decmeber. He did get cold after that, but it is hard to come in every 7 games and play well. I think GG rode Elliot a little too much towards the end of the season. This did 2 things A. it tired out Elliot for the playoffs which he immediately blew. B. It gave Johnson no action so he came in relatively cold and then got injured. If you look at Johsnon’s resume he clearly posts above league average numbers and does not belong in the AHL. Is he a great starter no. He is howver someone who has been around the league for a long time and has played with some fantastic goalies. I have no doubt that he could teach either Rittich or Gilles loads about what it takes to play in the NHL. MY old coach played in the NHL and was not a star, but that meant he had to work 2x as hard to stay in the league and constantly make the smart plays. Just being in the NHL for as long as Johnson has is a testament to his character, work ethic and general knowledge of the game. I too am very happy we didn’t end up with Bishop. Why do you think we need a fantastic goalie for next season though? Would Cary Price, Holtby, Dubnyk, or even Rinne push this team to a cup contender? In my opinion no, hockey is a team game and if we have an average goalie who is happy to be in Calgary has a cheap short term contract and like you said can teach the prospects I consider that a win. With Johnson and Rittich Calgary would most likely be a bubble team again, this time however it won’t be because we had hot goalies it’ll be a full team in front of them and when Gilles is ready for the NHL I think we can be a true cup contender.

    • L.Kolkind

      Lol that was a duplicate comment, after all, my bad. I didn’t have the page reload or anything so I assumed that my comment didn’t go through. PS please add the ability to edit comments I really want to put some paragraphs in my last comment