Ever since Miikka Kiprusoff retired, the Calgary Flames’ goaltending has been in a state of flux. It’s gone from Karri Ramo to Jonas Hiller and back and forth to Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson and back and forth, without any one guy ever really cementing himself as a starter long term.
Ramo’s three straight seasons and 159 games is the longest tenure the Flames have experienced – and he was a .911 goalie over that time. That’s not good enough, not for the direction the Flames are heading. The hope when Elliott was acquired was that he would establish himself as the new starter, but after a very up-and-down season, that appears to be in question, as well.
With both Elliott and Johnson approaching free agency, the Flames have another chance to get a completely fresh start in their goaltending. But they may have just a handful of days to get it sorted out.
The expansion draft looms
The NHL has a trade deadline just before the expansion draft. It’ll kick into effect at 1 p.m. on June 17, just two hours before protection lists are to be submitted to the NHL, and the day before both Vegas and the public find out who will be available for the taking.
If the Flames want to make use of the expansion draft to pick up a goalie – and they should – then they have just under 12 days to do it.
Calgary is in a unique position in that it’s the only team without a single NHL-level goaltender signed for 2018. (Buffalo is almost in a similar position, except their netminders are set to become restricted free agents, while the Flames’ will be unrestricted.) The Flames are the number one buyers for a goalie out there, and they aren’t exactly facing any competition from other teams in a bidding war. If you need to offload a goalie, Calgary is the place to do it.
If it weren’t for the expansion draft, most teams wouldn’t need to do this. Why would the New York Rangers trade Antti Raanta, who’s signed to a sweetheart deal and has been an ideal backup for them, if they didn’t risk losing him for nothing? Why might Washington or Colorado possibly sweat over giving up Philipp Grubauer or Calvin Pickard if they weren’t put in a position where they may be forced to? And why lose an asset for nothing if you have someone right there who could help you out and turn it into a win-win situation? Even if the team losing a goalie isn’t getting much of a win, a small asset is better than nothing at all.
Having both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray has proved helpful to the Pittsburgh Penguins this postseason – but that’s a luxury they likely will not be able to keep as soon as it’s over.
So if the Flames wish to make use of the expansion draft to solve their goaltending woes – and considering how it’s given them the leverage, they very well should – then we might just know who the Flames intend to have starting between the pipes within a matter of days.
Someone has to be protected
According to the NHL, the Flames can’t get away with just not protecting a goalie.
Per e-mail from commissioner's office, teams are obligated to meet protection minimums. So the #Flames have to protect a goaltender.
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) June 5, 2017
Tom McCollum was signed in order to fulfill exposure requirements, but he isn’t going to be protected. His signing did solve one problem for the Flames, but after the way the 2016-17 unfolded, they still have another one: they have to decide who to protect.
There are a few options available.
The first one is, of course, taking advantage of the expansion draft and trading for a goalie. If it’s going to be executed, it’ll be relatively soon. If they’re waiting on the Penguins to make a deal, the earliest the Stanley Cup can be over is June 8, while the latest is June 14, meaning the Flames could have mere days to actually get something done.
If, however, they end up not taking advantage of the expansion draft, then the Flames can simply go ahead and protect one of Elliott or Johnson, even without re-signing him. Teams are allowed to protect upcoming UFAs, even if it seems silly to do in practice. If they truly cannot get a deal done in time for expansion – or if they are, say, waiting to maybe even make a deal with Vegas after the draft – then they’ll have to protect Elliott or Johnson, and then can simply let him walk.
Or, of course, they could decide to re-sign the goalie they decide to protect. It’s not a given the Flames are done with their 2016-17 goalies.
One way or another, though, we should have some insight as to what the Flames are thinking for their future in net within the coming days. The clock is ticking.