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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports

Should the Flames be going after a veteran stopgap, or a starting goalie for years to come?

It’s not exactly a secret that the Flames are in the hunt for a goaltender. And with the expansion draft coming up rather soon, the intensity of the hunt is starting to spike. Apparently the Flames are targeting Marc-Andre Fleury, or Mike Smith as another option; if insiders are to be believed, they’re going in the direction of an older veteran who is a proven starter.

The approach makes some sense. After all, after Miikka Kiprusoff, who was the last good starter the Flames had? It was Jonas Hiller – a then-32-year-old who appeared in 52 games for the Flames in the 2014-15 season, offering a .918 save percentage, above league average – who was one of the key factors in getting the Flames back into the playoffs. Combined with bizarrely accurate shooting, Hiller could be counted on most nights to give the Flames a chance to win.

The wheels fell off the next season, but what are the chances of another over-30 starting goalie whose team has shunned him falling off a cliff, right?

What’s the right play?

A veteran starting netminder whose team has reason to see him leave, whether it be due to the expansion draft, a rebuild, finding another goalie for themselves, expiring contract, or anything else? A veteran who has shown promise but has never been fully given the reins, as Calgary went in 2016-17? An older prospect stuck behind a starter with a big contract?

There’s been some movement in the goalie market since I last identified 19 possible options for the Flames. Scott Darling and Ben Bishop are off the table, but everyone else is still in play, including the aforementioned Fleury and Smith. And despite their being older, their ages don’t stand out too much: only six remaining candidates (Calvin Pickard, Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer, Joonas Korpisalo, Steve Mason, and Jonathan Bernier) are under 30. Drop that number down to five if Columbus is indeed determining a way to keep Korpisalo with them.

So the Flames do have options to target a younger goalie – but we don’t know if they’re willing to part with the assets one may cost, or if they want to go after someone younger to even begin with.

Stopgap or future?

Fleury’s contract, worth $5.75 million on average, is set to last another two seasons. He’ll be 34 by the time it expires. Smith’s clocks in at $5.67 million on average, also for two more seasons; he’ll be 37 when it expires. Does either goalie re-sign with the Flames? If not, then they’re a stopgap option that looks to take up a sizeable chunk of cap, barring getting Pittsburgh or Arizona to retain some salary.

How much is supposedly starting-level goaltending worth to you? Fleury has a career save percentage of .912, and he’s been a starter most of his career (of the 13 seasons he’s played in the NHL, seven have seen him play 60+ games, and only once has he hit a .920 save percentage, in 2014-15). Smith has a career save percentage of .913, and has not been a starter most of his career (of the 11 seasons he’s played, three have seen him play 60+ games, and only once did he exceed a .920 save percentage, in 2011-12).

For reference, Elliott’s career save percentage is .913, and he’s never had a 60+ game season.

Fleury and Smith don’t exactly boast impressive numbers, though, plus you have to hope they don’t randomly go swandiving like Hiller did. And is either really worth paying twice as much as Elliott, while potentially giving up more than a 2018 third round pick? Because if the answer is no, then what is the point of pursuing them, exactly?

The Flames have been jumping from stopgap to stopgap since Kiprusoff’s retirement. Hiller sure looked like a stopgap signing. There was hope for Karri Ramo, but not only was he not quite there yet, but his knee was randomly destroyed and now he’s out of the NHL. Reto Berra was an attempt. I think there was some hope for Joni Ortio, but then the Flames forgot to actually, like, play him. Elliott and Chad Johnson were more of the “we’ll see if this works out” kind of bet, but are looking awfully stopgap-ish after one year.

So – what’s the plan? Are they going to continue jumping from goalie to goalie until 19-year-old Tyler Parsons is good to go? Or is it time for a more concentrated effort?

Of the potential younger goalies available, only Bernier, Mason, and Pickard have anything resembling starters’ experience; the rest are all question marks (albeit younger question marks mostly with better numbers in mostly smaller sample sizes). They also may cost more, but it might be worth it to invest more in a Pickard than a Fleury; at the very least, if things go well, you’ll probably get more than two seasons out of him.

And really – some stability in net would be nice at some point. It’s not a guarantee with any of these options, but it’s not as though they’ve really tried with anyone else. Ramo was a goalie who put up good numbers in the KHL, but nowhere else. Ortio had one good season in North America. Here we’re talking about players who are starting to enclose on 100 NHL games (Grubauer has played the least, at 66) and putting up decent numbers. The Flames haven’t tried one of these “goalie of the future” options since, well, Kipper had 47 NHL games before he was traded. In 2003.

What about the Flames’ prospects?

There has been a lot of (much-deserved) angst about the Calgary Flames’ prospects not getting a fair shot at making the big league. Now, they have three guys – Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons – in the spotlight, with the hope that one of them will one day be the goalie of the future.

Hope. That’s all it is at this point. And anything can go wrong at any point that might completely derail them.

Look at Gillies’ college numbers. Hype for him built up over time, and rightfully so. He was even off to a great start in the AHL before he required hip surgery. Then, in his first full pro season, his numbers dipped. Rittich had better numbers through this past season – and he was undrafted and playing in the Czech league.

Maybe Gillies recovers! He’s only a year removed from surgery after all, and he’s still young yet. Then again, what if he doesn’t? What if Parsons’ junior numbers don’t translate to the pro ranks? What if any number of misfortunes fall on any of them, from falling into a mystery spot to getting into a bar fight over England’s greatest prime minister to refusing to get rid of those sideburns? It’s great to have hope for prospects, but aside from the most sure of sure bets, it’s still a crap shoot – and putting reliable starting goaltending on hold year after year because you’re hopeful a kid will one day pan out doesn’t seem like good strategy for a team fast entering “win now” territory.

What’s starting goaltending now worth? What’s stable goaltending worth? Those are the questions the Flames will have to answer, probably sooner rather than later.

    • T&A4Flames

      I think getting Price would require giving up Bennett and Tkachuk and likely our 1st. Not what I’d be willing to give up, even for Price.
      Would Schneider come in at a bit less? Say Bennett and our 1st? Would you do it?

      • JoelOttosJock

        Not a chance. Schneider isn’t worth all that especially seeing as it is not just a goalie as to being the last puzzle puece to be a true contender.

      • Kevin R

        I would go after Schneider but I wouldn’t put Bennett on the table. We have enough pieces to make attractive if Jersey is in rebuild mode & willing to part with Schneider.

  • BringtheFire

    So, I’m with the article: no stopgaps or unproven starters. We need a number one.

    If Montreal has the chutzpah to be honest with themselves they’ll realize they’re not getting a cup with that core. So, we trade Bennett, a goalie prospect and some prospects or picks for Price, who IS the Habs. We started to rebuild with Iggy’s goodbye, they should with Price.

    Yes. It’s very outlandish. Yes, I expected to be pooped on. But don’t hate me, Bros, just…if you were Tre, what would you do for a true number one? Because I want the BEST.

    • Sol Goode

      I would trade Gillies, Kylington, and 2 firsts for Price. I would try and keep Bennett out of the trade but I would switch him for Kylington if absolutely necessary.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        That is a lot to pay for any player but for a high risk position like a goalie….any injury and we are right back to where we are now. Personally, Gillies looks like he could use another year in the minors but he may be a better goalie in the NHL than he has shown in the NHL.

        From the games I watched Stockton play… Our keepers were shelled more than other teams. With the exception of our 1-2 Defenders namely Kulak and Ras our D did not look composed.

        I caught a bit of the interview with Tree and he basically said that he would not be surprised if one keeper came into camp and made a case but also said it is dangerous to push when they are not ready. I would like to see Rittich and Gillies battle it out in camp…. Parsons could be the best in camp and he will go to the AHL.

    • BendingCorners

      Carey is 29 with 1 yr left at 6.5MM. After that he’s a UFA who will likely command 8MM-9MM for 6 years or longer. Most goalies don’t stay great past about 33 or 34 so the Flames could be looking at 3 good years and 3 bad years with a significant cap hit. Not really a good deal.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Fleury is the route I would go. A proven winner who is more than capable of not only being a #1 but a successful #1. He has played with a suspect d-core and in general a weaker defensive team in Pittsburgh. If you listen to what his coaches, managaers, and team mates say about him he is also the ultimate team mate. With our stable of goaltending prospects..you have someone that is able to comw in and show them the ropes to not just be an NHLer but a successful champion. I would allow Rittitch and Parsons and Gillies to battle it out for the back up position, get some healthy competition going. Forget the resigning of Johnson, he is not a capable goalie and definitley not who I want geooming our possible studs. Also, why pay a kings ransom for a Grauber who is not proven and a crap shoot when we have 2 maybe 3 crap shoots already in our stables. Oh..and please do not get Mike Smith. The Flames would be better off resigning Johnson and Elliot..which is a few steps backwards in my opinion. My thoughts..not yours.

    • everton fc

      I like Fleury here – especially if we can move Brouwer the other way. However, why would the Pens do this deal? And, I’m sure there are other teams out there who would love to have Fleury and would actually give the Pens a decent return.

      I like the idea of Rittich and Gillies battling for the backup – let Parsons play the year in the AHL. Johnson’s not a #1. Elliott and Rittich might be okay. No drop off, no improvement over Elliott/Johnson. No to Mike Smith, selling off our youth for Price… And so on. Raanta, Gurbauer and maybe Halak would be others I’d look at. I’m not sold on Saros.

  • Waittillnextyear

    Flames need to quit trying to get something for nothing .
    Pay the price needed. Every summer it’s the same old ” now we have our #1 goalie ” and year after year failure between the pipes.

  • Puckhead

    Don’t sell the farm for a goalie. We’ve waited too long to get some decent depth in Stockton and need to keep stockpiling prospects.

    Shore up the D and limit goals that way instead of bringing in a high priced goalie, which can be a high risk move.

    • BringtheFire

      So, do you want a prospect starting next season when the holes are filled in the lineup? Or maybe another goalie that is; “ready to be a starter”?

      I say no to both those options. The only other option is trade, and we have to sacrifice. Maybe not the farm. But at least the pig pen.

  • Gfountyyc

    I’m not sure an A grade goalie is what the franchise needs. With the market for goalies right now we should be able to get a Strong B goalie for cheap (perhaps mason).
    IMO if we can swing for a solid #4 D and another strong RW (maybe (silverberg) we will be in great shape. Price would be a terrible idea

  • Denscafon

    I’ll stick with get Raanta/Grubauer as they will be cheaper than MAF. Those 2 may not be the starters now, but that’s mainly because 2 Vezina winners/nominees are in front of them. Look at MAF would be the 2nd/3rd choice but I’m just worried what we will lose for him.

  • C Watson

    Although not my first choice, I would rather the Flames stick with Elliott and Johnson before going after a high priced veteran like Smith or Fleury. If they are determined to add a veteran tender, still not my first choice but, then I think Phillies, Steve Mason is a better option (similar numbers but younger and cheaper and a UFA, which means do not have to give anyone up in a trade).
    My first choice is to go after one of the up and coming young guys, Saros, Grubauer or Raanta and pair with Johnson. Try to package Brouwer with one of Gillies or Rittich and possibly a D prospect like Kylington or Wotherspoon. Can only hope.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    To me this seems like such a ridiculous and clear-cut issue:
    1. Get a “proven starter” who makes lots of money, injury prone, and is on the wrong side of 30 and likely with most of their winning behind them, plus costing more in assets, because “he knows how to win”
    or
    2. Pick up a guy who looks like he has the chops to be a #1 and give him a shot. Makes less money, best games are ahead of him, costs less to obtain.

    This idea of picking up guys who have been good in the past just hasn’t worked well for the Flames. There is risk either way and the people who think there is less risk getting a “proven number one” have really short memories or drank too much when Jonas Hiller was last in the net. I don’t want to see the Flames fade back to the days when bringing in old Tony Amonte’s was the thing that would push them over the edge.

    • Cfan in Van

      Definitely.

      I really don’t want to see a high-cost Fleury or Smith here next year. Both those guys reek of “down-slope” at this point, and would be very cost prohibitive. I want a “sure bet” as much as the next person, but for me there are only a few goalies in the league that I’d consider a sure bet. Those guys are either not available, or so expensive you might as well consider them not available.
      As much as the Flames are reaching their window, it’s not like there isn’t a team to build once the window has closed . We’ve all seen what happens when you throw the future out for the present (Sutter years). Rebuilding from that isn’t pretty.

  • BendingCorners

    Elliott/Johnson gave us league average goaltending albeit with large swings, behind a leaky defense. Keep one with the expectation that he will play 45-55 games and maybe perform poorly for 10 of them. Let Rittich/Gillies play the other 35 games, maybe even split between them. Then we know what we have. Much as I’d like to see the Flames win the Cup next year, it probably will be a year for further development and maybe 2 or 3 rounds of playoffs. Save the cap space for the trade deadline or for a top 6 RW and a top 4 D.

  • L.Kolkind

    Ari, I think you let your bias for the goaltending decision take a hit on the article. You piece this as a decision with only two options. That is the main problem as both options you propose aren’t ideal. The best option is to get whatever the cheapest decent starter is and have him tandem with Gilles or Rittich, for one season. We don’t need a “proven” “veteran” starter. We need to save some cap space and develop our prospects.

    Option 1. “Veteran” “proven” “stable” “Over 30” notice the trend with our starters the past 3 years? We have had a succession of failed experiments starting with Hiller and costing a 2nd for one mediocre year of Elliot. If we get either Fleury or Smith, I forsee them flaming out as failed stopgaps, like their predecessors. These stopgaps will cost more assets, a rebuilding team should be acquiring and not wasted on a goalie/player who won’t be here when the team is competitive. There is a reason Murray overtook Fleury, and that’s because they don’t trust Fleury to be able to win the cup. That’s with a better team than we have now, just like Elliot, Fleury can’t get it done. Why in the world do you think we could win the cup with him? We couldn’t beat Nashville with Fleury in net, or Edmonton, we probably just like with Elliot and Hiller won’t make it out of round 1. If the goal is to make the playoffs fine, but if the goal is to win the Stanley Cup we shouldn’t waste anything on Fleury or Smith.

    Option 2. Acquire a young up and coming goalie. This option does sound appealing but costs more assets than an older goalie, and we already spent our 2nd and wasted our 3rd on replacement level players (Lazar is more of a prospect, but requires waivers, so not a horrible trade.) Those trades aside, we don’t need to spend assets on an upcoming goalie when we have our prospects pushing for NHL jobs this year. One of Gilles and Rittich will be our backup this year and could be ready for the starter role in two seasons. Trading for a goalie after their ELC means that you will be paying more and not getting the best cost/performance ratio. Having a drafted and developed prospect and the backup saves quite a bit of cap space. Having a drafted and developed young starter saves even more in cap space.

    Drafting is the best way to build a team Nashville, Chicago, Pittsburg, Detroit, and L.A. have proven this. We finally have drafted goalies who could be NHL goalies, we still aren’t a contending team we may as well save the assets and find out what we have in Rittich and Gilles before buying another. The cost of simply resigning Johnson and promoting Rittich or Gilles would be less than $3 million in. Just one of the goalies you mentioned would be over double and use up more of our cap space than we need to spend.

  • smatic10

    I’ve been against Fleury coming to Calgary for a while because I think he’s quite overrated. But the more and more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense. He has experience playing majority of the games in a season, which is something Elliott did not have. Considering the lack of competition for acquiring his services and the fact that he’s already 32, Tree won’t have to give up much to get him. With C.Johnson backing him up, it can be a serviceable tandem for the 2017-2018 season. Not great, but it can get the job done. I think for the 2018-2019 season, you go with Fleury-Gillies. And then have Gillies take over in 2019-2020. Every Stanley Cup winning team since 2008 has had a homegrown goalie between the pipes. With Gillies in net and Parsons soon after, maybe our time will arrive.

    • smatic10

      But after reading a lot of other comments, I’m starting to agree that a young up-and-comer may be the better choice lol. My only concern with that is if this guy ends up being good, what does that mean for Gillies? Will he ever get his shot? But having more than one capable goalie is a good problem to have I suppose. Man, it’s a tough choice. I wouldn’t want Treliving’s job right now.

      • piscera.infada

        Having an abundance of good, young goalies is never a bad position to be in. That’s kind of the point of the question. The whole logic behind finding a “stop-gap” fails if none of the prospects becomes a legit NHL goaltender.

  • freethe flames

    Who was Kipper before he became our Kipper; the Sharks expendable 3rd string goalie. I would be perfectly fine with Raanta ($1m for next year) or Gruaber from Washington. I wonder if Vegas can broker the deal. One guy who has not gotten much love here is Condon. He significantly helped the Sens make the playoffs when Anderson was away. Number in Ottawa were good numbers in Montreal were sound; so why no love?

    • MarbledBlueCheese

      Going through a middleman would generally increase the price–the benefit of getting a goalie now is that the Flames have the advantage plausibly with the threat of expansion looming. After expansion Vegas has the advantage in the deal.

      • freethe flames

        But the problem with this logic is that the teams who might loss a goalie won’t let them go for nothing either as then they will loss 2 players. If LV asks to much then you walk away and look at FA goalies. Also if LV takes 3 good goalies and 1 of them is not waiver eligible they lose him for nothing. I think you can prearrange a deal that may only cost prospects; remember LV has to start stocking a farm team. But the truth of the matter is only time will tell.

  • Flint

    I’ve voiced that I am against Fleury just based three factors: Puck stopping ability (career .918evsv%), Cap Hit, and Age. Everyone will have an opinion on him pro/con based on those.

    And additionally he has a lot of complications to aquire including his NMC (he may not want to come to Calgary) BUT another issue with acquiring Fleury is the expansion draft. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a goalie to expose if they trade Fleury – they only have Murray to protect in the system. They need 3 goalies in a Fleury trade scenario. It’s not the end of the world, but it drives Fleury’s value up, especially is Vegas takes him and then puts him immediately on the trade block. Vegas can take min. 3 goalies, but even 4 or 5… heck max 7 (which 7 wouldn’t make much sense). Anyway, when the cup is decided Pittsburgh will show their hand and have to start talking to Fleury asap. I think these additional complications will make for a higher cost of acquisition for Fleury than the market should dictate.

  • Eggs Bennett

    I wonder how many of these young goalies will actually be available. Back in the morning 2000 expansion draft, the going price for a side deal with MIN/CBJ was a 7th from SJS for them not to pick Nabokov. BUF made a similar deal with a 5th to protect Hasek and Biron (that would be like the equivalent of Carey Price in today’s context). If all it takes is 5-7 rounders, why would NYR, WSH, COL and NSH trade their cheap young high potential goalies for pennies on the dollar? It’ll be interesting to see what the going rate is for side deals this time around.

    • Kevin R

      You really can’t compare those times to a Cap league. The league has evolved by design for parity & the value for cheaper younger players that can perform at an NHL level has never been greater.

  • PrairieStew

    Vegas can take up to 7 goalies. If they do that and are stuck with several NHL goalies that would then need to clear waivers, they back themselves in to a corner. With all of the free agent goalies on the market I would think that the price George could get to trade a NHL goalie after the expansion draft might be pretty low. To that end I think they are likely to pick 5 or fewer goalie. For me the top 5 targeted would be Fleury, Raanta, Grubauer then young guys like Brossoit and Korpisalo. If one or two of the top guys get dealt, then Vegas might look at veterans like Reimer, Smith or Howard, and younger guys like Pickard or Dell. The chances of veterans Halak, Bernier, Ward, Lack, Niemi or Lehtonen getting dealt are just about nil.

    • freethe flames

      If you think LV is taking 7 goalies then you are wildly of base; I suspect they will pick a starter, a young back up, someone who the think they can waive to the AHL and 1 they think they can trade and they may even have a brokered deal.

  • flamesburn89

    I like Pickard as an option for this team. Didn’t have a great year last season, but neither did Varlamov behind an atrocious Avalanche team. Avs need to deal him or risk losing him for nothing to Vegas. Re-sign Elliot or Johnson, and split the games with Pickard.

  • OKG

    Raanta has posted a .924 / 2.18 GAA in his last 69 games split between two starkly different defenses, is 28, is Finnish, and by many subjective accounts grossly outplayed Henrik Lundqvist last year. Expansion makes his acquisition cost minimal, and his .679 QS% is so high it’s Vezina level. He started 30 games this year including wins over the Wild, LightningX2, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Oilers (not that that’s an accomplishment, but it is better than Johnson/Elliott), Senators, and Penguins. He’s shown he doesn’t need ten game streaks of being in net to maintain a high level of play. He’s not had a problem with being a rebound machine.

    We missed the boat on Talbot and he just took a lottery team to game seven of the 2nd round.

    We shouldn’t do it again. New York backups are legit. Antti Raanta is legit.

  • Fan the Flames

    I think they should bring Elliott back for one or two seasons he had a tough start and not a great playoff but he can play . Let one of the young guys earn the job . All great goalies got an opportunity and ran with it . We might get a surprise and Elliott becomes the backup.