The Calgary Flames have been busy so far this offseason. General manager Brad Treliving has shored up a couple key areas and added to the prospect base. But there’s one big question he’ll need to answer before the season begins: What’s happening with the backup goalie position?
The Flames haven’t had an undisputed top goaltender in years. For hook or crook, that spot belongs to Mike Smith. But as Pat noted, Smith has missed a decent amount of hockey over the past few years. Even if he starts 50 games in 2017-18, that leaves 32 games that the other netminder will have to start (and win). Here’s a brief glance at which players could be up to the task, from the most attractive options to the least.
In March 1988, Flames GM Cliff Fletcher traded for St. Louis Blues backup Rick Wamsley. The logic was pretty simple: while Wamsley hadn’t won a Cup yet, he was a “been there, done that” style of steady veteran. He could open the gate and crack jokes on the bench with the best of them, and Terry Crisp wouldn’t be worried if he had to throw him out there to give Mike Vernon a night off. Bernier is arguably the Wamsley of this year’s goalie crop. He won a Stanley Cup as a backup with Los Angeles in 2012.
He’s been playing for a Flames rival in Anaheim for the last little bit. He’s still only 28, so there’s some tread left on the tires, and he played 39 games last year in relief of an injury-plagued John Gibson. He’s performed well and the big question would be whether Treliving can entice him to take a bit of a haircut from his expired $4.15 million cap hit.
Nilsson has followed an oddly similar career path to Chad Johnson. He’s played in four NHL organizations already (NY Islanders, Edmonton, St. Louis and Buffalo) and performed reasonably well in short spells, but he’s just never impressed enough to put down roots. He was reasonably good in spot duty in Buffalo, putting up a fairly strong save percentage behind a bad team. His expiring contract carried a paltry $1 million cap hit and if he signs a similar one, it’s a fairly simple insurance policy – it wouldn’t hit the Flames with much of a cap penalty if he didn’t work out and they had to place him in the minors. He played 26 games last season, so he can handle the workload effectively.
David Rittich and/or Jon Gillies
Last season, both Nashville and Columbus rotated their AHL starter into the NHL fold as their backup – it made sure both teams’ young goalie tandems stayed busy behind their established starters. Neither Rittich or Gillies is an established NHLer – they have four NHL periods between the two of them – and their AHL numbers don’t exactly scream “promote this guy,” but the organization probably feels like they know them fairly well and they wouldn’t need to expend any assets to bring them in. Aside from the inexperience here, the only other concern would be that both players are arguably still developing and spending a chunk of their year on the bench watching Smith start probably isn’t conducive to improvement.
New Jersey wasn’t very good last year, but Kinkaid put up pretty decent numbers behind a pretty shoddy defense. He’s 27 and played 26 games last year and his expiring contract is pretty inexpensive. There’s nothing particularly exciting about Kinkaid, but he’s (at worst) a competent backup goalie.
Update: The New Jersey Devils have re-signed Kinkaid, so he’s officially off the table.
Lack’s a bit of a gamble. He’s had two mediocre years in Carolina, to the point where management there has gone out and gotten Scott Darling to take his job. Heck, Lack’s only had one impressive year in the NHL out of four, hardly a strong track record. He carries a $2.75 million cap hit and the Flames would have to send an asset to Carolina to get him. Even if the acquisition price is minimal, it’s tough to argue that a goalie who’s seen his workload decrease and his performance metrics drop is the answer in net. He’s a name, he has NHL experience and familiarity with Glen Gulutzan, but it doesn’t seem like a smart move.
Hammond is basically a cheaper Lack. He has a $1.35 million cap hit and is obviously the odd man out in Ottawa, but he carries pretty much all of the same concerns Lack does except it’s easier to bury him in the AHL if things don’t work out.
Kuemper hasn’t had a good couple of seasons, even though he’s been playing on a pretty damn good Minnesota club. He’ll probably be inexpensive, but nothing about his recent track record says that he’s the answer for the Flames in net.
Who should the Flames pursue for the backup job? Sound off in the comments!