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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

Who should be the Flames’ backup goalie next season?

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.

Jonathan Bernier

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.

Anders Nilsson

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.

Keith Kinkaid

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.

Eddie Lack

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.

Andrew Hammond

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.

Darcy Kuemper

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!

  • Denscafon

    you will never find out what we have in either Rittich/Gillies if u just keep them in the AHL. Having them play a few actual nhl games will give us a better gauge where they are at in their development

    • Newbietwo

      Explain your thought process? “We will never find out if” it’s not like they won’t be playing.. they will be playing AHL games! Like come on seriously.. again with the world will end if comments

  • ALL THE WAY IN

    It’s huge risk not to put a veteran behind Smith. If an injury does occur to Smith, it would be very stupid of us to hang our hopes on a rookie goalie ex. Gillies or Rittich. On the other hand we have a bit of a log jam in the minors in net as well. Parsons should be in the AHL next year which means one of Rittich or Gillies needs to graduate and get a trial by fire scenario going.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    It is too bad that the organization didn’t show Johnson more love because he is an ideal back up that wanted to stay. I would rather go young than bring back a retread.

    It has to be frustrating for some players in the minors that are always an organization trade away from having their NHL start date derailed. Much like s lot of fans I am anxious to see Janko be a regular on the Flames. I can’t see how another year in the AHL would serve the 23 year old. Suddenly, Lazar jumps the que followed by Foo. This coupled by the resigning of Versteeg breeds more uncertainty to Janko. I am confident that Janko will outplay both Lazar and and Foo but that won’t guarantee him a spot.

    There is always a chance that Calgary flips, buys out, or sends Bouma and Stajan to the AHL.

  • Fan the Flames

    I would like the Flames to wait and not be too hasty to sign somebody . I suspect Elliott, Mason , Miller, may take up most of the vacancies you might get a guy like Bernier at a reduced price on a one yr contract

    • everton fc

      I’d ruin w/Smith & Bernier. But where does Parsons play?

      The Predators used Saros this season. Why can’t we trust our prospects enough to make the same gamble perhaps workout for us???

  • Coffee

    Gillies should be the back up. He has spent a little longer in the Flames system and has had more call ups than Rittich. He also has a clear advantage over Rittich being that English is his first language. Gillies can yell at teammates during a game and take in advice/ lessons with more clarity.

    If the Flames don’t call up a prospect than four or five goalies are fighting for spots in the AHL.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    I would love to see Hammond play for calgary i watched him bring my hometown 2 rbc cups! Plus fluke or not he when 20-1-2 during his first real nhl season and comes cheap at 1.35mil and only has a year left on it so low risk.. Bring in the hamburgler!

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Start with the assumption that Rittich/Giklies can get it done and stick with that at least through training camp. If it’s not looking good there should still be something out there via trade/FA/waiver claim that can help.

  • kipper2004

    Just sign a hungry UFA to a PTO and see how he stacks up against Rittich/Gillies, then let the best goalie take the back up job. But Johnson and Nillson seem like two cheap options that can run a few wins in a row. We just need a guy that can get a winning record and above average save%.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    Personally I’d prefer Rittich. What’s the point of signing older international free agents who then impress at the AHL if you’re not going to give them a shot? What does he need to do, be really good in the AHL? When he does that what excuse will we dream up to keep him out of the lineup then?

    Honorable mention: trade Bouma for Lack. Open up a forward roster spot that you want, and pin down a backup. Brass may see that as win-win.