The Calgary Flames have a lot of goaltenders in their system. After the acquisitions of Eddie Lack and Mike Smith this summer, the Flames looked to have six goalies under contract for minor league jobs. Trading Tom McCollum to Detroit on July 1 eased the logjam somewhat, but at this juncture it appears that the organization will have Nick Schneider playing for the Calgary Hitmen and four goalies vying for time at two levels of hockey.
The odd man out right now seems to be 2014 second round pick Mason McDonald. The big challenge for the Flames between now and October will be answering one simple question: Where will McDonald play in 2017-18? The answer to that question probably lies in one of three scenarios.
The Flames put two goalies in Kansas City
The Flames have a shiny new affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks (formerly the Missouri Mavericks). Unlike their prior affiliation in Adirondack, the Flames don’t own the team and presumably are paying a fee to the Mavericks to place players there. That means they have a lot less freedom in placing players and probably don’t have a ton of say in how players are used – in comparison to Adirondack, where they helped hire the coach and had a hand in how things were run.
The Mavericks have qualified goalie Josh Robinson, an ECHL veteran who’s been with the club for three seasons (and has better ECHL numbers than McDonald). Presuming the Flames place Tyler Parsons there as starter, the Mavericks brass may want Robinson there as a veteran backup (and a known quantity in the community and league).
The Flames loan a goalie to another ECHL club
Let’s presume that the Mavericks won’t let the Flames put two goalies there or that the Flames want McDonald to play a ton: he’ll need to go to another ECHL club. There are three ECHL teams without an affiliate right now: the Adirondack Thunder, the Fort Wayne Komets and the Tulsa Oilers. That means that there are potentially three starting jobs out there.
The challenge right now is that there are seven NHL clubs (Arizona, Columbus, Florida, New Jersey, Ottawa, St. Louis and Vancouver) without an ECHL affiliate and four of them have three or more goaltenders projected to land in the minors leagues. That means that there are potentially at least four other teams jockeying with Calgary to find an ECHL home for their extra minor league goalies, making it really challenging for the Flames to find McDonald a home. And this all ignores the likelihood that (a) the parent-less ECHL clubs may find affiliations before camps open in the fall and (b) NHL clubs continue to sign goalies, both of which will likely make it even tougher to find a loan situation that works.
The Flames trade somebody
If you presume that the other two options don’t work, short of sending Parsons back to the OHL (which the Flames probably don’t want to do) it’s likely that somebody will be traded. At this point, arguably the goalie in the pro system with the most trade value is Jon Gillies: he’s still young, he’s had a pretty decent year or so in the AHL but still has room for improvement, and the struggles he’s had to this point can be written off as injury-related and not an indicator of how good (or bad) he is as a pro goalie.