Neither David Rittich nor Jon Gillies are under contract for next season, which poses a very interesting question for the Flames this summer. Both pending RFAs, Rittich and Gillies had positive moments last season mixed with some real struggles. As such, neither have proven the ability to enter “heir apparent” territory, bringing us to our query: what does the future hold for this duo?
Today kicks off our annual free agent profiles at FlamesNation, albeit with far fewer debates than we usually see. Even in the case of Rittich and Gillies, we’re talking about fairly straightforward contract negotiations if the team decides to re-sign both players. The real question is whether or not both are Calgary property come October.
COMPARING THE TWO
Without delving into the data, I likely would have put Rittich’s name forward had you asked me which of the two had a better 2017-18 season. That’s mainly because most of my NHL viewings of Gillies were rather lacklustre, whereas Rittich had a really strong first half of the season with the Flames. A deeper dive into the numbers, however, shows us there wasn’t a lot separating the two.
|NHL Totals||AHL Totals|
Rittich’s NHL numbers were slightly better than the ones posted by Gillies, but that is somewhat of a misnomer (more on that shortly). The gap was much larger at the American League level and slanted significantly in Gillies’ favour, albeit with a much larger sample size.
Things get really interesting when you start to compare Gillies and Rittich when they were in the NHL at the same time. That happened for about a month after Mike Smith went down with his lower body injury on Feb. 11. Calgary was without their number one goalie for a 13-game span, during which Gillies and Rittich split time while trying to keep the team above water.
The head-to-head comparison above puts things into context a little when looking at Rittich’s first full NHL season. As a backup, Rittich appeared in nine games prior to Smith’s injury and posted an impressive 0.927 save percentage. That number dropped to 0.885 from that point forward, including the 0.888 figure in the month without Smith. Plain and simple, Rittich wasn’t ready to be the guy when the opportunity presented itself.
That’s not to say Gillies was lights out during that span, either. While a 0.916 SV% is nothing to sneeze at, his 0.901 total at even strength is mediocre and doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. The biggest problem for Gillies was his propensity for allowing soft goals, even in games where he was generally solid otherwise.
In saying all that, there were some encouraging signs for both goalies. Rittich’s work prior to Smith’s injury was no mirage; he was solid and gave the team an opportunity to win when called upon. And, despite some of the groaner goals, Gillies showed he has high level ability and athleticism that makes you wonder how things might look if it was all harnessed properly.
There’s not really any debate as to whether the Flames should qualify Rittich and Gillies or not. The former turns 26 in August and the latter doesn’t turn 25 until January, which makes them both relatively young for the position. From there, Calgary has a few options to explore.
The ideal situation seems to be getting both Gillies and Rittich under contract and letting them battle it out for the backup position in training camp. I use the word ideal because I’m assuming someone truly earns the job through strong play and wins back a little bit of the confidence lost during this past season.
Whoever doesn’t end up as Smith’s backup next season would then become the default number one goalie in Stockton. The added benefit to this scenario is the spot it opens up for Tyler Parsons (pictured above), as he’s probably in need of a full season in the American League.
The Flames could also go out and get a veteran backup this summer, which you could understand, at least in part, considering the struggles the team had in net after Smith’s injury. The problem with adding another goalie to the fold goes back to the guy mentioned above, though. As Rittich and Gillies would likely platoon in the AHL, Parsons would then get pushed back to the ECHL, which isn’t ideal.
Finally, Calgary could explore a trade. Because Parsons is part of this conversation, the organization has some depth at the position and it wouldn’t be shocking to see one of Gillies or Rittich dealt as part of an offseason package. This scenario worries me, though, mainly because things are so uncertain after Smith.
Projecting goaltenders is a crapshoot at the best of times and there are zero guarantees any one of Gillies, Rittich, or Parsons ever pans out as an NHL starter. That’s why having multiple options, and thus better odds, is important in a situation like Calgary’s. Trading one of Gillies or Rittich doesn’t help in that regard.
The easy part is what lies in front of the Flames in the immediate future. The team would be silly not to qualify both guys ahead of the deadline on June 25, as doing the opposite would take away a great deal of flexibility. Much more difficult is what comes after that. There’s no perfect answer in the options presented above, although I feel signing both and bringing them to camp is the most viable way to go.