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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Calgary’s biggest RFA question is in net

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
Player GP Record SV% GP Record SV%
David Rittich 21 8-6-3 0.904 12 7-5-0 0.889
Jon Gillies 11 3-5-1 0.896 39 17-16-3 0.917

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.

Player GP SV% EVSV%
David Rittich 8 0.888 0.888
Jon Gillies 6 0.916 0.901

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.

THE OPTIONS

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

  • Kevin R

    Bigger question will be next year where whether we resign Smith or not & if not, then what? Need answers & is why there is merit in looking at potential trades for the likes of Grubauer. Would be a tough pill to swallow in giving up assets for a goalie. My bet is Gilles & Riitch will get one more year deals again & one last chance to grab the net before Tre starts to look outside for another goalie. If Smith has another good year like the last one, I can also see him being reside for a 1-2 year deal for a decent price.

    • kirby

      That’s not even a question in my mind. He’s what, 36 or 37? He’s been declining for years, he is slow and clunky and inconsistent and just not reliable. How RE-SIGNING him would even be part of your thought process is beyond me. He is not the answer to anything other than “why do we still miss Miikka?” He was nothing but a band-aid, and we already bled right through it.

      To me, the question is can we find a way to deal him this offseason and find a better option? Because otherwise, we are essentially flushing another season away and committing to at-best mediocrity. He will cost us more games than he saves, just like last year. If we’re expecting him at this age to suddenly be better than he’s been in years and carry this team over the hump as a #1 goalie, then we’re absolute fools. I don’t get how people STILL say things like “If Smith has another good year like the last one”, were we watching the same guy? The dude who allowed 3 goals per game on home ice, the dude who was an absolute DISASTER down the stretch of “desperation must win” games, the dude who constantly allowed soft angle squeakers because of poor technique and always being weak on his posts, the dude who tried to play the puck like he was Marty Brodeur circa 1999 and constantly got trapped behind the net coughing up pucks leading to scramble drills and empty net goals against, etc. Who watched this guys body of work last year and thought “yeah, this guy is giving us a chance to win every night, he’s sharp and efficient and our MVP” like holy hell, i just cannot wrap my head around this. He wasn’t even better than Brian Elliott, and people couldn’t crucify that guy hard enough. Look at the numbers for Hiller, Berra, Ramo, Elliott, then put them next to Smiths. Without the names you literally can’t tell who’s is who’s (unless you look at the home ice splits, then Smith’s stand out and not in a good way)

      We will go absolutely NOWHERE with him as our primary goaltender. And you’re talking about another 1-2 years AFTER this one? Oh man, i can’t even explain how foolish that is to put faith in. You must really love 10th place finishes.

      • Kevin R

        You can pound your drum about getting a new #1 goalie all you want, but in reality, who is really available & at what cost. I thought Smith looked great for the first 50-55 games & he played way more than what he should of because our coach couldnt figure out how to best utilize our top 5 on paper defence. So he overplayed a goalie who was giving him well over a .920 save percentage, broke the Anaheim curse & stopped the Oiler losing streak.
        So yes, if Smith has a future number one back up making a case of taking over the net & smith has that .920 save percentage, I have no problem re-signing him to a 1-2 year deal at a great price. Seems like our problem is we have no back up making a case to grabbing the #1 goalie spot. If you have any great ideas of acquiring said bonafide #1 goalie out there, well I’m all ears.

      • MDG1600

        I can’t really disagree with Kirby but I don’t frankly see a solution for next year. IMHO Smith will get virtually zero return in a trade, we have no draft picks to deal (Thanks BT…) and trading any of our defensive depth should really be in pursuit of a top 6 RW. As a fan I think we hope like hell Smith doesn’t decline next year and that one of Gillies or Rittich up their game so they can reliably handle 30 games in the NHL next year.

  • Baalzamon

    0.901 total at even strength is mediocre and doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

    It’s worse than mediocre. Let’s not forget that .920 at evens is average. How was his EV SV% worse than his all situations? I’ve never seen that before.

    • kirby

      Well that seems to be the standard with this organization. The standards and the culture with this team needs to CHANGE, i’m fed up with spinning our tires year after year and saying things like “oh but we have really nice guys on the team, we look so good on paper, all we need is this one thing and we’re set, blah blah”. Year after year it’s the same story, to the point now where average feels like success. This organization grades itself on a curve, C- is a B, if we make the 1st rd and go 1-and-done it feels like an A+

      • cberg

        Don’t agree about Smith, Injuries (plural) to Smith and others derailed the team down the stretch, but do agree we need a major culture change.

        I’d sign and trade Rittich, Gilloies to back-up and re-evaluate at the end of the year. Gillies has carried the load as a true #1 in college and led them to a championship. I believe he has it in him to take over here, but time will tell. If you keep both Rittich and Gillies it clogs the way for Parsons which is another problem, They need to make a decision and move forward.

  • TurkeyLips

    Not properly utilizing a backup was a problem this season. Smith needed to play 20% fewer games, although he probably has a couple more 60+ game seasons yet left in him. Having a skilled but graying grizzled vet be your #1 goalie means special attention has to be given to the guy playing relief.

    With goalies you can’t go around messing with their heads, they need assurances about their role, else headspace and performance gets seriously compromised. Problem is, Rittich vs Gillies is a damn coin flip. I’d probably go Rittich just because he got the edge in age/maturity and that could translate into a successful pro season more than Gillies who can look shaky at times.

    Regardless, entrust Smith to mentor a solid rookie netminder pronto and let’s cash in on that veteran status. It would be a great complimentary fit that has mutually beneficial written all over it. With your #1 and #2, that’s exactly the dynamic you’re looking for.

    • Off the wall

      Agreed Fall.
      I’m not as pessimistic as some who claim that Smith is not a number 1 goalie. I get the point that his numbers were skewed, however I think his injury accounted for much of his last few months of play.

      If we can have Smith play 45-55 games in a regular season while providing a decent backup scenario, I think we should be in a better position.

      I agree with Pat, one of Rittich or Gillies needs to be given the reigns for the entire season as the backup.

      Which one? Honestly, I don’t know. But it needs to one of them.

      Parsons needs a full season in the AHL. What’s the point in having him if we can’t see his body of work?

      My only concern is injuries.
      What if Smith is injured again?
      Same with Parsons.

      I hope we re-sign both and let the incumbent take on a future role for our team.

      • kirby

        It’s not “pessimism”, it’s simply watching and being realistic about we see. And again, he was wildly inconsistent BEFORE the injury. He was clunky and sloppy and played with poor technique BEFORE he got hurt. He was inexcusably brutal on home ice almost all year long. This is exactly what i’m talking about. We couldn’t run these other guys out of town fast enough, yet people can’t stop lining up excuses for this guy. If we aren’t exploring options to improve and upgrade NOW as opposed to next year or the year after that, then we’re just flushing seasons away and accepting the exact results we got last year, and the year before, etc. Simple as that. Again, that’s not being a pessimist, it’s accepting reality. Years of blind optimism and talk of how we shape up on paper is exactly why we’ve been spinning our tires in mediocrity for over a decade now. Enough blind optimism and empty excuses and B-rate band-aid solutions while we hope for something better to just magically fall in our lap. Time to be real and take a hard look in the mirror, which this organization (and much of our fellow fan base) seems incapable of doing.

        • Squishin

          Dude, we get it. You don’t like Smith. Enough already, I’m sick of reading your novel-length angsty goalie comments. There are very few options out there both for starters and capable backups. Hence, there is very little the team can do to address goaltending until the prospects mature. The focus should be on tightening up defensively in front of the goalie. Limiting the ten-bell chances will automatically limit the scoring.

          • kirby

            and hey, feel free to scroll right past it if you want. The fact that i scream into the abyss doesn’t mean you have to take the time to acknowledge it if you don’t want to. Just can’t help but pick up on a sense of delusion around here these days.

        • Off the wall

          Kirby, I hear ya pal.
          My comment wasn’t directed to you, just a reflection of my own thoughts.
          Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

          You have valid concerns. I share them with you. The circa Brodeur comment was funny as hel* and I hope Smith gets a little more reeled in by Peter’s with his net venturing.
          Sometimes Smith makes timely plays behind the net, other times he looks like he’s in outer space floating around on a tether.

          His home ice record was a disaster, however so was the entire defensive system …not even sure if we had one at home. I’m not making excuses for him, but I do believe he’s much better than the Elliott or Hiller by a landslide.
          His competitive and fiery disposition gives me hope. Not blind hope, just hope.

          Just my own opinion of course.

          • kirby

            I loved his fiery disposition and competitive edge, it gave me hope too. But it quickly dissipated to the point where i can’t even concede that he’s much better than Hiller, and certainly not Elliott. It just baffles me how one guy was a complete scapegoat, then the guy who replaced him and played even worse in key situations is talked about like our MVP. I’ve asked a million times how that works and have never gotten a real answer, just blind trashing. Hence my frustration everytime i still see people talk about how good he is for us.

            I was so optimistic for years, and it just keeps leading to disappointment time after time. People don’t wanna hear it, but this team with this ownership and management group is just perpetual mediocrity and i struggle big time to get behind their “vision” these days, whatever that’s supposed to be. I can’t see it anymore, and i can’t have faith in it. But knowing my luck, that probably means it’s all just about to come together lol

            Didn’t mean to come at ya or anything, not my intent. And i get some people are sick of reading my rants, just like i’m sick of reading the same cop outs year after year and expecting it to change while doing the same things. Just my own opinion of course, which after all is what we’re all here for 🙂

            I hope Peters has some drastic accountability and leadership changes in store, i’ve followed the Canes since Hartford and was optimistic about his hire there years ago. I hope his second kick at the can pans out a little better but maybe this team has tortured me too much with false expectations. I’m bitter and i know it, but at the same time it also feels completely realistic.

          • Off the wall

            Haha, it’s all good.
            We’re a passionate bunch and that’s never a bad thing.

            Everyone is entitled to rants. I’ve had my fair share of them as well. I wouldn’t be true to my name if I didn’t.

            I guess if you look at the extreme positions of both sides, there’s a happy medium there somewhere.

            What that looks like is as debatable as the very premise of this blog.

            We’re all spinning ideas, no one is absolutely right or wrong.
            Unless of course we hoist the Stanley Cup, then who gives a crap!

            Only then will our needless torment and frustration cease..

        • BlueMoonNigel

          The team collectively sucked on home ice, so why single Smitty out for a bashing? Seem to recall a few home games where the big man almost single-handedly stole wins for the club.

        • Moneyball

          Kirby; Hold tight this Flames hockey club is close to big things. A couple more bounces go our way and this team is ripping it up to the cup finals. IF Lazar can get it going and Brower keeps bringing it every night and smith can bring average goaltending we are golden.

  • T&A4Flames

    Hey FN. Not to ignore this article, but are we ever going to see any write ups on any European, CHL or college free agents the Flames are looking at or maybe should be? With few draft picks in this draft, they should be looking aggressively at other means of grabbing a few young players by other means.

  • T&A4Flames

    What else would we have to add/take back to get a goalie like Grubauer for Rittich? I suggest this because the Caps have Samsonov in the wings but they may not want to rush him into a back up role just yet. Rittich could help fill that gap and save the Caps money as Grubauer is an RFA and will be looking for a raise. And these playoffs I think proves they aren’t ready to move on from Holtby. What if we take back Brooks Orpik’s 1 yr $5.5 remaining contract. Frees up a lot of cash for them.

  • T&A4Flames

    Oh, and the reason I’m thinking CGY May like this is because it gives us a whole year with 2 solid guys. After this year and Smiths contract ends, Grubauer can take over as #1 with Gillies as his back up.

    • FL?MES

      Makes sense but I’m don’t want to see the team ‘take on’ a $5.5M contract. It seems counter-productive in the short term.

      I also don’t want Parsons to play in the ECHL so maybe one of Rittich or Gillies will be gonzo.

      • Baalzamon

        Especially since it adds yet another useless depth defenseman (Orpik is really bad). If both Brodie and Stone are gone I could maybe see it, but I’d still rather not add a blueliner like Orpik, even for one year.

        • Snitch

          I totally agree with you on Orpik. He’s not good, we don’t need that cap hit and it’s terrible for an organization the needs to make room for our defense prospects. I do think Grubauer could be a good target for us though. Do you think Brodie could get that deal done?

  • The Fall

    “Smith is great; he’s like a third defencemen making the first pass out of the D Zone.”

    “Sure, but that first pass is about as good as one from Kris Russell…”

  • TheWheeze

    Myself and only a few others on FN have been sounding alarm bells over this the last few months. Broken record time. I will repeat myself. Get rid of Sigalet. And my comment, which i stand by which rankles so many on FN, that Gillies will never be more than a back up. And a very average one at that. Put that in your pipe and smoke it……..har har

    • freethe flames

      I sometimes wonder about goalies coaches; who do they go to the off season; frequently they have their own witch doctor to go to. Might it just be better to brink in their guy if they begin to struggle; rather than have a guy who wants to change them.

    • Cfan in Van

      The problem with that, is there isn’t really any evidence that Sigalet has a negative influence on our goalies. A previous article outlined the fact that most of the goalies that move to/from the Flames have had pretty similar results before and after their time here. And none of the prospects were all that good before they got here.

      McDonald was a crappy pick, and other than that, Gilles/Parsons are the best goal prospects we’ve had in a long time. It’s too early to tell with those two.

  • Jessemadnote

    I’ve been advocating Lehner as a target for the back up for a while now. I don’t believe Buffalo will qualify him and I believe that he is in line for a breakout season. His numbers in the past 3 seasons mirror the numbers of Freddie Andersson, Crawford, Dubnyk, Rinne, Bobrovsky, Marc Andre Fleury and more high level goalies at around the same age/experience level. I also have faith that he could take over when Smith goes down for his yearly 15-25 game injury.

    • Beer League Coach

      Lehner is coming off a $4 mil contract and has proven he is not worth even half of that. I would not sign him for anything more than $1 mil on a 1 year prove it type of contract. That being said, I doubt if Lehner would listen to any offer that is less than what he was paid last year. He would return to Europe before taking anything less than that. So that makes him a total non factor as far as Flames are concerned. I think our current goalies would have much better stats if we upgraded our defence. Orpik is not the guy to upgrade any defence. Moving Brodie and Stone and promoting from within will accomplish the upgrade at a very modest cost. How many give aways did Brodie provide in his own end where the G had no chance to make a save? Orpik could likely manage to surpass Brodie’s numbers for giveaways and his contract is even more $$ than Brodie’s. Gio & Dougie, Kulak & Hamonic, Wotherspoon (if he will sign with Flames) & Andersson. Maybe a vet like Goulabef or Prout for 7 d. Not much ice time for a low cost vet to hold the fort in case of injury on the D. Prout could also be available for goon duty if the need should arise.

      • Jessemadnote

        I agree if Lehner is over 4 million I wouldn’t look at him. I disagree that he any worse than our current back up goalies. In fact, I would argue he’s been as good as Smith in the past 3 years. He has a higher save percentage and plays behind a muuuuuuch worse defense than Calgary’s.

      • T&A4Flames

        Did you guys actually read my entire comment re: Orpik? Acquiring him was’t a way to upgrade the D. It’s ttade that gets us better assets by taking on his salary for 1 year. He’ll, buy him out if it makes sense. The point was, if taking him gets us Grubauer, then maybe it’s worth it. Without a lot of assets to trade, maybe our cap space is the asset we need to make some quality assets (while, yes, taking on a poor asset or two).

        • Beer League Coach

          Yes, I read your comment. The only way we should take on his salary for a year is if we can dump a salary of our own. Include Brouwer going back to Washington and it might be worthwhile taking Orpik $$ for a year.

        • The Real Slim Brodie

          Buy him out? So you want to pay for his contract for several years instead of just one. Several years ago we were in a position to use cap space to take on bad contracts for picks…instead we signed brouwer and bollig and too many overpriced guys to mention. Seems like we are always waiting for another bad contract to expire. Fml

  • DMac

    The Flames organization has had very few home grown goaltending talents. Mike Vernon is one. Can you really count Trevor Kidd? Pat Riggin? MacElhinney? So its been a few years. But having a netminder step out of junior hockey and excel is rare indeed with most requiring that ‘seasoning’ to come into their own. With Jon Gillies and Trevor Parsons in the pipeline, its a good thing. David Rittich was, in my opinion, a pleasant surprise with the few good starts he had as a back up. None of those 3 are ready to be a true No. 1 guy for next year. With the assumption that one of Gillies or Rittich is the designated No. 1 in Stockton with Parsons as No. 2 (and subsequently having a ‘good’ (define that anyway you want) and injury-free year, the difficult decision regarding who is guarding the Flames cage is next summer. Ideally, we would want one of Rittich or Gillies to step up and grab the starters job and allow flexibility on re-upping with the then UFA Smith. Two years later, Parsons should be the one that challenges for the chance to start 50-55 games in the bigs. Bottom line: sign both Rittich and Gillies. Don’t sacrifice any other assets other than an absolute steal of a free agent and work with what’s already in the cupboard.

  • Jobu

    While I agree that backup goaltending is important, and I agree with Pat’s assessment on how to deal with the problem, I don’t agree that this is their biggest issue. Jobu’s eyes tell him Calgary’s issue was more around a lack of scoring more than a lack of backup goaltending. Grubauer looks good because he has a good team in front of him. I have no doubts that our current backups can hold their own once the rest of the team improves.

  • Garry T

    The answer is Jonathan Bernier who is a free agent. Sign him to backup Smith and trade one of Rittich or Gillies so that Parsons plays in AHL. In AHL give each goalie a 5 game segment on a rotation. Then Sigalet has to go. Not one goaltender has been elevated to a challenger position. Every one of them has regressed under Sigalet. Then the goaltenders have to:
    1. Let forwards and defencemen know there are opposing forwards in the blue paint and clear them out.
    2. Tighten the gaps … Forwards to the puck and D closer to the net keeping the paint cleat and concentrating on the face off circles for shooters.
    3. Everybody has to take their man at center ice and in our zone.
    4. Sloppy changes have to stop.

  • MontanaMan

    A backup goaltender must be able to start 30 games a year but most importantly, needs to be able to step into the starter role should the starter go down with an injury. Both Gillies and Rittich are decent back up tenders, but neither is capable of being a starter over an extended period. To my eye, Rittich looks the better of the two and although I’ve never been a goaltender (or ever figured them out for that matter) Gillies looks like a fish out of water and doesn’t appear to be NHL pedigree.

  • Stu Gotz

    Goaltending remains a major concern. Smith will be a year older so its time to look beyond next season the final year of his contract. A few credible veteran UFA’s are available…I like Carter Hutton and Jonathan Bernier. Both can win games as Smith’s back-up and perhaps step in as the starter at some point. Continue to develop Gillies and Parsons. Rittich is the wildcard if a veteran backup is indeed signed…..That’s a good problem to have and options are available……

    • freethe flames

      These would be my top two guys from the UFA market as well. Lehner could be an interesting option in Rittich for Lehner deal; both 26 both RFA’s. I know it would likely take more than just Rittich but it’s a starting point.