FlamesNation player evaluation: David Rittich

The Flames entered the 2017-18 season with a potential problem: too many goalies. Mike Smith and Eddie Lack would take the reins in the NHL, Jon Gillies and David Rittich would be a tandem in the AHL once again, and that would, unfortunately, relegate Tyler Parsons to the ECHL.

Except Lack basically wasn’t allowed to play, and when he did, he didn’t inspire confidence. This led to Rittich getting recalled, and he did – at least until Smith was injured, and the entire season jumped off the rails.

2017-18 season summary

Rittich started his season in the AHL, and he ended up finishing it off there, as well. Ultimately, he played 12 games for the Heat and posted a .889 save percentage along the way.

But it’s everything in between his AHL stints that was really interesting. With faith in Lack thoroughly extinguished by mid-November, Rittich made the first NHL start of his career on Nov. 25, stopping 24 of 26 shots in a 3-2 win over the Avalanche: far better than anything Lack had done in his four games as a Flame.

The Flames continued to lean on Smith throughout the season, but every time they turned to Rittich, he performed well. He followed up his .923 save percentage effort with a .946% in his next start, a 3-2 win over Montreal. After that came .941%, .938%, .953%, .919%, and .938%. Excluding games in which he appeared in relief, Rittich was, at absolute worst, picking up the Flames at least a point (he lost two shootout games), and posting excellent numbers the entire time.

And then Smith got hurt, and Rittich, by default, became the starter in mid-February: not even three months since making his first NHL start.

There were plenty of other things going wrong at the time – the rest of the team was having difficulty performing, a rather familiar sight from when Smith had been singlehandedly keeping them in games throughout October – but Rittich didn’t do much to further his own case. He tried his absolute best in two games against Boston, losing both, but not really through any fault of his own. He had a stellar effort in a 4-3 win over Nashville, including a heart-pounding end to the game in which he was the only thing that stood in the way of the Predators picking up two points.

But other than that, his numbers plummeted as he went to sharing the net with Gillies, only recovering when he faced weak teams like the Sabres and Senators. Smith returned to action after that, too little too late, and with the season clearly lost, Rittich made his final NHL start of the year on March 24: a 5-1 loss to the Sharks in which he posted a .848 SV% effort. After that, he was sent back to the AHL, and Gillies got his chance to close out the meaningless year.

Games played Save percentage ES save percentage PK save percentage
21 .904 .908 .881

Rittich’s season was a total roller coaster, completely opposite from the typical calm demeanour he often displayed in net.

Initial high level performances had some thinking there could be a lot more to this 25-year-old undrafted free agent; once he got the chance to actually be the starter, it all unravelled rather quickly. Now, the Flames don’t really have a clear answer on what to expect from him next season: and he’s a restricted free agent eligible for arbitration, to boot.

Compared to last season

There’s no question Rittich took a major step forward in 2017-18. Not so much from the AHL side – he went from a .924 save percentage in 31 games to the aforementioned .889 in 12 – but he also went from one period of NHL action (and a .900 save percentage in it) to 21 games, most of which resulted in heroic wins more often than not.

We actually have NHL data on him now. It’s only a quarter of a season’s worth, but it’s much more than we had this time a year ago, and though there are negatives to be found in it, there were plenty of positives, as well.

What about next season?

It isn’t particularly clear what’s going to happen with Rittich next.

Should the Flames bring him back? Without question. Even if they pick up another goalie, he can play the exact same role he did for the Flames in 2017-18: waiting in the wings in the AHL, ready to step up in case one of the goalies at the NHL level doesn’t work out. Only it’s even better this time, because now Rittich has had that NHL experience and understands what it’s like to be in the best league in the world day in and day out.

On the other hand… what is he, exactly? There’s always the chance he’s a late bloomer and could still be a starter, but that might be wishful thinking at this point.

There wasn’t one negative thing to say about Rittich back when Smith was starting games and healthy, so he thrived under optimal circumstances, but floundered once things got dicey. Can he overcome that? If yes, he’s great insurance to have around. If no, then he still should have some value as a backup – but Smith is 36 years old with some wear and tear on him, so it’s a question if the Flames will even have any kind of optimal goalie situation in 2018-19 at all.

Rittich is certainly easy to root for, at least.

#5 – Mark Giordano #7 – TJ Brodie
#8 – Chris Stewart #10 – Kris Versteeg
#11 – Mikael Backlund #13 – Johnny Gaudreau
#15 – Tanner Glass #18 – Matt Stajan
#19 – Matthew Tkachuk #20 – Curtis Lazar
#21 – Garnet Hathaway #23 – Sean Monahan
#24 – Travis Hamonic #25 – Nick Shore
#26 – Michael Stone #27 – Dougie Hamilton


  • cjc

    I think re-signing Rittich and Gillies and having the better guy out of camp serve as Smith’s backup only makes sense. Rittich is not waiver exempt (Gillies is), so maybe Rittich starts as backup. If both goalies falter, it should be easy enough to find a cheap veteran on the scrap heap.

  • cjc

    O/t, but why has Calgary been so quiet on the signing front? Lots of teams have been signing draft picks, college FAs or European talent, but the last signing Calgary made was Cody Goloubef back in February.

  • buts

    David Rittich has out performed Gillies at every opportunity yet gets screwed over by flames management every time in favor of Gillies. Just give him the opportunity and the minutes in net. DR is just another example of the “given not earned” management that is ruining prospects.

    • JMK

      How?? Rittich got 21 games this season at NHL, comped to Gillies’ 11. For Gillies, 4 of those games came at the end of the season (I assume to assess where he’s at for that level as season was over) and 6 of those games were when Smith was injured and Rittich’s performance fell. Last season you could have made that case as Gillies got more starts in the AHL; so to counter that, perhaps the Flames see more potential in Gillies as a future starter hence more development opportunities.

      • buts

        When Smith returned from injury they kept Gillies who kept on crappin the bed. Why? so that his value will lower in a trade…..no it was to give him his major league salary, keep him happy, because someone has him penciled him as the #2….no matter what Rittich did earlier on. Bottom line is Gillies is given opportunity after opportunity no matter how bad he plays. Gillies has not put up good numbers and might be good one day….right now he needs grooming in the A not the NHL.

        • JMK

          I think you might be remembering the timeline of events incorrectly. Mike Smith returned Mar 11th from injury; David Rittich then played in games on Mar 16th, 21st & 24th. Gillies didn’t play until March 29th (and Apr 3, 5 & 7). Calgary were out by the time Gillies got back in – it’s like when Kylington got a game last year, or previous years when college signings get the last game of the season.

          And to your point on numbers, if scouts only had to look at numbers to assess talent they wouldn’t even need to go to games. Maybe the Flames see something you don’t in Gillies that makes him more likely to be a future #1/2.

    • cberg

      I sympathize with the later comment because I believe that’s an issue, however not so with Rittich. Last season Rittich got the NHL backup role, which he earned and did very well in until Smith got hurt and then he faltered along with the team when it was all on him. Subsequently Gillies came in and did a bit better and ended the season with the Flames, while “the better” Rittich went down to Stockton to try and push them into the playoffs, but didn’t do much better there. Last season Rittich definitely got his shot and faltered badly when it counted most.

      Next year I believe Parsons should get the majority of starts with Stockton and the best long-term bet of the other two the backup role in Calgary. Personally Id put Gillies there as he has had a strong starter background and did the best late last season as well. We should sign Rittich and trade him.

  • Raffydog

    These evaluation articles are really starting to expose all the weaknesses on this team. I have zero confidence in Rittich and Gillies, both had a great opportunity to prove they can be nhl’ers and both failed. Smith completely fell apart when the pressure ramped up, and there is no reason to believe the upcoming season will be any different. And it doesn’t look like there will be any changes on defense, so we will be running the same soft, porous, easy to play against defense as last season. This is shaping up to be another long disappointing season.

  • The GREAT WW

    It’s hard to evaluate any of our goaltenders over the last couple of years; the defensive system that was being coached was so weak that there were breakdowns leading to grade A chances against all over the place.

    But we improved possession…..!


    • UtahFlamesFan

      Possession is a useful stat. At the end of the day though there are only 2 stats that matter, Goals for and goals against. We don’t do well in either category. Goals For is simple in that we don’t have enough scorers on the team. Goals Against is a combination of poor defense and average goaltending. Defense this last season was extremely average and I dont necessarily mean it was the defenders that were the issue. Defense as a team was poor. Too many giveaways. Fact is Rittich or Smith or Gillies can’t stand on their head every game. They will have below average games. This is where our collective defensive abilities should help but clearly don’t. I hope the new coach spends his time fixing that problem and I hope BT spends his time fixing the scoring problem. We have too many players on the team who we think ‘might’ be a scorer one day. Bennett, Ferland, Foo, Jankowski even …. Its true that they might be ok, but right now they aren’t. They are sub standard for a team looking to win a cup. As for Rittich, it’s true that goalie is the most important position on any team but until we have a vastly upgraded supporting cast it honestly doesn’t matter. Give the guy a chance.

    • The Real Slim Brodie

      The entire team was folding when smith went down. These goalies will look alot better once a new system is deployed and the actually have confidence in the defense.

    • WillyWonka

      I agree with you WW, whatever the defensive structure was supposed to look like, it never did work out well. Seems like it never clicked with the team, and under pressure it fell apart as guys started running around.
      This is the one area I am holding hope with Peter’s, as his reputation is strong on defensive systems play. If he can get our D active again, and the forwards to actually support defense… this team will do better.

      • Raffydog

        Doesn’t matter what kind of system you have in place if you don’t have any defenseman that can play defence. This d core is pillowy soft, and trading Brodie and/or Stone and replacing them with the same type of player isn’t going to help.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Trade Rittich and Michael Stone (retained salary) to Washington for the rights to Grubauer (26 year old RFA). Sign him for 3×3. He can play 30 – 40 games in tandem with Smith and then be a back-up plan if one of Gillies or Parsons doesn’t end up being starter quality.

    Washington could use a d-man with a right-handed shot for their bottom pairing. Plus there is no guarantee Carlson re-signs there.

  • calgaryfan

    The Flames need a proven NHL backup, I could not imagine Treliving would go into the season with a 36 year old Mike Smith and 2 mediocre AHL goalies as insurance. If Smith is injured it would be last year all over again!

    • Raffydog

      This team needs all kinds of help, and a proven backup is just one of the many reasons why I have already predicted that the Flames will not make the playoffs this upcoming season. Hate to say it but this team is years away from being competitive.

  • rusty_shakleforde

    I’m all for trying to land Grubauer if it means we still get scoring depth, but I think it would be nice if we all realized that maybe Rittich just kinda folded under the pressure (of being a starter and also having to carry the team). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how he will turn out, but we should we judge him on a few bad games? Keeping in mind our terrible track record with being fair to our goaltenders?

  • deantheraven

    He earned his chance, he got his chance. He shone, and he floundered but never did he wilt. Gillies looked fragile when the doo-doo hit the oscillator. Rittich did not. Over an 82-game season, I can see him starting more games and if he does, he’ll grow into the role. Goalies can be late bloomers, and Rittich hasn’t had enough time in the sun, imho.

  • everton fc

    I like Rittich. For those who viewed the World Championships, how did he look?

    As a fan, I felt way more comfortable w/Rittich between the pipes, vs. Gillies. And I still like the idea of seeing if we can get one of Pickard or Sparks, from the Leafs, as insurance…