It’s pretty clear when looking at his moves that Brad Treliving generally has a plan when it comes to his roster. Over the past few weeks, he’s added 21-year-old Noah Hanifin, 23-year-old Elias Lindholm and 25-year-old Austin Czarnik to his club.
If you look at the Flames’ roster and pay special attention to the key pieces they’ve built their team around, the vast majority of them are quite young. Their top scorer is 24. They have proven prospect depth at forward and on the blueline. But the potential fatal flaw in the organization’s succession planning may be in net.
For all their youth, talent and depth elsewhere, the Flames are relying on a 36-year-old and a bunch of question marks to make or break their season.
The current goalie corral
The Flames have six goaltenders under team control presently: Mike Smith (36), David Rittich (25), Jon Gillies (24), Mason McDonald (22), Tyler Parsons (20) and Nick Schneider (20).
Smith has played 529 NHL games and has a career 220-220-66 record. He played 55 games for the Flames last season and was superb before suffering a lower-body injury that knocked him out for a month. When he returned, he was much less good. He’s lauded for his fitness and preparation, but Father Time is undefeated as they say; he’s missed time due to various lower-body issues in four of the past five seasons.
It gets thin from there. Rittich and Gillies have 34 NHL games and four full seasons of North American pro hockey between them. McDonald, Parsons and Schneider haven’t sniffed the NHL yet.
Limited options past this season
The good news is that Smith is under contract through 2018-19. The bad news is that the Flames don’t seem to have particularly exciting options behind him and they’ll need to come up with a plan for 2019-20. The options they have aren’t great, particularly when you bear in mind that they’ll need cap space for Matthew Tkachuk’s hefty raise and Smith will be 37 when the 2019-20 season begins.
Extending Smith? It’s punting on actually solving the problem, and may actually make things worse given he’ll be 37 and the chances of Smith’s game falling into a chasm (or him being felled by a serious injury) increase as he ages. He won’t be horribly expensive, though, but it doesn’t seem like the ideal solution.
Go with the kids? Even if we presume the best case scenario, which is that one of Rittich, Gillies or Parsons puts together a monster year, there are risks involved with going all in on the kids. On one hand, they’ll be cheap. On the other hand, they’ll have a very limited sample size of high end results from which to judge these netminders. The reason why good goaltenders are expensive is that they’ve usually been good for awhile and can command top dollar; the Flames’ depth ‘tenders are cheap because they haven’t done much of anything at the NHL level yet. If you’re a team pushing for a championship, why would you stake everything on one of these three guys (even if you do think they can become strong goaltenders in time)?
Go to the market? Via our pals at Cap Friendly, here are the 10 netminders currently slated to become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in order of declining current cap hit. Ages at the end of the 2018-19 season are included:
- Sergei Bobrovsky (30)
- Pekka Rinne (36)
- Semyon Varlamov (31)
- Smith (37)
- Jimmy Howard (35)
- Cam Talbot (32)
- Cam Ward (35)
- Brian Elliott (34)
- Michal Neuvirth (31)
- Anders Nilsson (29)
Several of these names will be too expensive, and the first three names (along with Talbot) likely won’t even hit the open market. And if they did, given Tkachuk’s looming extension, the Flames wouldn’t be able to afford them. Beyond that? The UFA class is old guys, odds and sods.
The restricted free agent market isn’t much better, and there’s no external pressure (such as an expansion draft) coming up that’s gonna force somebody to sell off a player cheap. So if the Flames are going to try to grab somebody from this avenue, it’ll be pricey in terms of trading key assets.
The problem in a nutshell
The Flames have one bankable, reliable NHL goaltender in their organization… and he’s gonna be 37 years old by season’s end, and has a mounting history of recurring lower-body injuries that will probably get worse as he ages. The Flames need to find somebody for the 2019-20 season as good as Smith is, if not younger and/or better, who’ll play for equal (or less than) his $4.25 million cap hit. And they have to do so without impacting the organizational depth in other areas that they’ve scrimped and saved so dutifully to accumulate.
Treliving has put together an otherwise impressive roster with strong depth, but their lack of an apparent plan for goaltending could prove very costly.