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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Flames have a plan in net?

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.

  • Jobu

    Jobu would like to dream of a world where Bobrovsky signs on next offseason with the Flames for a reasonable contract (i.e. 8mill), only because he knows he can win a championship there (as opposed to in CBJ where they’ll never make it out of the first round).

  • Mongauchuk

    One thing I have not seen discussed is the different style Smith plays with regards to puck handling. It changes the way the team plays and puts a lot of pressure on the young guys to play out of there comfort zone when called upon. They either have to change there style to mimic Smith or maybe BP will get Smith to stay in the net more. Having the team change the way it plays depending on who is in net is not a recipe for success.

    • Smithwick

      Rhett Werrener commented a while back that he thought Smith’s style made the D lazy not having to skate back. Could be good to have him tone it down a little but still have it available for the odd break out.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        I think this is a very important point.

        Something hopefully a competent coaching staff can figure out.

        He likely played the puck too much, perhaps it was an indication of his frustration at the way the season was going, that he wanted to jump n and get the guys moving. I dunno. but either way it’s something he likely should tone down.

        We need to work on our breakouts and (especially O) zone enteries, especially on the power play. Smith ought to be a of that, but part of a larger overall strategy(ies).

    • kirby

      Smith HAS to stay in the net more. His propensity to force plays on the puck every time he thinks he has a chance cost us several big goals and cost us several games. Yeah once in awhile he makes a nice play on the puck and it’s all gravy. But WAY too often he’s coughing it up leading to scramble drills and wide open empty net goals against. Saw it repeatedly last year to the point where i’d cringe every time he left the crease. I even remember one time Gio standing in the corner literally yelling for the puck and tapping his stick on the ice, and Smith ignored him because he wanted to pretend he was Marty Brodeur circa 1999. He tried to force a play up the boards, it was cut off and intercepted, and 20 seconds later it’s in his net. It’s at a point in his career where he’s just too slow and clunky in general so when he gets caught outside the crease he’s doomed. The guy has to realize he’s just not that quick anymore and stay in the blue paint more often.

      • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

        Despite rumours to the contrary, Smith is not actually good at handling the puck and should do it no more than any other goalie, except on very rare occasions.

  • sRo

    I don’t understand what the problem is. Give the kids a chance they’re not winning the cup anytime soon, so be patient. Wasn’t Helebuyck junk 2 seasons ago, then an absolute beast last year?

  • Korcan

    If i had to guess what Tre’s “plan” in net is, i would suggest he plans for Rittich to back Smith for ’18/19 with Gillies starting the bulk of games in Stockton and Parsons backing him. IF Gillies has an outstanding season, next year (’19/20) he will be platooned with Smith in Calgary and Parsons made the starter in Stockton — and Rittich will be traded. IF Gillies struggles and Rittich has a stellar year in Calgary, then Rittich becomes Smith’s platoon partner in ’19/20. Regardless, unless Smith’s game completely collapses, i see him staying on for at least one more season, on 1yr deals, to provide a veteran presence while hopefully one of the youngsters takes the starters reigns.

    And, after all that, it will be Parsons who steals the net from all three.

  • KootenayFlamesFan

    For those of you needing to be cheered up just read anything on editorinleaf.com. “The leafs are the best team in the NHL!” “The leafs are the new NHL dynasty!” The last time the leafs won a playoff series was the year we went to the finals! As bad as we’ve been we’re still not that bad . . . Or delusional.