51Garret Sparks
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Could the Flames upgrade their goaltending via the waiver wire?

It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames need to have strong goaltending in 2018-19 to succeed. Heck, they’d settle for merely consistent goaltending. But the drop off in performance and track record between starter Mike Smith and whoever ends up as his caddie – David Rittich or Jon Gillies – is pretty stark.

But this time of year sees goaltenders with National Hockey League experience put on the waiver wire as clubs finalize their rosters. Could the Flames find an upgrade on the waiver wire?

It’s too early to say whether Rittich and Gillies are good goaltenders are not at the NHL level simply because we haven’t seen a ton of them yet. When we have, it’s been in spot duty or mopping up late in the season. Rittich has a career .904 save percentage in 22 games, while Gillies has a .903 save percentage in 12 games.

There are several goaltenders likely available between now and Oct. 3 on the waiver wire with more NHL experience than either of them, but most of them come with some complications, baggage or warts.

Could be more of the same

Rittich and Gillies are guys that aren’t established at the NHL level yet. There are a handful of guys that could be good, or could be merely another version of what the Flames already have.

Scott Wedgewood, Buffalo: Wedgewood played 20 games last season and has 24 games under his belt overall. He has a career .903 save percentage. He’s mostly an AHL depth ‘tender right now.

Dustin Tokarski, NY Rangers: He has 34 NHL games under his belt with a .904 save percentage, and has primarily been an AHL goalie for the past few seasons.

Alex Lyon, Philadelphia: Lyon got his feet wet last season with 11 NHL games and is a solid third goaltender in a system but wouldn’t necessarily be an upgrade.

Calvin Pickard, Toronto: Pickard has established himself as a very solid AHL goalie, but he’s also bounced around a bit and failed to get traction. His numbers are good – 87 games and a .913 save percentage – but his consistency might not be there.

Small sample size

Harri Sateri, Detroit: Sateri is entering his second year in North America, moving to Detroit after a year with the Florida Panthers. He has a decent .911 save percentage in nine games, but his limited sample size really didn’t do a ton to engender confidence in his game.

Older goalies

These players are firmly in the downslope of their careers.

Andrew Hammond, Minnesota: The upside with Hammond is that he’s a veteran. The downside with Hammond is that his performance has varied wildly, to the point where teams seem content to merely tuck him away on the farm. When he’s been used in the NHL, like Colorado did last season, it was usually due to a lack of better options.

Curtis McElhinney, Toronto: A veteran of 186 NHL games and many, many organizations, “McBackup” is a consummate pro and his teammates love him. But he’s old and has played better over the past few seasons than expected. He’s held onto an NHL job for awhile, but he’s seemingly due for Father Time to close in on him.

Expensive goalies

Mike Condon, Ottawa: Following Zack Smith going on waivers earlier this week, there are whispers out of Ottawa that they might try to ditch some salary by waiving Condon. He’s got experience (127 NHL games), but his career .907 save percentage isn’t appreciably better than either Rittich or Gillies, and he carries a $2.5 million cap hit. He’d be an expensive gamble.

Unclear availability

Garret Sparks, Toronto: Despite his bumpy NHL experience to date – .893 save percentage in 17 games for a bad 2015-16 Leafs team – if Sparks is waived and available, you claim him. He was a superb AHL goaltender last season and is easily the crown jewel of the waiver market… if he goes on waivers. It’s unclear if the Leafs will waive him – McElhinney might be more likely – and even if he does go on waivers, the Flames sit 12th on the waiver priority list until mid-November. Even if Sparks is waived, it’s unlikely he would reach the Flames given how horrid the goaltending situations are for teams behind them in last season’s standings.

Ultimately, aside from Sparks, it’s unlikely that any of the goalies that hit the waiver wire will be significant, definite upgrades on what the Flames already have in net.

  • Hockey4life

    Personally I don’t feel any of these guys would be upgrades. Pickard or Sparks is intriguing but not sure either is a better option then what they already have.

  • GoJohnnyGo

    Based on Tre’s moves this year, he has a plan. Rittich will be a on a short leash; then Gilllies; then either trade/acquire or Parsons. Based on this article not much better is out there.

  • Cheeky

    The question is: can we upgrade? The answer: not with any of these guys. Let’s give Rittich and/or Gillies a chance – our organization has in the past been so reluctant to give prospects/youth a chance. This is the year of the prospects…

  • Korcan

    I like Sparks, but Kevin Woodley of InGoal magazine seems to think he is more suited to be a starter than backup. If i remember correctly, in an interview in the Fan960, he said Sparks is a very athletic goaltender who relies on his athleticism more than positioning, etc (much like the Flame’s Parsons) and thus needs a heavier workload to be consistent, to ‘stay in groove’. As a backup, he simply wouldn’t be able to get enough work, thus would likely struggle. I guess we could take one person’s opinion that for what its worth, but i found it interesting nevertheless.

    Sticking with Sparks, could the Flames possibly trade Gillies for him then have him start in Stockton and Rittich be Smith’s back up in Calgary (he was a very good back up, remember, he only started to struggle when given the starting role), then when Smith goes down bring him up to take over the starting role with Rittich continuing as back up? Just a thought.

    • BendingCorners

      … but if Woodley’s observation is valid, would it not equally apply to Gillies? In which case why not keep Gillies and make him the starter with Smith is hurt?

      • Korcan

        Yes, it would. The reason for considering it would simply be because, up to this point, Sparks has been the better goaltender of the two and may be a more plausible replacement option for Smith in the future. By trading Gillies for him, Calgary could obtain him before Toronto has to place him on waivers. If Sparks goes on waivers, he likely will get picked up before Calgary can claim him.

  • oilcanboyd

    It’s called Dumpster Diving for a goalie on waivers! None of those on waivers would help. If you signed McElhaney to an AHL contract you would have to move one more goalie down to ECHL or release.

    • mrroonie

      Mangiapane, one of Hathaway or Lazar, Valimaki, Kulak, and Gillies.

      Hath and Lazar are a toss up and are the only ones who would have to clear waivers. Dube takes the 12th spot as he has been one notch above Mangi this preseason with Mangi as the first call up. Whoever of Hath/Lazar doesn’t go down sits with Peluso and Prout while Andersson takes the 6th D spot.

  • kipper2004

    Well after watching Sparks get lit up the other night, and the comments that he hasnt been able to bring his Allstar AHL game to the NHL seems like a potential mental flaw that may be tough to break but obviously playing in TO has mega pressure that can kill a goalies confidence. I still think Rittich is found money and has the size, competitive demeaner, and down low game that can yield consistent performances to be a successful backup. Lehtonen would be the best option if he came cheap (maybe 1 year at $1.75M prove me deal), as he can go on short runs if Smitty gets hurt or needs a week off every month. The Lyon kid in Philly is an underated goalie that some people may not be aware of, as he has had good college and pro numbers with some upside.

  • buts

    Almost all listed available are better than what we have at the moment. Gillies is 2 years away and Parsons is at least one year away. Because Parsons is the heir I’d take McElheney as he is a gap filler.

  • Jessemadnote

    Calvin Pickard had a higher save percentage than Varlamov every year he played in Colorado. Nothing has changed except him being on too many teams with crowded goalie depth charts since then.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Not very many interesting prospects from this list. Maybe Pickard, slim pickens. All I know is that Gilles and Rittich don’t give me a ton of confidence. I’m sure glad I’m not BT.

    • Chucky

      At some point BT has to have confidence in the minor league and scouting work that his team has put in and make sure that the coaching is good enough to develop internally a true NHL starter.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Said it before and will repeat it…do star goalies simply appear by magic??? Or did a team take the time to develop them themselves? Old Drag Racing axiom and yes I drag raced a 74 Camaro for years…”Ya gotta run what ya brung!”

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Brian Mulroney made famous the quip, “You dance with the girl you brung.” Whoa! Did Kimmy Campbell ever pay the price for being Brian’s best gal. Let’s hope the Flames fair much better this season than the PCs did in the ’93 election. Tre has made a huge gamble not changing any of his goalies going into the season. For this he will be cursed and damned or praised and feted.

  • Jobu

    You dont make a move until you need too. Smith needs to first crap his britches OR go down with injury (again), AND Rittich or Gillies have to prove they cant take the handoff (again) AND we need to be close to a playoff position when it all comes down… yeah sounds a lot like last year and we didnt do anything about it.

    If it happens again Tre will be on it. No doubt…