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.
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.
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.
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.