Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Adding another goalie is more complicated than it seems

In many ways, the success of the Calgary Flames in 2018-19 will be based on the success of their goaltending tandem. With significant upgrades on forward, arguably defense, and with several prospects knocking on the NHL door, the Flames look to be in much better shape this year as opposed to last, at least when it comes to skaters.

However, the one part of the roster that remains untouched is in net. Mike Smith, signed through this season, will be the starting goalie for the Flames this year, and holds the fate of the Flames in his hands. There is no doubt about that. Backup duties will presumably be shared between David Rittich and Jon Gillies, but neither really stole the role in training camp and the preseason. Rittich will likely serve as the backup due to Gillies being waiver exempt and there being little separation between the two backups at this point. That leaves Tyler Parsons, the heir apparent to the Flames crease, to graduate from ECHL Kansas City where he spent most of last season and split the starting job in AHL Stockton with Gillies.

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Already there is a bit of a logjam. Parsons, at this point in his career, should be getting significant AHL playing time to help him grow and develop. He is clearly the best goalie in the Flames’ system right now and though he’s coming off a rough season, there was more going on behind the scenes. This year should be a big year for Parsons and he should be given a healthy dose of starts in the AHL to get back on the right track.

That is not as easy as it sounds when Gillies, a more proven goalie right now, is in front of him on the Stockton depth chart. Hopefully the two can share the crease but there’s no guarantee that coach Cail MacLean will roll with a 1A/1B structure in goal. Parsons is the goalie the Flames need to pay the most attention to. He’s the only goalie in the system who looks to one day be an NHL starter and the Flames need to handle his development appropriately.

That becomes near impossible if the Flames decided to add a goalie to their roster. On Friday, Ryan Pike wrote a great piece on potential goaltending targets for the Flames who could be available on the waiver wire in the days leading up to the start of the regular season. A few interesting names are on the list, including Leafs goalies Curtis McElhinney, Garrett Sparks, and Calvin Pickard. It’s likely that one of these three goalies will be available and could be an upgrade over the current backup options in Rittich and Gillies.

However, claiming one of these goalies would mean the Flames’ organizational logjam will become even worse.

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All of a sudden, the backup role in Calgary would be taken over by one of those three Leafs goaltenders, leaving both Rittich and Gillies in Stockton. Both are better goalies right now than Parsons which means that Parsons would likely head to the ECHL. Safe to say this wouldn’t be the best developmental route for him. It is possible that one of Rittich or Gillies could be sent down to Kansas, but that really isn’t a likely scenario.

The question that needs to be asked and answered by Brad Treliving is, “Is it worth it?” Does adding a more capable backup who can play a a few more games than the current options give the Flames a better chance of making the playoffs this year? It very well could. Having a rock solid backup goalie means that Smith is able to take a few more nights off and won’t have to play 60+ games. He can remain fresh and take precautions to avoid getting injured, giving the Flames the best possible goaltending tandem heading into what is a very crucial season for Treliving.

Is one more year of Parsons in the ECHL worth an incremental improvement in the NHL crease this year? It might be. If this is the year for the Flames to really go for it and go all in on a playoff spot, maybe it makes sense for Treliving to pull the trigger.

  • freethe flames

    The question is there someone out there is a significant upgrade on what we have? If the answer is yes ad this means that the Flames team goes on a long playoff run and this trickles down to the Heat and the KC heat also do the same then it might not be a bad thing.

    It will be interesting to see what BT&BP decide about the make up of the team.

  • Vernon30

    If you can get Pickard for nothing, do it. It may mean one of Rittich or Gilles can be a trade asset down the line. Mainly Gilles, I’d say, because of his pedigree.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    If the Flames do go down this path I see only 2 ways that make sense.

    1. The goalie available is a significant upgrade that would add a couple of expected wins

    2. A Calgary goalie prospect is included as part of a trade for a goalie.

  • kipper2004

    You gotta think that they will give Rittich or Gillies some rope to start the season and evaluate the backup position as i dont think there is a waiver claim that will tip the scales. For long term success, the Flames need a backup that pushes Smith out of the net when he breaks down, instead of just scheduled games throughout the year. I think it will be obvious if the current backup tandem can handle it or not and then BT will pull the trigger for a better option.

  • cberg

    The assumptions define the result. As in, when you presume that Parsons is the best goalie in the system, when you presume both Gillies and Rittich are inadequate both as backups and as future starters, when you presume one of the Leafs’ rejects is guaranteed better than both Rittich and Gillies and when you presume that Smith is failing and will be injured….THEN everything you wrote makes perfect sense and the Flames will be stupid if they do not make the changes you recommend.

    Of course, here in the real world, not a single one of those presumptions is true, we do not and cannot know the future, and the current Flames management plan is more than logical and reasonable. Are there risks? Sure, kind of like the risks that both Smith and Tkachuk get injured in their last preseason game and are gone for awhile (hopefully not the case)? We never know. What we do know is that there is a plan, there is a backup plan, and probably a backup to the backup plan, and if all else fails contingencies to look elsewhere at any time.

    • BendingCorners

      Pickard might not be better than Rittich and Gillies but his track record suggests that he is.
      Rittich and Gillies might be better than their short records indicate, but that’s a hope not a forecast.
      Smith is 36 and injury-prone so a reasonable forecast is that he will be less effective this year and will be injured.
      The logical thing to do is obtain a proven backup. If Dubas waives Pickard the Flames should claim him. It’s just good risk management.

      • cberg

        Unfortunately, in hockey, “track record” is very subjective and is totally dependant on the team and circumstances. How many times have we seen a goalie with a fantastic record with one team, that totally flails with another? The examples are very numerous. There are no direct comparables, as in, for instance, track and field with head to head, individual competitions. What normally happens is people look at a goalies results with one team and ASSUME they’ll perform the same with their team, forgetting, or ignoring the fact that the teams are not the same. I get it that people have their favourites, and goats but assuming someone else is better is totally subjective.

        I think we can clearly say BT is going forward with what we have. Time will tell whether that turns out successful or not.

  • Raffydog

    Treliving must have a ton of confidence in the goalies he has, because he’s betting his career on them. If the Flames don’t make the playoffs this year, and if it’s goaltending that sinks them, it’s hard to believe that he still has a job after that. Especially considering that the goalies are the biggest concern heading into the season and he did nothing to address that. That would be only two very short playoff appearances during his tenure, and with the roster being the most talented it’s been in years, not making the playoffs this year is unacceptable.

    • cberg

      We don’t know what the BT situation is, but I’m not disagreeing it may be the case. As far as your statement that goalies are the biggest concern going into the season and BT did nothing to address that issue, I have to disagree because you are ignoring the reality of last season. The biggest problem at the end of last season was coaching, far and away, with secondary scoring second and goaltending probably a distant third. BT hit those problems head on and aggressively, and at this point it seems like he hit home runs in both instances. If goaltending fails the team this season but those two other areas are huge successes it’s going to be hard to condemn BT overall. It’s very difficult to address and makeover one major area of a team in the offseason, much less 3-4. We are where we are with goaltending, praying it stands up, with very limited potential upgrade options to start the season. “If” BT gets condemned for goaltending this season it’s only going to be because of how he handles it from here on out, and keeping in mind whatoptions he has.

      • The Beej

        Yes. And acquiring a Goalie would also entail screwing up Gillies and Parsons development plans. (Yes they have one. Every prospect does).

        It also begs the question:

        How the heck are you gonna develop a goalie if no goalie prospect ever gets some important minutes?

  • Jobu

    If this season is truly the make or break season for Treliving as people suggest then pushing a rookie AHL goalie to the ECHL is a small price to pay for a better chance at playoff success.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    If BT picks up a Leaf goaltender on waivers, he would be a significant upgrade to Gilles and Rittich. So, to rid the logjam, waive Rittich or release Gilles if no one claims him. Gilles and Rittich are not the future.

  • Searsy

    Logjam? This article completely misses the mark. If the Flames pluck a goalie off of waivers (which I absolutely feel they should do) then they simply would move Rittich out of the organization for this season. He’s only on a one year deal which can be entirely buried for cap purposes.

    He can go back to Europe this season. Logjam problem solved. This happens all the time – especially with tenders.

  • everton fc

    I think the Leafs waive Pickard. In fact, there’s no way they don’t. And I think they take the gamble of waiving McElhinney, making Sparks the backup. Pickard and McElhinney might both get claimed, though.

  • Zalapski

    Sometimes you just got hope the boat floats. Smith is a complete game changer in the best and worst way. He has the athletic ability out the ying yang, can make huge saves and can steal games. When he’s hot, he is a well above average NHL goalie that can win games. He’s had so many hard miles on him playing for the Coyotes and he’s older but he’s been good in the past. On the other hand, he is wildly inconsistent, injury prone and and has been playing the puck WAY too casually this preseason. I like him, but he scares me, but I like him better than any option we’ve had since Kipper.

    As far as Rittich goes. He’s a backup goalie, who is not trending as a starter. I like him a lot for some reason, (maybe it’s because I want one guy the Flames sign out of Europe to be an NHL contributor or maybe it’s the he carries himself, but he hasn’t shown a hell of a lot in the NHL. I think they should hand him the spot. He knows what’s on the line.
    Gillies comes up if Rittich fails and Rittich is out of the org next year. Gillies either treads water until a passable backup/future starter is found, or proves it’s his job.


  • Off the wall

    We always live in the present.
    Yet our minds tend to either get caught up in the past or future, or we lose out in the current NOW experience.
    I know it happens to me often.

    I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, when I was playing hockey, I flubbed a few passes from my teammates. I started getting in my head that I couldn’t take a pass properly. Every time I thought that- it happened. Off my stick and on to the oppositions.

    When I went for a line change, I remarked to my fellow players, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was apologetic.

    A good ole guy on the team said,
    “ Off the wall, none of us are judging you. We’re here to have fun “ Simple words, but it changed my whole perspective on my own self- judgment.

    After this, every time I started to think about whether I was going to flub a pass, I reminded myself of his wise words. Fun. Was I honestly having fun, if I was judging my every mistake?

    My mind changed from – I was playing horrible, to – I love this game. Almost like a light switch went off ..I no longer noticed MY play, but was playing for FUN.
    Ironically, my play became instantly better, even though I hadn’t noticed. I don’t believe I become instantly better as a hockey player, I just allowed my mind a rest.

    Our minds are extremely powerful. I believe the goalie position has to be the most difficult and challenging in the game today. Confidence can erode so quickly, like a wave crashing against a well built sand castle.

    I understand the Mike Smith concerns on this forum and the remarks about our backups.
    To me though, Mike Smith has the right mental makeup for this team. He’s a veteran who knows the peaks and valleys of the season. I’m sure he questions himself at times- but when it matters, he usually delivers.
    He’s very strong mentally. To me, it’s a sign of maturity and I don’t fret over it. Our backups are going to be better. However, they don’t have Smiths experience yet. Give them time and their mental game will grow.
    Having Smith is good for their development.
    He’s like the ole player who reminded me, “ Play for fun “
    The rest of your mind will follow suit!

  • buts

    Bottom line is a 1B to push SMith is needed. What we have for backups isn’t nhl caliber. A trade seems to be the best situation. Brodie or Stone along with Gillies and Neal to Toronto for Nylander and Sparks.

  • Sincity1976

    You are falling out of an airplane and are worrying about losing your wallet on the way down! They can loan Rittich to another club or play him in the ECHL. Heck, he probably goes home if he clears waivers. It is a very easy problem to solve. Not having good goalies at the NHL level on the other hand …. That is a rough landing.

  • MDG1600

    Apart from having an advantage regarding the waiver wire do people really think Rittich “earned” the back up job? He was good twice (both vs. VCR) and bad twice ( SJ & Edm). He got a lot of valuable experience last year and there was clearly a job available in the NHL this year and frankly I expected more out of him.

  • Please smith .... play well !!

    Smith worries me … he can be great .. if you look back at last year he was on a vezina type pace for half the season but when he crashed he crashed hard … his play and numbers in the last third of the season were atrocious so it worries me …. early season he stole games and kept the flames going when they were often terrible but later in the season it was reversed and he cost them games by being way worse than competent nhl backup level … I look back at the Tampa game in Calgary as a season turning point where smith was the catalyst

    I hope smith will be great but in case he is not …. I am not loving our current options . I have written off neither of them but they need to be more reliable … Gillies in particular frustrates me because I will often see him play really well and make several difficult stops and then let in a huge groaner …

  • I cannot help but feel that we are blowing this goaltending situation out of proportion. While the performance of Rittich wasn’t great when smith was injured, one can hope that he learned from the experience and will be better for it.

    This being said, the teams defensive woes last year in my opinion are a direct result of the mind boggling coaching they had. The coaching staff set them up for failure much more than any player on the team. For example, it was not Brouwers fault that he was taking defensive zone faceoffs with the game on the line. He was doing what the coaches told him. It was their stupidity in not realizing that you would still be better to have a center take a faceoff on his off wing over a player that couldn’t win a faceoff period. With the new coaching staff that is promoting a faster style of play and a commitment to defense that Peters is known for, as well as a deeper group then the flames have had in years, there should be far less pressure on the goalies to have to stand on their head and win every game. Think of Detroit who won cups with second string goalies like Ozgood. You have a good team game, and you don’t necessarily have to have the best goaltending in the league.

  • TheBear64

    I still think that Jon Gillies is the goalie of the future for the Flames. He’s still young, for a goalie. Goaltenders take a bit longer to develop than any other position. The Flames need to be patient with the guy. While yes, there is some who feel we need a more proven backup, a guy like Gillies needs to get more playing time to grow into the role. The presence of Riddich has held back Gillies’ development and I think it’s time the Flames made the decision to show some confidence in Gillies. Move out Riddich, and give Gillies a real shot at the backup position.