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.
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.
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.