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FlamesNation Roundtable: The goalie conundrum, and limited trade options

The Flames returned from their All-Star break, presumably refreshed and ready to go. Their play, however, didn’t exactly indicate that – at least, not for the majority of the two games they’ve played to date. But they did get a chance to look at both of their goalies, with Mike Smith starting against the Capitals, and David Rittich against the Hurricanes. They had extremely different performances.

There are 29 games left in the season. The Flames all but have a playoff spot locked up, but they still have plenty to play for: the Pacific Division crown, the Western Conference crown, and even an outside shot at getting home ice advantage all the way through the playoffs. Then, there’s the matter of the playoffs themselves: Rittich will undoubtedly be the Flames’ starter, but it’s a brand new situation for him, and there’s always the threat of an injury.

How can the Flames handle their goalies through the rest of the regular season with an eye towards both winning games and keeping Rittich fresh? And do they need to trade for a new goalie at all? We sounded off in our roundtable below; feel free to chime in in the comments.

How many starts should David Rittich get down the final stretch? How many starts for Mike Smith?

Ari: Of the Flames’ 29 remaining games, by a very quick and dirty count, they have 19 games left against potentially threatening opponents (and, with three back-to-backs remaining, none of them are factors: they’re all strong opponent one night, weak opponent another). I think the Flames can get away with a healthy 20 games for Rittich and nine for Smith, which would give Rittich a total 48 starts on the season, and 34 for Smith.

Ryan: With 29 games left, it’s probably realistic to aim for 22 Rittich starts. That would leave seven for Smith.

Christian Tiberi: I think 20 games is pretty reasonable. You have to give the back-to-backs to Smith, and they can probably shovel a few more games his way when the division is wrapped up.

Mike: With 29 games remaining and Winnipeg closing in on the Flames for tops in the West, Rittich should see 20 or so starts. Smith should see three of his starts on the three remaining back to backs (Feb. 27, March 7, and March 15). That’s it.

Christian Roatis: Of the remaining 29 games, the bulk should go to Rittich. You don’t want to tire out your starter going into the playoffs either, but if the Flames don’t acquire a legitimate backup goaltender at the deadline, Smith simply cannot be trusted, and entrusting the crease too often to him may lead to giving up the division to the Sharks. It should be 20-22 games for Rittich, 7-9 for Smith.

Bill: If the Pacific race tightens up, increase Rittich’s minimum of 20 starts to something closer to 22-25.

Karim: Of the 29 remaining games, Rittich should get 20, and Smith the remaining nine. Seems like an appropriate split.

Should the Flames ride Rittich, or is it important to limit his workload?

Ari: Thanks to the Flames’ reluctance to give Rittich the starter’s net right away, both goalies have had a pretty even workload just over halfway through the season. They can probably get away with playing primarily Rittich heading into the playoffs.

Ryan:  He’s still a relatively untested starter, so it’s probably worth riding him a little bit to figure out what his limitations are. That way they can make adjustments in the offseason.

Christian Tiberi: Twenty games would put him at 48 total starts for the year, which is reasonable for a starter. I don’t think you have to worry about limiting his workload because he’s going to have similar workloads to other playoff goalies when the time comes.

Mike: If they had someone other than Smith then limiting his workload a bit might be nice, but frankly it’s not a luxury they have.

Christian Roatis: Limiting Rittich’s workload to some extent remains important, despite the fact it’s been reasonably light relative to other starting goaltenders. A short-term burnout could still happen to Rittich if his starts are managed irresponsibly. Given the cushion the Flames have built up on the Sharks for first in the Pacific, and especially on a home playoff date, they can afford to lose some games by starting Smith to rest Rittich accordingly.

Bill: It’s worth it to ride him right now. In terms of career games, he barely has any mileage and it would be good to see more of him to close out the season.

Karim: I don’t think riding Rittich is a big deal, especially this year. It’s more important to limit the number of games lost due to Smith. You can’t be cold going into the playoffs.

Can you extract any value at all out of Smith or is it too little, too late?

Ari: Two isolated incidents kind of summed things up for me. Against the Capitals, on their second goal, Smith had multiple chances to corral a rebound and instead flailed helplessly before the puck went in. Against the Hurricanes, right at the start of the game, Rittich lost the puck, found it at the last possible moment, and got his glove on it. There’s no comparing between the two anymore. Smith’s days as an elite athlete are coming to an end; at this level, they’re probably already be over.

Ryan: That ship has probably sailed. He’s going to be 37 next month.

Christian Tiberi: I can’t see it at all. No one is going to be interested in playing him or re-signing him. You might offload him to balance salaries in a big-money trade, but otherwise, no value.

Mike: No. He’s proven this season two critical things: the team *can* win in spite of him and that he can’t provide a level of sustainable play to warrant anything beyond the bare minimum requirement of showing up to try to do his job.

Christian Roatis: Seems too late. Even the “small sample size” crowd has quieted to near silence as we enter February and Smith continues to play sieve. He turns 37 in March. It’s over.

Bill: Probably not. There’s very few general managers out there that would kick flat tires.

Karim: No. He’s done.

Should the Flames trade for another goalie? If yes, what do you do with Smith?

Ari: I’m torn. After a quick look at the schedule, the Flames still have a fair number of weaker opponents left to play: the Panthers, the Senators (twice), the Devils (twice), and the Kings (twice). That’s seven of 29 games right there; Smith could get his starts against them and that could cover his season (and that’s leaving out the bubble teams who may get even weaker after the deadline: the Canucks [once post-deadline], the Coyotes [once], the Rangers [once], the Ducks [twice], and the Oilers [once].) The Flames might be able to survive Smith with their remaining schedule. However, they’re also fighting for home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and Smith is really bad; he could cost them. If they do trade for another goalie, though, then Smith probably isn’t going the other way. If it’s at the deadline when the roster limit is lifted, keep him, whatever. If it isn’t, waive him. It’s over. It’s been over for a while now.

Ryan: In the words of Billy Beane in Moneyball, the Flames have got to squeeze the last bits of hockey out of Smith and see how far he can help the group go.

Christian Tiberi: I couldn’t really care what they do with Smith if they get another goalie.

Mike: Yes, but it’s not easy. You legitimately have to find a team, with a goalie you want, and that would take Smith back. On top of that, given the constraints of Matthew Tkachuk and Rittich commanding raises this summer, you can’t take back much money moving forward to next season. Worst case scenario: leave him in Ponoka when it warms up.

Christian Roatis: I would definitely look into attempting to acquire a reliable option. An injury to Rittich at this point would essentially spell the end of an incredible season for the Flames, and effectively waste what has been a magical year. Even without an injury to Rittich, utilizing two goaltenders over the course of the playoffs in some capacity has been an emerging trend among Stanley Cup winners in the past few years.

Bill: I think it’s only worth it if the backup remains on the team at least one more year with a cheap contract. A rental backup for this season shouldn’t see many games anyway so it probably isn’t worth it if that’s the case.

Karim: They should not get another goalie. Chances are they’ll ride Rittich in the playoffs. If he falters or gets hurt, the Flames are probably hooped, regardless of whether they have Smith or someone else as the backup.

If the Flames get a new goalie, would he be most needed for the regular season or playoffs? Is it worth it to spend assets on a new goalie when they could be spent elsewhere?

Ari: I know we all say that most teams would be screwed in the playoffs if their starting goaltender went down, but out of all goalies with at least five games played – an extremely low bar – Smith is fifth worst in the NHL (he’s seventh worst in save percentage, but two of those goalies are currently in the AHL. Three of the others below him have had extremely injury-plagued seasons. The other goalie is Chad Johnson). The Flames can probably survive the regular season, albeit in unideal circumstances, but they will be extra screwed in the playoffs if Rittich goes down. I really can’t emphasize nearly enough how brutal Smith has been this year. Depending on how much they’re willing to spend on other areas of the ice – which should take priority – it’s probably worth it, at least for the assurance.

Ryan: Considering that Rittich is the top dog and will be likely starting every meaningful game from here on out, it’s probably not worth expending assets to try to upgrade on Smith this season.

Christian Tiberi: Playoffs. I don’t think Rittich is going to Brian Elliott it up in the playoffs, but the team probably wants insurance from someone just in case he gets the yips.

Mike: Both. The Flames need someone reliable behind/beside Rittich regardless of what time of the season it is. Again, it’s tricky given the cap situation heading into the summer. Money has to come off the books in the offseason, it’s just a matter of where. Don’t move the first for a goalie unless it’s a legitimate surefire win (not Sergei Bobrovsky, he’ll create cap hell for this team).

Christian Roatis: Extending off of my point above, a reliable backup with the ability to steal a game if necessary is becoming a necessity for success in the playoffs. A new goaltender would be an insurance policy on Rittich if he were to breakdown in the playoffs – physically, or otherwise.

Bill: Assets should be used for a different position. If the Flames go all in, I would expect them to invest in a middle six forward or a defenceman capable of playing 20+ minutes a night to better manage the workload of their current defensive corps.

Karim: I’d rather see them either use those assets to bolster their middle six forwards or bottom pair. Ideally though, they hold onto their picks and prospects and use this year as a measuring stick for future playoff runs. Their window is just opening. Why add if you don’t really know what you need yet?

As a bonus, here’s an extremely quick and dirty look at potential goalie trade targets for the Flames leading up to the deadline, based on goalies’ even strength save percentages this season, and whether or not a team would potentially sell them as a rental (i.e. they’re out of it or likely to be, and none of these goalies are potential netminders of the future for the seller):

  • Ryan Miller, 0.946 EVSV%. The Ducks are looking increasingly done for the season, and Miller could be open to spending a couple of months on a playoff team with the chance at winning a Cup. The problem? He’s still working on coming back from a sprained MCL, is 38, and hasn’t played in the NHL since Dec. 9.
  • Jimmy Howard, 0.930 EVSV%. The Red Wings are no longer a good team. Howard has only ever played for them, though – and the Wings would probably want something more than a mid-round pick or so in return for someone who’s done so much for them.
  • Anders Nilsson, 0.918 EVSV%. The Senators are not doing anything in the playoffs this year, or probably for several years, and Nilsson will be 29 in March: he’s not their answer for the future.
  • Darcy Kuemper, 0.910 EVSV%. He’s signed for another season after this one, is already 28, and the Coyotes are pretty committed to Antti Raanta. There are a bunch of problems, though: the Coyotes are a bubble team and may not sell, and Raanta has had a lot of injury problems; Kuemper might just be their guy for the immediate and near future.
  • Cam Ward, 0.909 EVSV%. The Blackhawks are done, and Ward will soon be 35 years old. We’re starting to get towards the bottom of the barrel here – although Ward does have does have playoff experience. From like 10 years ago, though.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky, 0.904 EVSV%. He’s had some really great years, and isn’t interested in staying in Columbus. He’s been terrible this year, though, carries a high cap hit in the now, and the Flames probably wouldn’t be able to afford to extend him afterwards (which might actually be a good thing).
  • Keith Kinkaid, 0.904 EVSV%. He’s 29, and the Devils, who are bad, have Mackenzie Blackwood to turn to for the future. Again, though, some of these save percentages are starting to get gross.

The pickings are pretty slim for outside help.

  • Faeodor

    Long time reader, first time posting. I agree that the flames window is open now for a few years. And while I agree that the prospect cupboards need to be restocked I am of the opinion you go for it every year your window is open. Now I’m not saying you make a huge splash every year at the tdl, but you definitely do everything you can to make minor depth moves or any upgrades on the roster that you can. I have seen it talked about on other sites and previous threads here and I think adding couturier would be awesome for this team. Yes would cost a lot and would not do this until the off season but I think he would be fantastic on this team.

    Love the discussions I see on here. Could do without the silly name calling and trolling by the kids. Always look forward to your stories OTW!


  • Jessemadnote

    I see everyone talking about chemistry at the trade deadline, why would that not apply to Smith? He’s clearly a very vocal part of the leadership group in the room and last time Rittich didn’t have him around things went south. I think Smith’s impact goes beyond the numbers.

    • Getpucksdeep

      I agree the old drag racing adage is run what ya brung!. A veteran AHL goalie maybe, but none of those “candidates” brings the team anything Smith doesn’t give them now. Macilhenny and Kuemper were both terrible at last years worlds. Ryan? Ward? seriously? The cost for Bobrovski or Kinkaid would be prohibitive. Really don’t see a need to panic. Every goalie who never won the Cup had to play those extra 21-28? games for the first time. I don’t see any issue with playoffs at all.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Save the assets for a winger and go all in this year. We have no idea how much longer Gio is going to be Norris-esque and this is Matty’s last year on ELC. I say go for Stone. Our 1st rnd pick, Czarnik and Kylington would likely need to be in play. One of Frolik/Neal would need to go the other way to increase the likelihood of re-signing Stone next year under the cap. If the rumored increase to 85 million cap is to be believed… go short with both Tkachuk and Stone to match the windows of Gaudreau, Monahan, etc. Deal with the re-ups and tough decisions 4 or 5 years down the road after we have a couple of cups in the bag. TO is playing the short game too it appears with the Matthews re-signing. I want to see a TO, CGY cup final. If you can get both Stone and Chucky signed to matching 7.5M deals for 4 or 5 years and one of Neal/Frolik goes the other way in the trade… there is actually cap room to make it all work next year assuming 3.5M to Rittich (4 or 5 years), 2.5M to Benny (3 years) and signing a backup for $1.25. Mango and Dube come onto the roster at ELC type money and Hathaway still fits in for about 850K. D-man Stone even still fits… I just ran it all on capfriendly assuming an 85M cap for 2019-2020. Stone’s 3.5M disappears at the same time you need new deals for Brodie, Hamonic and Andersson. Likely only 2 of those 3 can stay when the time comes, but hopefully we’ll have a cup either this or next year!



    • Kevin R

      You arent all wrong but I doubt Ottawa take back any salary. I think our 1st, Czarnik, a 2020 3rd to be upgraded to a 2nd if we make the conference final, Ruzicka & a conditional choice of 2020 or 2021 1st if Stone resigns would look like a huge package compared to what they got for Karlsson.
      To sign him, a decision would have to be made on Hamonic, Frolik & Brodie who are all late twenty’s & have 1 more year left on their deals. If you want to keep Stone, two of them will need to be traded & both will have value to bring back picks that you have traded. I see Brodie getting a mid to late 1st rounder & a good goalie prospect out of the likes of Montreal.
      Frolik might be able to get back a 2nd & 3rd round pick. I doubt Stone only signs a 5 year deal, he’ll want 6 or 7 years & the market will give it to him.

      As for goalie, fly with Smith & get him 7-9 more games, just drink lots watching these games & maybe his play will look better than it is.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        I could see them taking Frolik to make the cap work for us at the deadline. It’s only one more year of salary for them at half price from what they were paying Stone. How many contenders can take on 7+ at the deadline to do a straight across deal for Stone with just futures?

        I see Czarnik as a total Ottawa type player. He seems like the kind of player that could take off there. He plays that speed game and with more minutes and responsibility in OTT, he could really shine. Sens seem to find a way of making something out of those types of players.

        Kylington is their future Karlsson lite. Would be a great fit in OTT.

        Interesting thing is I think we’d lose only one of Hamonic/Brodie with Stone’s contract coming off the books if Frolik goes the other way… and possibly neither if the cap keeps increasing and either stays for a home town discount for more runs at the cup. Both players like it here. But I agree… decisions will have to be made regarding this.

    • Flames fan since 83

      Bean Counter. I agree with a lot of your thinking.
      Ottawa is in a terrible spot with the owner, arena and two star players needing big contracts and mostly wanting out of that tire fire.
      100%, they can’t be sellers, or they lose their fan base. They have to show they are putting an effort in making the playoffs. But they can’t let their star assets walk for nothing at the end of the year as well. Ottawa is between a rock and a wall.
      Wonder if they could take our first (which they have none in 2019), take Frolik (with another year on his contract) and James Neal (one year removed from a 20 plus goal year, and signed for 4 more), for Stone??
      Is this too optimistic? Maybe I have Rose colored Glasses on?

      • deantheraven

        More like what would he go for to play for the team his brother used to play for. I can see something like that turn into another episode of The Hamiltons.
        No thanks.

    • Sir ryosus

      Great plan but a lot of ifs in there. Maybe 7.5 gets it done.. but rittich won’t go that long for that money. Hath will want more.

      I’m guessing BT works more draft day magic and drops hammer or Brodie for cap space and Seattle draft protection

  • deantheraven

    Smith can be faulted for bad goals (lots more) but he rarely single-handedly loses games for this team. They seem to play a better game in their own zone, and keep the game at the other end of the ice.
    My gut is to keep him. I believe I will be conveniently proved right by the fact that there’s nowhere to send him.

  • Off the wall

    Well I feel like telling a story.

    I’m bored, it’s freezing cold here and my work has come to a standstill. And NO, I’m not going to shovel snow. I’ve seen enough in my lifetime, thanks.

    My wonderful Landlord thinks it’s a great idea to fire up his motorbike on the coldest day of the year. All the while, he’s got it in a 8×20 steel container, with one door slightly open, whilst throttling the motorcycle for 15 minutes straight.
    Guess he hasn’t heard of carbon monoxide poisoning?

    All this to make sure his battery is working. Ever heard of a slow-trickle battery charger?
    I have one on my travel trailer. Works great!

    Treliving is smart. He knows about carbon monoxide poisoning. Too much sharing leads to poisoning his future decisions. Chevy is throwing his futures out there. I’d love to see what happens.
    Treliving has also got his battery fully charged for some decisive action, should it warrant it.
    I doubt it includes a goalie.

    We’re hearing/ reading trickles of potential trade rumours.
    We’ll never know what he’s up to, until he (throttles) the next move swiftly and silently.

    That’s a sign of intelligence.
    Too bad my Landlord doesn’t have it.

    I should probably check and see if he’s still alive..
    ( Yeah, sorry for the copy/ paste. It was meant for this blog..)