While his contract has yet to be signed, we know David Rittich will make up half of Calgary’s goaltending tandem in 2019-20. What remains to be seen is who will share the Flames’ crease with him for the coming season. Rittich is the team’s best chance at a long-term number one since Miikka Kiprusoff, which is why he deserves a good chunk of starts for the coming year. As such, Calgary is likely in search of a crease-mate comfortable with a time share, and potentially playing second fiddle.
We went through this exercise recently on Sportsnet 960 and targeted a few solid, yet realistic, options. If the Flames hand Rittich between 50 and 55 starts next season, his partner would finish between 27 and 32. Let’s roll through three potential targets Calgary could explore in the coming weeks.
There’s a segment of Flames fans very vocal and adamant Smith should be back for a third season with the team. In fairness, Smith’s playoff performance should influence opinions, because his five game performance against Colorado was impressive. Of course, the overall body of work last year wasn’t of the same caliber.
“I think you always want to be the guy,” Smith said at locker clean-out in April. “I’m a competitive guy, I’ve played a lot of games throughout my career, and you always want to play.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into Smith’s answer about playing time, but everything I’ve been able to garner suggests he’s not looking for a job as a backup or tandem-mate. Now, the market may dictate otherwise, which would probably force Smith to change his mind. In that case, a return to Calgary would make more sense.
“That’ll be something that’ll be talked about,” Smith said. “Ritter had a great season this year. Both guys want to play, so it’s a good problem to have.”
I’m not anticipating Smith to be back next season, but as we wrote in April, it definitely isn’t going to happen with an expectation of being number one. I don’t believe Smith is Calgary’s priority this summer, but if other options don’t pan out and he’s still available, the door isn’t closed on a return.
It would be quite the full circle if the artist formerly known as McBackup returned to where his NHL career started. Drafted in the sixth round back in 2002, McElhinney played parts of his first three seasons with the Flames before embarking on a journeyman tour around the league. Now 36, McElhinney enters free agency with the most leverage he’s ever had and a chance to cash in for the first time in his career.
McElhinney is coming off his best NHL season for a few different reasons. He started a career-high 33 games with Carolina and helped them clinch a playoff spot for the first time in a decade. Then, following an injury to Petr Mrazek, McElhinney stepped in and shut the door in his first ever playoff appearances. In five postseason games, McElhinney went 3-2 with a 0.930 SV%.
What makes McElhinney attractive for Calgary is his proven ability to perform at a high level despite a lower number of starts. A look at his last three seasons underlines McElhinney’s consistency as a backup, even if he was elevated a little beyond that this past season.
If 55 starts is a realistic target for Rittich, the Flames could be very confident in McElhinney picking up the slack in those 27 other games. It’s pretty much all he’s done since leaving Calgary partway through the 2009-10 season. McElhinney has been one of the NHL’s best backups over the last half-decade, which is why he’ll be playing somewhere next season.
I know McElhinney is 36, but that doesn’t bother me the same way it does others. The Flames are in a competitive window, so if a guy can play and help the team win, his age is immaterial. I feel the same way about Smith, but the difference is he’s not a career backup. McElhinney is, and even with all this newfound leverage, no one is going to confuse him as a starting option.
I see no reason why Calgary wouldn’t be comfortable with an incentive-laden one or two year contract for McElhinney. The problem might be how many other teams feel just as comfortable going down the same road.
I know the mere mention of Talbot’s name makes some Flames fans irate. After all, he played for the enemy Oilers most of the last four seasons and is coming off a very mediocre 2018-19 campaign. But, looking at it objectively, Talbot’s poor season is the only one he’s had over the course of his NHL career.
There’s no doubt Talbot fell off a cliff last season and was passed on the depth chart by Mikko Koskinen as a result. In every other season of his career, though, Talbot has been serviceable at the very least; most of the time been better than that. Was his most recent season a sign of things to come, or just an uncharacteristic down year?
From Calgary’s perspective, targeting Talbot would make a lot of sense. He’s performed well as a backup in the past and, knowing how things went last year, would likely be okay signing in a secondary role. Talbot will be 32 for next season and doesn’t have the same type of leverage as McElhinney, which points to a good bargain deal.
The Flames would be banking on last season being a misnomer for Talbot, which does have risk attached. However, it’s the only sub-0.900 season of his career; if Talbot can have even a modest bounce back, he’d be a solid addition to Calgary’s goaltending fold.