Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

How can the Flames juggle their minor league goalies?

Earlier this week, we discussed the Calgary Flames’ goaltending system in the mailbag. It’s probably worth going into in a bit more detail. In short: the Flames have a lot of goalies under contract, but a surprising amount of flexibility.

Four guys for four spots

A season ago, the Flames began the 2018-19 season with four goalies signed for their minor league system: Jon Gillies, Tyler Parsons, Nick Schneider and Mason McDonald. Gillies and Parsons spent much of the season in Stockton of the AHL and Schneider and McDonald were down in Kansas City.

Heading into 2019-20, the Flames once again have four goalies for four spots: Gillies, Parsons, Schneider and Russian signing Artyom Zagidulin.

Much ado about Gillies

Here’s the deal with Gillies: he’s on a one-way deal, so he’s making NHL money regardless of where he plays. He’s also no longer on his entry-level deal, meaning he would have to approve any movement to the ECHL. Long story short: barring a trade, he’s Stockton-bound. (The other three goalies can be moved freely from the AHL to the ECHL.)

Now, this would seem like an iffy deal if not for a quick glance at his 2018-19 performance:

  • From October to January, he was 6-12-4 with a 4.05 goals against average and .868 save percentage.
  • From February to April, he was 10-6-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and .916 save percentage.

In the first half, Gillies struggled but the Heat also had a pretty iffy defensive group that hadn’t played together much. In the second half, Gillies found his footing and the Heat had Juuso Valimaki to solidify things. Fun fact: 10 of Gillies’ 16 AHL wins came with Valimaki playing in front of him.

It’s easy to make the Jordan Binnington comparisons, but Gillies isn’t Binnington. But he’s still a player the Flames have sunk resources into developing and unless their hand is forced, they’re not likely to jettison him – especially after he just played two and a half pretty strong months of hockey to close out the latest season.

A surprising odd man out?

Presuming Gillies is in Stockton and is the starter, that leaves the Kansas City starting job to give Parsons and Zagidulin reps. Parsons needs to get playing time as he hopes to bounce back from his injury issues, while Zagidulin needs to get established on the smaller North American ice.

What this means is don’t expect to see Schneider get much work. If nothing else, he’ll be the backup in Kansas City – inheriting McDonald’s job from last season. He was solid in his AHL stints last season, but the Flames simply don’t have enough spots to fully develop four goaltenders at once. They have to make decisions, and the simplest one is to use Schneider in a less favourable spot in order to give Gillies, Parsons and Zagidulin starts and developmental time.

    • Nighteyes

      I think a year ago the one-way for the second year was negotiated based on the presumption Gillies would take a huge step up in the first year and be ready to make the jump in the second, it didn’t happen but it was a pretty reasonable concession on Tres part at the time imo

    • Zohan72

      Don’t forget, when Gillies was signed to this deal we had no solid back up to Mike Smith. One year on a two-way followed by a one way deal for minimal dollars was not a bad gamble when your options were Not-yet-to-be BSD, or Slow-hand-Luke Gillies.

    • Albertabeef

      Gillies was also 4-5-1 in his short stint in the NHL prior to getting that contract. He was 3-5-1 in front of a hapless GG led team that was completely uninspired after the stick throwing incident.

      • Albertabeef

        Also there are some people who love to remember Janks 4 goals against LV the last game of the season in 2017-18. Gillies was the goalie and only allowed one goal in that game.

  • HarveysFleaCollar

    I wouldnt be surprised if by November, that Cam Talbot is either in the minors, or has been waived and Gillies is backing up Rittich. The more I think about Talbot the more I’m seeing Eddie Lack all over again.

  • Burnward

    Hey Pike, just a “atta boy” for your fine work this summer.

    A ton of great articles on the kids and the team despite it being the dog days.

    Keep pushing and chasing it’s paying off.

  • benfr

    Seems as though Gillies has been granted favourable circumstances during his entire time with the Flames. He was granted playing time above Rittich even though his performance and stats did not warrant it. Last year he was given starts and the #1 job in Stockton, again with his performance not warranting it.
    He has been given ample opportunities and not came through. It could still happen but becoming more doubtful.
    Now he seems like he will be getting in the way of the development of Parsons and Zagidulin, both younger with more promise).
    I would say time to move on from him to clear the path of our other goalies.

    • FLT

      I agree Gillies is running out of time to prove he’s NHL material, but this situation demonstrates the difficulty with drafting goalies. He’s been Flames property for 7 years and still nobody knows for sure what he is. Kiprusoff was 26-27yo before he proved he was a legit NHL starter.

      IMO this supports the idea of acquiring older goalies, who have proven talent but inconsistent results, from teams who have given up on them.

    • buts

      Your bang on Benfr as he has been given more than enough opportunities and his deep in the net on his knees play resulted in a one way. A year and a half ago he almost let in 2 icings. Terrible managing BT.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    I’m no GM or goaltending coach, but wouldn’t it make sense to give Zagidulin and Parsons reps at a semi-pro level to see what you got in them? I’m sorry, but I really think Gillies is past his best buy date, I just don’t think he’s got what it takes at the pro level. Would be more than happy to be proved wrong, force the Flames hand and take us on a magical playoff run

    • TheBigChef

      Other than this past development camp, Zagidulin has not played a minute for this organization. Doesn’t make sense to scrap Gillies for some guy who is a complete unknown and likely brought in as an depth insurance policy if they couldn’t find a back-up in free agency. Zagidulin should be the one to force the organization’s hand by coming in and actually earning himself a spot–he might do just that, but he hasn’t done so yet.

      I wouldn’t go as far as to say Gillies is past his best by date, although this will be likely the most important year for him in determining whether he can make a career for himself. I think his development was set back pretty significantly by the hip surgery he had back in 2016. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same surgery that Thatcher Demko and Cory Schenider both had. In both cases it took those guys like a year and half just to get back to par. Gillies was already an outside-shot prospect before the surgery–my worry is he may have missed out on crucial development time during that period and hasn’t been able to get the body back to the level of flexibility and power needed. We will see this year if he can find consistency at a higher gear, but I wouldn’t rule him out yet.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        Good points, chief. I think a start of year Gillies/Parsons duo (whoever plays best starts) in the AHL, with Zag and Schneider in the ECHL, with Zag coming up if he needs to.

        Don’t forget, too, that Schneider had the best record on the Heat…

        If we need to move Gilles, we can just put him on waivers…it would obviously be better to get something for him, but I don’t think its the end of the world to just get rid of him if we need to.

  • TheBigChef

    Parsons is the organization’s best prospect, IMO, and should be given a non-negligible number of starts in Stockton solely for the fact the he is the logical choice for organizational resources to be invested into. Sending him back to ECHL would be harmful to his development at this stage. Gillies to me is the most suitable candidate for a call-up in the event there is an injury to Rittich or Talbot. The problem there is that I believe CGY would have to sneak him through waivers to do so? Wouldn’t be surprising if someone took a flyer on the guy and poached him for free.

    If Zagidulin rolls into camp and is lights out, then losing Gillies for nothing becomes more palatable. But I have no problem keeping Zagidulin in the ECHL to start if he doesn’t win himself a job. He was a free asset that cost us nothing but a contract.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I agree that Parsons should be the starter and get the majority of starts. I don’t believe that Gillies was given enough of a shot at the NHL level but now he is blocking the advancement of our expected franchise goalie.
      I feel that this is Parsons window to get called up and Gillies window has closed.

      The flip side is that Parsons has not proven to be durable so getting rid of Gillies could be a big mistake. Just imagine having Zag and Schneider as our AHL tandem…now that would be scary. It is up to these individuals to win a spot but the onus is on the organization to reward these efforts….something the have yet to demonstrate.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        As I said above, Schnieder kicked arse in the AHL last season. Who knows? He could be the next goalie of the future. Stranger things have happened.

  • BendingCorners

    Four spots for four goalies and all of them have potential. calling any of them “franchise” or “future starter” at this point is premature. They might all develop into NHL stars, or might all not. And it might take one more year or eight more years. Let’s just wait and see what happens.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    Am I mistaken, or did I read comments that Zagidulin didn’t sign to play in the ECHL, that he was assured it was AHL or NHL? If so, then isn’t it a question of Parsons and Gillies splitting time in the ECHL?

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      It seems strange that Zag would be in a position to dictate any terms. The loyalty should be to the existing players unless there was a bidding war.

    • HOCKEY83

      If that matters at all. Foo specifically signed with Calgary because he was told he’s get playing time with the flames. If it’s not on paper it dosen’t exist. Sometimes you need to lie to get what you want.

  • Stockton's Finest

    “From October to January, he was 6-12-4 with a 4.05 goals against average and .868 save percentage.
    From February to April, he was 10-6-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and .916 save percentage.
    In the first half, Gillies struggled but the Heat also had a pretty iffy defensive group that hadn’t played together much. In the second half, Gillies found his footing and the Heat had Juuso Valimaki to solidify things.”

    So explain then how Schneider put up a 6-3-0 record with a 2.45 GAA and a .922 sv% behind the same defense that was in front of Gillies at the beginning of the season?