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There’s no clarity in the David Rittich market

We’re rapidly approaching the scheduled arbitration hearing date between the Calgary Flames and goaltender David Rittich. Both sides are filing their asks with the arbitrator by 9 a.m. MT on Saturday morning, which could either lead to a resolution or send them straight towards the hearing room.

There are two big things that make Rittich’s new deal a bit of a challenge: comparables, and Cam Talbot.

Comparables

Rittich is 26 year old. He’s played 67 games, started 58, and has 35 wins, a 2.70 goals against average and a .909 save percentage. The only comparables that the Flames and his camp can bring up are fellow restricted free agents, which really hems things in.

Before we get into the other comparables, let’s address one right away: the Blues’ Jordan Binnington, who was signed for $4.4 million for two seasons. He’s played fewer career NHL games (33) than Rittich has career wins (35), but he’s posted a 1.91 goals against average and won a Stanley Cup. He’s going to be making more than Rittich.

Here’s every RFA goalie with at least two-thirds (45) of Rittich’s appearances (67) and that signed a deal of three seasons or less over the past two years. They’re sorted by games played at the time of signing.

  • Malcolm Subban (Vegas) – 45 games, 21 wins, 2.88 GAA, .903 SV% – $850,000 for one season
  • Juuse Saros (Nashville) – 48 games, 21 wins, 2.42 GAA, .923 SV% – $1.5 million for three seasons
  • Laurent Brossoit (Winnipeg) – 49 games, 20 wins, 2.77 GAA, .911 SV% – $1.225 million for one season
  • Connor Hellebuyk (Winnipeg) – 82 games, 39 wins, 2.71 GAA, .910 SV% – $2.25 million for one season
  • Calvin Pickard (Toronto) – 87 games, 28 wins, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV% – $800,000 for one season
  • Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus) – 90 games, 41 wins, 2.89 GAA, .907 SV% – $1.15 million for one season
  • Louis Domingue (Tampa Bay) – 96 games, 34 wins, 2.98 GAA, .911 SV% – $1.15 million for two seasons
  • Philipp Grubauer (Colorado) – 101 games, 43 wins, 2.29 GAA, .923 SV% – $3.33 million for three seasons
  • Petr Mrazek (Carolina) – 183 games, 78 wins, 2.66 GAA, .911 SV% – $1.5 million for one year
  • Robin Lehner (Buffalo) – 158 games, 57 wins, 2.73 GAA, .919 SV% – $4 million for one season
  • Robin Lehner (NY Islanders) – 205 games, 68 wins, 2.82 GAA, .916 SV% – $1.5 million for one season

There are no perfect comparables here. If you were the Flames, you could cherry-pick a few names like Korpisalo, Brossoit and Domingue – all backups – and make a good argument to keep Rittich’s cap hit down. Or if you’re Rittich’s camp, you could point to the likes of Grubauer and Lehner and note that they were being given the net in their respective clubs with similar numbers, so there’s a case to be made for giving Rittich a similar deal.

There’s a big risk in taking things to arbitration because Rittich is a unicorn. Very few goaltenders come over from Europe at 24 years old and become NHL starters. There aren’t any perfect fits for either side, meaning that if they go to a hearing it’s entirely up to what the arbitrator could infer regarding the situation.

Cam Talbot

Let’s be blunt here: Rittich is going to be (at worst) Calgary’s 1A. So that means he should be making, at least, the same as backup (or 1B) Cam Talbot’s $2.75 million. If he’s definitively the starter, he should probably be making more.

Rittich making more than $2.75 million, even on a short term deal, completely contradicts every previous RFA goaltender signing in the past couple seasons. But based on the team’s cap structure, it would make a ton of sense.

A prediction

If we’re using prior signings as a guide, Rittich should be making around $1.5 million on a short term deal. If we’re using the team’s internal cap structure, he should be making at least $2.75 million. It’s completely unclear which way an arbitrator would lean, which makes the next couple days potentially very interesting.