Dan Vladar showed flashes of brilliance, but lacked consistency, in 2022-23
Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
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Two years ago, the Calgary Flames acquired young netminder Dan Vladar from the Boston Bruins and entered the season trying to figure out if he could be a National Hockey League goaltender. This past season, the question wasn’t if he could be an NHLer, but just how good he could be.
After an inconsistent 2022-23 season – not just on his part, but the entire team’s – the jury is still out on Vladar’s NHL ceiling.
A product of the Czech Republic, Vladar came up through Kladno’s system and played eight games for their pro team (in the Czech second division) during his draft year. Considered a promising netminder due to his size and mobility, he was a third-round selection by the Boston Bruins in the 2015 NHL Draft as one of the youngest players in his draft class. (He turned 18 two months after the draft.)
Vladar headed over to North America the following season, joining the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel and playing his 18-year-old season in that league. He signed his entry-level deal with the Bruins after that season, spending his 19-year-old season in 2016-17 getting used to pro hockey and splitting time between the AHL’s Providence Bruins and the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. He spent his entry-level years bouncing around minor pro, primarily playing in the AHL.
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After spending 2019-20 in the AHL with Providence, Vladar made his NHL debut during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs in mop-up duty. After Tuukka Rask was injured in Game 2 of the first round of the Bruins’ bubble playoff series against Carolina, Vladar dressed as Jaroslav Halak’s backup for the final three games of that series and Boston’s entire five game series with Tampa Bay. Vladar played the back half of a 7-1 loss to the Lightning in relief of Halak, allowing three goals.
Vladar kept pushing for NHL minutes in his fifth pro season, 2020-21, splitting time between the AHL and the NHL and playing five NHL games. But with Vladar becoming waiver eligible following that season, and the Bruins coveting another young goaltender in their system, Jeremy Swayman, the club traded Vladar to the Flames for a third-round draft choice in 2022.
Heading into 2021-22, with just six NHL games under his belt, Vladar was a bit of a question mark. While he wasn’t quite Miikka Kiprusoff, he showed enough strong play to become a fan favourite and earn the trust of the coaching staff by the end of his first full NHL campaign.
In 2021-22, as he tried to establish himself as a reliable NHLer, Vladar went 13-6-2 with a 2.75 goals against average and .906 save percentage over 23 games playing behind Jacob Markstrom. Considering the situation, playing behind a strong starter who contender for the Vezina Trophy, it’s hard not to consider that season as a big first step. He proved he belonged in the NHL.
In 2022-23, Vladar played a little bit more – 27 games rather than 23 – and was leaned on heavily at times, particularly early in the season when Markstrom stumbled out of the gates. He started seven of 10 games between Nov. 23 and Dec. 10, going 4-1-2 and really helping the Flames keep their heads above water as Markstrom tried to regain his form and swagger in net.
Heck, after losing a game in regulation in Carolina on Nov. 26, Vladar didn’t register another regulation L until Feb. 9, tying a franchise record with 13 appearances without a regulation loss. During that 13 game stretch, he was really solid on a team that was still occasionally defensively porous at bad times.
But look at the splits between that 13-game run and his 14 other appearances.
|Streak (13 GP)||10||2.74||.903|
|Rest of season (14 GP)||4||3.09||.880|
Vladar wasn’t regularly stealing games for the Flames during his hot streak, but he was giving them chances to win consistently. But his performances on either side of that run just weren’t good enough. Yeah, the Flames were leaning heavily on Markstrom early on – hoping he’d get his game going – and late in the season – giving him in the net with the hope he could drag them into the playoffs. But Vladar didn’t do enough during those stretches to force them to use him more often.
The 2021-22 season asked the question “Is Dan Vladar an NHL goaltender?” And the answer was yes. In his first full season, playing as a backup behind a really good starter, he was quite good.
The 2022-23 season asked the question “How good can Dan Vladar be in the NHL?” And the answer was inconclusive. Vladar was really good for stretches, but the consistency you would hope to see from a prospective NHL number-one netminder just wasn’t there.
Does that mean it won’t be there? Definitely not. Vladar’s played two NHL seasons. He’s young, relatively inexperienced, and just scratching the surface. And considering the defensive foibles of the Flames in 2022-23, Vladar’s performance between the pipes is hardly an indictment of him as a player or a reason to write him off.
He just didn’t become a consistent game-saving goaltender during a very weird, tumultuous Flames campaign. He’s signed for two more seasons at a very reasonable $2.2 million cap hit and, barring the Flames getting an eye-popping trade offer for his services, we may still find out what Vladar can become in a red jersey. He remains a promising netminder, and you get the impression there’s still a lot to discover about this young man and his game.
Letter Grade: C-
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