How do judge Calgary Flames backup goalie Dan Vladar’s 2023-24 season? (Did he struggle or was he injured?)

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
The Calgary Flames entered the 2023-24 with three goalies they felt pretty good about: incumbent starter Jacob Markstrom, backup Dan Vladar and AHL starter Dustin Wolf. Two of three goaltenders took steps forward; Markstrom returned to near-Vezina form for much of the year, while Wolf spent more than two months in the NHL and looked more and more comfortable.
And then there’s Vladar, who just didn’t have the year that he – or the Flames – likely hoped he would… but it’s difficult to suss out if his play regressed or if he was merely hampered by a nagging hip injury.

The past

A product of Praha, Czechia, Vladar came up through the Rytiri Kladno system – yes, that’s the team that beloved former Flames forward Jaromir Jagr owns. Vladar split his draft year between Kladno’s junior team and their pro team in the Czech second division, posting a .926 save percentage in 29 junior games and a .933 save percentage in eight pro games. He was selected 75th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins.
Vladar spent the 2015-16 season with the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel, then signed his entry-level deal following that season. Vladar spent five seasons in the Bruins system, working his way up from the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators to the AHL’s Providence Bruins and eventually pushing for NHL work with the big club.
The Bruins hit a bit of a decision point with Vladar after the 2020-21 season. He used up his waiver exemption, forcing the team to decide whether to keep him – after just five NHL regular season appearances – or to hold onto Jeremy Swayman instead and risk losing Vladar for free on the waiver wire. The Bruins made their decision, trading Vladar to the Flames for a 2022 third-round pick.
Vladar played 23 games in 2021-22 with the Flames, working as Markstrom’s understudy. He posted a pretty decent .906 save percentage while Markstrom finished as the Vezina Trophy runner-up and the Flames won the Pacific Division. But Vladar’s numbers eroded in 2022-23 – as did Markstrom’s – dropping to .895 as the Flames missed the playoffs.

The present

The hope was that Vladar – and the Flames – would bounce back from a sub-par season and perform well in 2023-24. Vladar, much like the Flames, showed flashes of strong play but didn’t really have a ton of consistency. Yeah, some of that was due to the Flames’ uneven adjustment to their new defensive scheme.
But it also turns out that Vladar was playing through a torn labrum and “a bunch of extra bones” in his hip.
When we break his Flames’ run to date into 10 game segments… hey look, his numbers took a pretty hefty drop in early 2023, roughly around the time the injury started to bother him. He posted an .882 save percentage – the worst of his short NHL career.
The Flames shut Vladar down in mid-March and he underwent corrective surgery.
“I was struggling with it for over a year,” said Vladar during exit interviews last week. “It wasn’t anything that just came up one day. It was just a thing that was bugging me for awhile. The team gave me word that I could do whatever I want, basically. They had my back all the way through. I wanted to play. I wanted to perform well as I can. I just wanted to give the team a chance to win every night. But then I got to the point where it was hurting for me every single day. I was basically hurting the team more than I was helping them. So, then we had a conversation with the team and they just did an awesome job… They shut me down because if it was up to me, I would’ve still played.”

The future

Vladar is entering the final year of his contract, which carries a $2.2 million cap hit. Vladar reported he’s ahead of his recovery schedule and expects to be a full participant when training camp opens. Barring any other roster moves, the Flames will likely enter the 2024-25 season with Markstrom and Vladar in Calgary’s net and Wolf in the AHL. Given how prominent Markstrom was in trade rumours, it’s impossible to rule out other roster moves.
When Vladar was healthy – in 2021-22 and the first chunk of 2022-23 – he looked really sharp. If he’s back at 100%, perhaps we could see him return to his prior form. Vladar’s only played 77 NHL games in his career, so he’s still getting established, and he might still have depths in his game that haven’t been discovered yet.
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