How goaltending became Calgary’s organizational strength
Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
Mason McDonald. Brian Elliott. Joni Ortio. Reto Berra. Danny Taylor. Leland Irving. Chad Johnson. Kari Rammo. Jonas Hiller. It wasn’t that long ago goaltending was a major sore spot up for Calgary, up and down the organization. The search for Miikka Kiprusoff’s replacement has had all kinds of bumps along the way. In recent years, though, the Flames have flipped the narrative. In fact, you can make the argument goaltending is now the organization’s biggest area of strength.
Calgary has one of the NHL’s more unique setups when it comes to the position, starting with Director of Goaltending Jordan Sigalet. A new title created in December 2020, Sigalet oversees everything related to goaltending and heads a department that includes Flames goalie coach Jason LaBarbera and Stockton’s Thomas Speer.
But Calgary’s transformed approach started long before Sigalet’s role changed. A part of the organization dating back to his time with Abbotsford in 2011, Sigalet has been involved in scouting the position for more than a decade. Sigalet’s player personnel and procurement role got larger a few years later, starting when the Flames promoted him to goaltending coach at the NHL level in 2014.
That role has expanded ever since and he’s had heavy input in the acquisition of every goaltender currently on Calgary’s organizational depth chart. Statistics current as of February 23rd, 2022.
|Goalie||Team||Acquisition method||2021-22 statistics|
|Jacob Markstrom||Calgary (NHL)||UFA||23-10-5, 0.928 SV%|
|Dan Vladar||Calgary (NHL)||Trade with Boston||7-3-1, 0.911 SV%|
|Dustin Wolf||Stockton (AHL)||2019 Draft (Round 7)||20-3-3, 0.926 SV%|
|Daniil Chechelvev||Kansas City (ECHL)||2020 Draft (Round 4)||10-9-3, 0.900 SV%|
|Arseni Sergeev||Tri-City (USHL)||2021 Draft (Round 7)||23-4-1, 0.929 SV%|
Sigalet’s quest to find the next number one hasn’t been without hiccups or missteps. The tandem of Elliott and Johnson lasted one season. Mike Smith had two years in Calgary with wild peaks and valleys. The Flames got a little closer to a solution with Cam Talbot and David Rittich, but neither was quite the answer. And then opportunity came calling in the fall of 2020.
It was an opportunity Calgary had been hoping would present itself for quite some time. In the midst of an NHL calendar disrupted by a worldwide pandemic, 2020 free agency opened in October with Jacob Markström unsigned by the Vancouver Canucks. Markström had been the team’s number one free agent target for months prior, and for Sigalet it went further back than that.
“It goes back a long time for me,” Sigalet told me on Flames Talk this week. “When I was coaching the Abbotsford Heat, Jacob was in San Antonio and he was just a big raw kid back then but someone you kept your eye on all along. That kind of started my whole role there with that choice of Jacob.
“We were into free agency and he was the guy I had my eye on as the number one guy and other guys were on the list that year like Matt Murray and Braden Holtby…a pretty solid list of guys. It was stressful sitting in there that free agency day and hearing rumours that he might be going to Edmonton or he might be going here. When you finally land him you’re pretty excited because he was the guy you wanted from day one.”
Now in his second year with the Flames, Markström leads the league with eight shutouts and is within striking distances of Kiprusoff’s single-season franchise record of ten. Sigalet finally got his guy and Markström might validate that with a Vezina Trophy in a few months. Next up for Calgary was finding their number one the right backup, which turned out to be Dan Vladar this past July.
“I’d been watching Dan since he was a World Junior goalie,” Sigalet said. “He’s a lot like Jacob…when he was young he was big, lanky, super raw, and underdeveloped and as the years went on he just got stronger and more controlled and just added a lot more structure to his game. When we got word that Boston was most likely going to move him because they didn’t want to lose him on waivers for nothing, that was something we jumped all over right away.
“Those conversations started early and once we had our list together, he was just the guy that stuck out because of the fit. Darryl (Sutter) was in there and we were watching a bunch of clips of Dan and they just asked me: is this the guy? And I said 100% this is the guy. He’s young, he might have some ups and downs, but he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, there’s a lot more for him to give.”
The early returns for Vladar with the Flames have been largely positive. He’s given the team a chance to win on most nights and has a pair of shutouts to his name. And, at 24, there’s still plenty of time for Vladar to develop and get closer to his high ceiling. Working with a guy like Markström won’t hurt in that regard, either.
After going a couple drafts without selecting a goaltender, Calgary dipped back into the pool in 2019 with their seventh round selection of Everett Silvertips product Dustin Wolf. A couple years later, Wolf has a World Junior gold medal and a WHL Goaltender of the Year award to his name and has taken the American League by storm as a rookie in Stockton.
Wolf was a prospect identified by Calgary’s area scouts, which then brought Sigalet into the fold. After being struck by Wolf’s hockey sense, athleticism, and competitiveness, Sigalet was an instant believer. Those attributes were more than enough to override Wolf’s smaller stature, which looks like the right call; he’s now widely considered one of the league’s best goaltending prospects.
Wolf’s selection kicked off a run for the Flames of three straight years drafting a goalie. Daniil Chechelev went in the fourth round in 2020 before Calgary went back to the seventh round in 2021 for Arseni Sergeev. Drafting changed in the midst of a pandemic, especially for 2020, which made going to Russia all the more intriguing.
“The year we drafted Chechelev, there was no travel so everything was on video,” Sigalet recalled. “He just was someone who stuck out…a raw goalie with a ton of skill, athleticism, his compete level was through the roof. We had interest in him early and followed him the whole season and then other teams started to catch wind of him. We decided to take him when we did just so we didn’t lose him.
“I targeted (Sergeev) on video really early and he wasn’t on the Central Souting list until the last rankings came out, which I didn’t like to see because then everyone was going to know about him. I had (Speer) drive down and see him in the North American Hockey League and he kind of gave me the thumbs up after seeing him live. You go through those rounds knowing you’re going to take a goalie in the sixth or seventh round and you’re just waiting for a team to take him. When he lands to you you’re pretty excited to get him.”
Again, drafting goaltenders hasn’t been a perfect science in recent years. Second round picks McDonald (2014) and Tyler Parsons (2016) haven’t panned out; the former is out of the organization and the latter likely will be after this season. But as Sigalet’s influence in player personnel has grown since 2014, the goaltending decisions have gotten better seemingly in lockstep.
“It’s a lot of pressure to draft the right guys and to push for the right guys,” Sigalet admitted.
“But I like that pressure.”
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