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How will the Calgary Flames (and Wranglers) juggle their goaltenders in 2023-24?

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
Goaltending was a bit of a challenge at the National Hockey League level for the Calgary Flames in 2022-23. But their American League affiliate, the Wranglers, boasted some strong performances in net. As we approach the 2023-24 campaign, many are expecting the Flames to make some tweaks in net.
The Flames will have some challenging decisions to make between the pipes at all levels in the coming season. Here’s a snapshot of the six netminders under pro contracts for 2023-24.

Jacob Markstrom

A 33-year-old product of Gälve, Sweden, Markstrom has played in the NHL off and on since 2010-11 and he’s been an NHL regular since 2015-16. He’s a pretty fascinating player, arguably the most fascinating player in the Flames’ entire system. He’s been all over the damn place since joining the Flames as a free agent and locking in a six-year, $36 million deal in the 2020 off-season.
In 2020-21, he was decent, but his season was derailed by a collision with Tanner Pearson midway through the season. He missed a few games with a concussion and seemed to lose his swagger. In 2021-22, he was a beast, finishing as Vezina Trophy runner-up and voted a second-team all-star at season’s end. In 2022-23, he was decidedly not a beast, struggling at various points and memorably after one game against Montreal declaring that he “sucks at hockey.”
If Markstrom’s an average goalie in 2023-24, that’ll be a big boost to a Flames team that needed just average goaltending to make the playoffs this past season… and didn’t get it. If he struggles to begin the upcoming season, would the Flames turn to one of their less established goaltenders, even with Markstrom having two more seasons (and a no-move clause) left on his deal following 2023-24?

Dan Vladar

If we’re being honest, Vladar’s in a tough spot heading into this season. He’s the second guy on the depth chart and starting a two-year extension that carries a palatable $2.2 million cap hit. He’s just 25 and he’s played just 55 games and performed pretty well. He seems like a goaltender that’s ready to pop. But he’s stuck between the enigma that is Markstrom and the up-and-coming phenom that is Wolf on the depth chart.
Vladar’s a pretty good young goalie, but it seems like everybody’s expecting him to be tossed overboard as soon as some team offers the Flames a second-round pick. And yeah, that could very well happen. But if it doesn’t, Vladar will be counted upon to be Markstrom’s caddy and be relied upon to spell him off at key times. Vladar’s a pro, and he’ll probably keep doing what he’s doing for the Flames until his jersey changes at some indeterminate point in the future.
Because regardless of what Vladar does, it seems, Wolf is comin’.

Dustin Wolf

Wolf is 22. He’s on a two-way contract worth a scant $813,333 against the cap and is waiver exempt. He is one of the most decorated young goaltenders in recent history, having captured the AHL’s award for being the top goaltender in each of his two seasons in the league. He was named the league’s most valuable player in 2022-23.
To put it another way: in 105 AHL games, Wolf has a .927 save percentage. That’s better than Markstrom’s .920 (in 165 games) and Vladar’s .917 (in 78 games). He’s really, really, really good.
But if Vladar is moved and Wolf is summoned to the big time, suddenly the Flames could have a depth issue on their hands.

Oscar Dansk

Dansk is 29 and on a two-way NHL deal. He’s played pro hockey since 2014-15 and he’s played in a bunch of prominent leagues – the NHL, AHL, ECHL, SHL and KHL. He’s the type of goaltender who understands the assignment: right now, his gig is to make sure Wolf is at his best by playing well when he’s called upon (so that Wolf can get a night off here and there).
All due respect to Dansk, but he’s an excellent number-two in the AHL, but you might get a bit nervous if your AHL program has championship aspirations and he’s your top goaltending option. And the Wranglers’ options behind Wolf and Dansk get pretty lean pretty quickly.

Matt Radomsky

So what happens if Vladar is traded away, Wolf is called up, and there are no goalies added in the interim? Well, suddenly the AHL tandem is Dansk and potentially Matt Radomsky. Radomsky is 24 and on an AHL deal for the coming season. He’s going pro after a pretty solid college career.
He has played zero minutes of professional hockey, and dressed once as Dansk’s backup last season when Wolf was in the NHL. Barring any moves, he probably begins the season with Rapid City in the ECHL.

Connor Murphy

Vying for playing time with Radomsky in Rapid City, probably, is Connor Murphy. He’s also 24, and also going pro after a solid run in college. Unlike Radomsky, he hasn’t even dressed as a backup for a pro game yet.

To sum it up…

The Flames have four goalies on NHL deals and two more on AHL deals for the coming season. If the move everybody is expecting to see eventually comes to fruition – Vladar is traded and Wolf moves up – it could benefit the NHL club, but it might trigger some depth challenges further down the ladder. It’s not a reason to avoid making a move, but perhaps it might make the Flames brass prefer to make a Vladar swap that sees a younger goalie head to the Wranglers somehow.

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