The Calgary Flames don’t need to open a spot for Dustin Wolf, but probably should

Photo credit:Angela Burger/Calgary Wranglers
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
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Way, way back in 2015, the Calgary Flames had themselves a problem. Heading into the 2015-16 campaign, the team had two incumbent, veteran goaltenders in the form of Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller. After a breakthrough season that included their first playoff series win since 2004, the Flames felt they had a viable tandem.
But the Flames had a third goaltender they liked quite a bit, too: youngster Joni Ortio. By that point, Ortio had played enough seasons under NHL contracts that his waiver exemption had expired. And the Flames were concerned – very much so – that they would lose this suddenly useful, valuable asset for nothing.
So… the Flames went into training camp in 2015 with three goaltenders they liked and, after no moves materialized involving those players, they entered the regular season with three goaltenders on their roster. (By the time training camp started, most NHL teams had their own top three goalies set and didn’t really seem keen on acquiring another one.) The casualty of the decision to hold onto Ortio on the NHL roster was Paul Byron. The Flames attempted to sneak Byron through on the annual day-before-roster-deadline waiver dump, but the Montreal Canadiens claimed him.
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Losing Byron was the first stumble in what became a pretty challenging 2015-16 season. The Flames’ puck luck took a downturn, as did their overall standard of play, and – spoiler – juggling three goaltenders just didn’t work well. Ortio was on waivers by late November and went unclaimed. (He struggled so much during the entire season that the Flames ended up not giving him a qualifying offer.)
All-in-all, the Flames’ handling of the whole Ortio/three goaltenders situation was pretty much a disaster and cost them Byron, who really blossomed in Montreal (before some recent injury issues).

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Dustin Wolf’s situation, a subject of much discussion on Monday’s edition of Barn Burner, is both similar and very, very different from Ortio’s.
Wolf is entering this summer with the Flames having two established NHL goaltenders on their roster in the form of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar. Wolf is probably ready for an NHL challenge, as Ortio was in 2015-16.
But Wolf has another two seasons of waiver exemption remaining, so the Flames don’t necessarily need to do anything with him. If they wanted to, they could easily send him to the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers and enjoy having one of the best goaltenders in the world outside of the NHL safely stored away outside of the NHL. That’s great depth.
But depth is only great if you use it. And Wolf is really, really good. He was named the AHL’s top goaltender in 2022-23 for the second consecutive season, as well as that league’s MVP. All due respect to Ortio, but Wolf’s performances over his first two AHL seasons completely blow Ortio’s out of the water. And while, yeah, Wolf is easily one of the best goaltenders in the world outside of the NHL, doesn’t it seem a bit silly to keep him outside of the NHL when his performances so far have been this good?
He’s been the best goaltender in the AHL for two seasons. He seems like somebody who could really help the NHL team. They should open up a path for him to do so, regardless of his waiver status. It would carry the benefit of creating some decent salary cap savings, too, something that would also really help the Flames given the likely flat-cap environment they’ll be facing in 2023-24.
Wolf’s situation is not the same as Ortio’s. But the Flames should take the lessons from 2015: if they head into training camp with three goaltenders, it might be challenging to move one of them. If they’re serious about giving Wolf a serious NHL opportunity in 2023-24, it might be prudent to move a goaltender over the summer rather than waiting until the fall.
The Flames don’t need to open a spot for Wolf, in terms of any pressing waiver requirements forcing them into a move. But based on how flat-out great he’s played for two seasons, they probably should.

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