The Calgary Flames need to decide on two goaltenders before next season

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
The 2022-23 Calgary Flames season went off the deep end for a multitude of reasons, none of which were bigger than the goaltending issues that plagued the team. Jacob Markstrom, the $6 million man in net and the starter in 58 of the team’s 82 games, ended the season with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. Additionally, out of 30 goalies with 1500 unblocked shot attempts against, he was 19th in goals saved above expected (GSAx) with 1.5.
The backup, Dan Vladar, wasn’t much better either. He finished with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage. Of 54 goalies that faced 900 unblocked shot attempts, Vladar was 44th in GSAx with -5.25, which, while he has comparable box score statistics to Markstrom, is a pretty solid margin between the two starters.
When the goaltender your team is paying $6 million is struggling and needs an extra push from the former head coach at the end of the season, saying that he needs to be better and that the team relies on him to win games, and the backup goaltender isn’t able to bail out his team any more than the other man in the tandem.
While all of this was going on, Dustin Wolf was down in the American Hockey League with the Calgary Wranglers racking up wins and awards. He played 55 regular season games and earned a 2.09 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Over nine playoff games, he didn’t do quite as well, but he was still excellent. He put up a 2.67 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. He was voted at the end of the season as the AHL’s best goaltender and as the most valuable player in the AHL as well.
Wolf made his first NHL start (and won his first NHL game) against the San Jose Sharks on April 12. He had 23 saves in the appearance, and he gave Flames fans a reason to tune in even though the hope was lost for the postseason at that point.
At this point, there doesn’t appear to be much else that Wolf can prove in the AHL. He’s still only 22 years old, which is young for an NHL goaltender, but he played 55 games and was consistently excellent through all of them. And with the position that the Flames are in currently with their goaltending, it feels as if an injection of youth in that position and giving him a trial run at the NHL level wouldn’t be a bad start.
I don’t believe it would surprise anyone to see Markstrom bounce back next season. He was clearly bothered by his performance in 2022-23, and he knows he let his team down on multiple levels. However, questions arise about the future of Vladar in the organization. He’s a solid backup, but with the rise of Wolf in the ranks, he’s currently holding a spot that the 22-year-old goaltender will inevitably be in one day. It’s only a matter of time before the Flames give Wolf a shot, and with the potential roster overturn the team might be headed for, now feels like the perfect time to do it.
No matter what, general manager Craig Conroy and his staff need to figure out a solution to the logjam in the blue paint. Although the likelihood is very high that Markstrom isn’t going anywhere because of his contract and Wolf’s young age, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to keep Vladar around. He can still be a capable backup goalie that can fit the needs of certain teams, but keeping him around when/if Wolf makes a statement at the highest level feels like a disservice to the 25-year-old goaltender.
Of course, lots can happen before the 2023-24 NHL season gets underway, but in an off-season full of important decisions, this one should rank near the top. Swapping through three different goaltenders rarely works, and it’s not worth the hassle. The Flames need consistency, and two goalies in the tandem instead of forcing a third could go a long way.

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