The toughest job in hockey: looking back at Miikka Kiprusoff’s many back-ups

Photo credit:Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Miikka Kiprusoff had a simply fantastic run with the Calgary Flames. The netminder arrived in Calgary on Nov. 13, 2003 via a trade with the San Jose Sharks and basically defined goaltending for the franchise for the next decade.
From when he arrived until when he retired after the 2012-13 season, Kiprusoff started 572 of the Flames’ 690 games and was the NHL’s busiest goalie. Let’s take a look at the men that had to sit on the bench for weeks, if not months, at a time in case Kiprusoff needed a reliever: the 11 goalies that served as his backups.

Curtis McElhinney

Affectionately known by Flames faithful as “McBackup,” McElhinney dressed for 164 games as Kiprusoff’s backup in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. He played in 29 games, making 14 starts, and posting a 4-12-1 record with a 3.23 goals against average and .889 save percentage. In a weird quirk, his first-ever NHL win was in the final game of the 2008-09 season when the Flames had to dress just 15 skaters – three shy of a full lineup – due to cap reasons.
McElhinney was a sixth-round pick of the Flames in 2002 and was traded to Anaheim at the 2010 trade deadline in exchange for Vesa Toskala. McElhinney ended up playing in the NHL for another decade, winning two Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay as their McBackup.

Henrik Karlsson

The man known as The Calgary Tower sat on the bench for 111 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12. He played in 25 games, making 18 starts and posting a 5-9-8 record with a 2.79 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
Karlsson was acquired by the Flames from San Jose in June 2010 in exchange for a 2010 sixth-round pick, and was traded to Chicago in January 2013 in exchange for a 2013 seventh-round pick.

Jamie McLennan

“Noodles” is probably the goalie that most Flames fans associate as Kiprusoff’s backup, despite him being his third-most frequent backup. But McLennan was around for much of the 2003-04 season and also served as his backup in 2006-07, so the association makes sense – McLennan was Kiprusoff’s sidekick during most of his NHL breakthrough seasons. McLennan was his backup for 93 games. He played in 24 games, starting 22, and went 9-10-4 with a 2.84 goals against average and .903 save percentage – and this includes a chunk of 2003-04 where Kiprusoff and Roman Turek were hurt and McLennan was used with Dany Sabourin as his backup.
McLennan was acquired from Minnesota in June 2002 for a 2002 ninth-round pick, then was traded to the New York Rangers at the 2004 trade deadline (with Blair Betts and Greg Moore) in exchange for Chris Simon and a 2004 seventh-round pick. He signed back with the Flames as a free agent in July 2006 and retired in 2008 after a stint in Asia.
Fun fact: McLennan is technically still suspended by the NHL for slashing Johan Franzen in the 2007 playoffs.

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Philippe Sauvé

Following the 2004-05 lockout, the Flames acquired Sauvé from Colorado for a conditional 2006 seventh-round pick. Sauvé dressed for 48 games as Kiprusoff’s backup, and played in 8 games, starting 6 times and posting a 3-3-0 record with a 3.28 goals against average and .891 save percentage.
Sauvé was shipped out at the 2006 trade deadline, heading to Phoenix with Steven Reinprecht in exchange for Mike Leclerc and Brian Boucher.

Leland Irving

The most recent goaltender the Flames have selected in the first round, Irving was the 26th overall pick in 2006. He dressed for 35 games as Kiprusoff’s backup in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and played 13 games, starting 12 of them, and going 3-4-4 with a 3.25 goals against average and .902 save percentage.
Irving left the Flames as a free agent in July 2013.

Curtis Joseph

One of the best goaltenders in NHL history, Joseph had briefly been Flames property back in the 2022 off-season; the Flames sent a third-rounder to Toronto for Joseph’s rights, then received a compensatory second-round pick for losing him in free agency three days later. (In the pre-lockout CBA, there were compensatory picks given to teams for losing specific types of free agents, but there were limits on how many teams could get, so the Flames and Leafs cooked up a work-around.)
Anyway, the Flames signed Joseph as a free agent midway through the 2007-08 season, bumping McElhinney down to the AHL. Joseph dressed for 29 games as backup and played 9 games, starting 5 of them and going 3-2-0 with a 2.55 goals against average and .906 save percentage. He left the organization in free agency after the 2008 playoffs.

Brian Boucher

Acquired from Phoenix in a February 2005 trade that sent Sauvé to the desert, Boucher dressed for 25 games as backup. He started three himself, going 1-2-0 and posting a 4.94 goals against average and .854 save percentage. He left the organization as a free agent in the 2005 off-season.

Roman Turek

The incumbent starter when Kiprusoff was acquired, Turek was battling injuries through the early part of 2003-04, which resulted in the Flames first trying out a McLennan/Sabourin tandem, then opting to acquire Kiprusoff from San Jose.
After recovering from injury Turek dressed for 19 games as Kiprusoff’s backup, most of them after McLennan’s trade to the Rangers at the trade deadline. Turek started 15 games after Kiprusoff’s arrival, going 6-9-0 with a 2.16 goals against average and .922 save percentage. His contract expired after that season and he returned to Czechia to finish off his playing career.

Joey MacDonald

So, uh, the 2012-13 season was a mess for the Flames from a goaltending perspective. Kiprusoff was finally feeling the effects of playing 70 games a season for seven seasons, and injuries limited him to just 24 games. The Flames briefly tried a tandem of Irving and Danny Taylor, their AHL starter who was hastily signed to an NHL contract three weeks into the season because they simply ran out of healthy goalies after Kiprusoff got hurt.
When MacDonald was available on waivers, the Flames jumped on him. He eventually formed a tandem with Kiprusoff, backing him up 17 times and appearing 21 times in the Flames net, going 8-9-1 with a 2.87 goals against average and .902 save percentage. MacDonald seemed to be a shoo-in for the starting job the following season, following Kiprusoff’s retirement, but his performances early in the 2013-14 season were disappointing and he was soon waived and replaced by AHL call-up Reto Berra. (He eventually left the club as a free agent that summer.)

Vesa Toskala

In 2007-08, the Flames replaced McElhinney with Joseph mid-season. In 2009-10, they swapped McElhinney to Anaheim at the trade deadline for Kiprusoff’s former San Jose mate, Toskala. Toskala dressed as backup 16 times, played six times, including three starts, and went 2-0-0 with a 2.27 goals against average and .918 save percentage. He left the organization in the 2010 off-season.

Matt Keetley

A fifth-rounder in 2005’s NHL Draft, Keetley dressed for 15 games as backup in 2007-08 and 2009-10. He never really rose above the level of “depth AHL goaltender,” but he played nine minutes in relief of Kiprusoff during a game in November 2007 and stopped both shots he faced in a 4-1 loss. He left the organization as a free agent in the 2011 off-season.
(Sabourin and Taylor both played games for the Flames after Kiprusoff’s arrival, but neither ever dressed in the same game as Kiprusoff, so neither is included in this listing.)
Who was your favourite Miikka Kiprusoff backup? Let us know in the comments!
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