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What should the Calgary Flames’ backup goaltender situation look like moving forward?

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Raz Devraj
6 months ago
It hasn’t been the best start for this Calgary Flames group this season, going 2-4-1 in their first seven games. 
A huge question mark coming into this season was what the backup situation was going to look like. Was it going to be Dan Vladar or Dustin Wolf?
Well as we all know the Flames decided to keep Vladar as the backup to kickoff the 2023-24 campaign, and although he has only played two games so far it may seem as if that wasn’t the right choice, especially knowing how good of a talent there is down in the AHL itching for a chance. 
Before the 2021-22 season, the Flames traded a third-round pick to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Vladar and he has been exactly what you would want from a backup goaltender for the past two seasons. During the 2021-22 season, he played 23 games, won 13 of his 19 starts, had a .906 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.75 goals against average (GAA). He was solid, the Flames were able to rely on him enough to give Jacob Markstrom the rest he needed. In fact, that was Vladar’s first season with a SV% above .900, and he had the sixth-highest SV% out of all the backup goalies that year.
Last season Vladar’s stats dropped a bit. He played 27 games, only winning 14 of his 23 starts. His SV% dropped to a .895 and his GAA increased to 2.91. The Flames were substantially worse last year compared to the 2021-22 season so obviously that factored into Vladar’s performance. 
Through two games played this year, Vladar has not been very good. There have been multiple instances both in Buffalo and Detroit where he allowed some very weak goals. His GAA sits at 4.51 and his SV% at .842. The Flames barely squeaked by Buffalo and there were some very questionable goals that got by Vladar. Against Detroit there were three goals that he should have been able to stop that could have possibly changed the outcome of the game. He gave up six goals on 1.34 xGA (expected goals against, a measure that measures shot quality and quantity). 
Every game Vladar plays this year is a tryout and right now it doesn’t look like he is at his best. Every time he sets foot on the ice he is fighting for his job because, for the first time in a long time, the Flames have another option ready to go. That option is Dustin Wolf, someone who has done everything he can to prove he deserves his chance in the show. 
Wolf was taken 214th overall (in the seventh round) in 2019 by the Flames. He played his first full season with the Stockton Heat in the American Hockey League in 2021-22. He posted a .924 SV% and a 2.35 GAA. He played the third most games out of any AHL goaltender and finished with the 4th best SV% in the league. That year he won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award (as the AHL’s best goaltender) as well as made the All-Rookie Team and the First All-Star Team. 
He did all of that in his first year in the AHL and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better he went out and had an even more wicked season the following year.
Last year Wolf posted a .932 SV% and a 2.09 GAA. For the second year in a row, he won the Bastien Memorial Award and made the First All-Star Team. On top of that, he also earned the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award (lowest goals against average), the Les Cunningham Award (most valuable player), and the President’s Award (outstanding accomplishments in that year). Wolf played the most games out of any goaltender in the AHL and had the highest SV%.
What more does he have to do to get called up and possibly earn a full-time position at the NHL level? He has dominated the AHL and the argument of him needing games only goes so far because there really is no more room for improvement or development for him in the minors. It’s time to bring the kid up. 
Something that may come as a concern is with the Flames playing this poor defensively would they want to subject Wolf to that? I think from what we have seen from him so far in his career, he would be able to take that as a challenge and continue to make his case as to why he belongs in the NHL. 
Goals are going to go in, but the least you can ask from a goaltender is to make those routine saves. Vladar has missed a bunch of those and he’s only played two games.  
No one should take this as “Vladar needs to go because he isn’t good enough to be the Flames’ backup.” It just so happens that this organization has a better option at this point. There is no sense in delaying the inevitable especially when Vladar isn’t making a strong case for himself as to why the Flames should keep him. There are teams out there that could use Vladar right now and this would be a perfect time to shop him. Teams like Tampa Bay or Edmonton could really benefit from acquiring him, or even Colorado (as their backup Pavel Francouz is on IR).
Sometime in the near future, we should hope to see Dustin Wolf in a Flames jersey.

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