CALGARY – The Calgary Flames crowded their crease with the signing of Finnish goaltender Karri Ramo on Friday.
Ramo joins Miikka Kiprusoff, Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald as goalies under contract with the Flames.
Calgary awaits a decision from Kiprusoff on whether the 36-year-old veteran will retire or return to the NHL for the final year of his contract.
But the Flames were already ushering in the post-Kiprusoff era by signing Ramo to a two-year contract worth $5.5 million.
“If I were to call Miikka today and said ‘I have to know today’, Kipper has told us he’s had a great career and appreciates it and he’s ready to move on,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said.
“What we’ve said to Miikka is ‘we’re going to give you the time and we’ll talk again as the summer goes on.’ But we’ve been preparing for this.”
Calgary also picked up defenceman Kris Russell from the St. Louis Blues, finalized contract terms with centre Corban Knight and re-signed centre Greg Nemiscz to a one-year extension worth $725,000.
In other moves, the Flames signed defenceman Chris Butler to a one-year extension and minor-league defenceman Chad Billins to a one-year contract.
Calgary acquired Ramo’s rights from Montreal in 2012. Feaster predicted earlier this week he would announce Ramo’s contract when unrestricted free agency opened Friday.
The Flames haven’t made the playoffs in four years and the franchise is re-building.
Feaster addressed the need for a shooting winger and more size on the back end by getting defenceman Shane O’Brien and right-winger David Jones in a trade with Colorado at the end of June.
But Calgary still needs skilled and tough centres.
Even though Feaster had about $16 million in cap space to work with when free agency opened Friday, centres Stephen Weiss, Valteri Filppula, Mike Ribeiro, David Clarkson, Daniel Briere and Boyd Gordon went elsewhere.
“Our cap space was not and is not burning a hole in my pocket,” Feaster said.
“We worked our list today. We were in on a couple of things and thought we might be able to land one or two. As it turns out, we were not. As we stand here right now, we’re just as happy to be where we are.
“In the past, we’ve given a lot of money for a long period of time. It puts you in a tough situation. Typically, when you’re doing these deals today, you end up having to give, whether it’s full no-trade, no-move (clauses) or partial no-trade, no-moves, it makes the job a lot tougher.”
Ramo spent the past four seasons with the KHL’s Avangard Omsk, but has played 48 NHL games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His record with Omsk this past season was 26-9-5 with a goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .929.
Kiprusoff has one year remaining on a front-end loaded contract that pays him $1.5 million in 2013-14, but counts $5.8 million against the salary cap that will be $64.3 million in 2013-14.
Feaster acquired Berra’s rights in a trade that sent Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues in February. He claimed MacDonald off waivers earlier that month and signed him to a one-year contract extension in April.
Berra has a one-year contract with Calgary. Finnish goalie Joni Ortio will also be at training camp. Calgary drafted him in the sixth round in 2009.
So Calgary will have competition in net with or without Kiprusoff, who was a Vezina Trophy winner in 2006.
“It is crowded, but I think it’s going to be a great competition and it’s going to be kind of fun to watch it play out,” Feaster said. “If Kipper says ‘you know what, I really want to play this last year’ we’ll welcome that too.”
The Flames dealt a fifth-round pick in 2014 to St. Louis for Russell. Bouwmeester’s arrival in St. Louis bumped Russell down the Blues’ depth chart on the blue-line.
The 26-year-old from Caroline, Alta., has a one-year contract worth $1.5 million.
“The question has come up ‘why didn’t we claim him off waivers,'” Feaster said. “We had no interest in inheriting a salary arbitration case. That’s why we did it as a sign and trade.”
Russell had a goal and six assists in 33 games for the Blues this past season.
The five-foot-10, 173-pound defender was drafted in the third round by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005. Russell played five seasons with Columbus and the last two in St. Louis. Russell compiled 23 goals and 72 assists in 364 career NHL games.
He won gold medals playing for Canada at the world junior hockey championships in 2006 and 2007.
Knight’s two-year, entry-level contract pays a base salary of $810,000 annually, but counts $3.75 million a year against the salary cap including bonuses.
Butler had a goal and seven assists in 44 games for Calgary this past season. The American defenceman’s one-year deal was worth $1.7 million.
Billins, from Marysville, Mich., won a Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins this year. He had 10 goals and 27 assists in 76 games for the Griffins. He signed a two-way contract worth $925,000 for a season.