One of the biggest questions for the Flames heading into 2015-16 was which goaltender would take the reins as the No. 1 netminder in Calgary. But after the preseason battle between Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller yielded no winner, the Flames are still searching for a goaltender to call their everyday starter.
Five games into the new campaign, Calgary coach Bob Hartley seems to be fed up with the current state of the Flames netminders. He’s flipped back and forth between Hiller and Ramo with neither showing they can be the hot hand Calgary is searching for, and Hartley has seen just about enough.
“Right now, we’re looking for one of those two top guys to step up,” Hartley told CalgaryFlames.com’s Aaron Vickers. “I’m sick and tired of the musical chairs. One has to make a statement somewhere, plain and simple. You play okay as goalies … it’s not good enough. We’ve been singing the same tune for a short time now, but those guys were good for us last year. Being okay is just not good enough.”
Truthfully, though, Hartley is overstating his goaltenders’ performances this season by saying they’ve played “okay.” In reality, a mediocre performance might be enough to win the starting job at this point. In three starts, Hiller has a 1-2-0 record, 3.64 goals-against average and .872 save percentage. Ramo isn’t much better with a 0-2-0 record, 3.52 GAA and .904 SP.
The goaltending controversy — or, more accurately, the time-share in goal — started early last season, but the top job in the Flames’ crease was more Hiller’s than it was Ramo’s. That was, at least, until the post-season. Hiller was yanked after allowing two goals on three shots in the final game of Calgary’s first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and Ramo came in and picked up the victory. The Flames’ next game out against the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, Hiller started shaky and Ramo took the net for the rest of the round, which Calgary dropped in five games.
Ramo was set to be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, but the Flames re-upped the goaltender to a one-year, $3.8-million deal. Then in training camp, he got his chance to prove he deserved the No. 1 job over Hiller. But so far, instead of Ramo proving his worth or Hiller showing Ramo is expendable, both have been far from satisfactory and left the Flames wondering which netminder to trot out on any given night.
If Hartley is so fed up with the constant back-and-forth from Ramo to Hiller, though, one has to wonder why he hasn’t thrown a wrench in the whole system and put young netminder Joni Ortio in net. Hartley has an answer for that.
“My job right now is to get (Hiller and Ramo) going…Nothing against [Ortio], he’s a great guy too,” Hartley told Vickers. “But right now, to mix a third goalie into the situation, not right now.”
But why not now? No one would call Ortio’s 8-6-0 career record, 2.52 GAA or .899 SP mind-blowing, but his numbers aren’t much worse than what Hiller and Ramo have produced on their best nights early this season. And on top of that, the Flames need to decide what to do with the 24-year-old netminder before he becomes fed up with his situation.
As it stands, the Flames are currently carrying three goaltenders on their roster, one of only three NHL teams doing so, but the Islanders just got starter Jaroslav Halak back from injury and the Wild won’t be putting veteran Niklas Backstrom in goal anytime soon. In Calgary, Ortio is sitting, waiting for his shot.
The reason Calgary is holding onto Ortio is clear — the Flames can’t demote him without Ortio needing to clear waivers, which would almost certainly result in a claim. Losing Ortio for nothing makes no sense, but neither does having him sit on the bench when he could be the goaltender forcing his way into the No. 1 spot.
Whether Hartley continues to ride with Hiller and Ramo or finally breaks and puts Ortio into the mix is yet to be seen. Eventually, though, the only person who can put a definitive end to the game of goaltending musical chairs is Hartley, and it’s up to the Flames’ coach to figure out which netminder can take his team back to the post-season.