During the 2015-16 season, each of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom got a shot at stepping into the Calgary Flames’ crease. However, there’s a very real possibility none of the four will be back, meaning Calgary’s need for goaltending help is at an all-time high.
Though some may have expected the Flames to have a solution in goal by now, GM Jim Treliving and staff have taken their time in trying to find the right fit at the right price. And asked by CalgaryFlames.com’s Aaron Vickers about the situation in goal, Treliving said he’s looking over all his options, from various trades to free agency, to try and find a netminder, or netminders, for the upcoming campaign.
“We’ve been exploring (trades) for a number of weeks,” Treliving told Vickers. “We’ll see exactly who may be on the market, what those acquisition costs are, what may be a fit or what may not be a fit for us, and then keeping an eye on free agency…if players get to that point. Free agency is a little bit of an unknown at this point.”
What Treliving means is he’s not sure which goaltenders, exactly, will be available when July 1 rolls around, not that the Flames are unsure of who they would potentially target. The issue with the current crop of unrestricted free agents is that in a market that’s not certain to favor free agency — especially with the salary cap not set to rise by much — some may choose to stay with the familiarity of their current club rather than test the open market and potentially take a hit salary-wise.
One thing that is for certain, though, is that it won’t be Backstrom or Hiller returning to Calgary. Both veteran netminders have signed deals in Europe — Backstrom in Finland, Hiller in Switzerland — and there’s a good chance Ramo joins them in heading elsewhere, possibly even overseas. As for Ortio, though, the 25-year-old has shown promise before and the Flames may be in a place where they want to extend a qualifying offer and hope Ortio can get his game back on track.
It’s also a sure thing that neither of the current Flames goaltenders who could potentially make the jump to the NHL, 22-year-old Jon Gillies and 23-year-old David Rittich, will be doing so next season. Calgary appears more than ready to let both develop in the AHL this coming season, especially Gillies, who has been touted as the Flames’ future goaltender.
As for options in goal, the Flames have several.
Reports have surfaced following the Penguins Stanley Cup victory that Treliving has contacted Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford about Marc-Andre Fleury’s availability, there are some who consider now the right time for the Tampa Bay Lightning to move Ben Bishop and the Detroit Red Wings would likely love to move Jimmy Howard. Toronto’s acquisition of Frederik Andersen also makes last year’s Maple Leafs beginning-of-season starter Jonathan Bernier expendable, and Winnipeg’s signing of Michael Hutchinson means the Jets have three goaltenders capable of starting duties, with Ondrej Pavelec the potential odd-man out.
But trading for a goaltender could be costly, and the Flames may be able to avoid giving up any assets to land a starter for next season.
One intriguing option on the free agent market is James Reimer, the former Maple Leafs netminder who finished this past season with the Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks. The 28-year-old played on a $2.3-million cap hit last season and he probably wouldn’t command a huge pay raise. That’s not to mention the Flames may be able to get more than some would believe out of Reimer.
Per Puckalytics, there were 36 netminders who played 1,500-plus minutes at 5-on-5, three of which are UFAs this off-season. But of all 36 netminders — UFAs and contracted players included — Reimer boasted the best 5-on-5 SP last season, sitting atop the group of 36 with a .940 SP. That’s ahead of the St. Louis Blues’ Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers’ Steve Mason and even the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
Reimer would likely be the among the least expensive acquisition, both in terms of assets to acquire and cap hit. But regardless of who the Flames choose to chase, Treliving and Co. know they need to find an answer in goal before the season begins, otherwise the coming season could be a repeat of last season’s disappointing finish.
“I’m comfortable that we have a good barometer of where we want to go with (who we pursue),” Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall told Vickers. “I think over the next number of weeks we’ll make those final decisions and ensure that we have a good tandem in goal here moving forward for the start of the year.”