Revisiting Flames goaltending

A lot has changed for the Flames in net since the trade deadline. After losing one goaltender, it may be in their best interests to acquire another.

It may seem a little silly to talk about goaltending coming off an 8-1 win, but with Joni Ortio returned to the AHL and due to make his first start for the Heat since the Olympics, it's a subject worth revisiting.

You may recall I wrote about the Flames' goaltending earlier this month. That post was published three days before the trade deadline, and a few significant moves have happened to the Flames' collection of goalies since then.

  1. Reto Berra was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a second (!) round pick.
  2. Joni Ortio became the Flames' starter for a few weeks.
Berra being moved was something I wasn't entirely sure was going to happen, and who knows if it would have happened if Colorado hadn't decided they were in love with the guy. (Seriously, we're talking about a goaltender with one career regulation win, and the Avs signed him to a three year deal without a second thought. That seems crazy. After having watched Berra for most of the season, that is crazy.)

Karri Ramo's injury saw Joni Ortio get his first callup, but not his first start. Trading Berra away, however, thrust Ortio into the starter's role, until he was sent down when Ramo returned. (There are a few reasons for this: Ortio, as an emergency recall, couldn't stay up; and the Flames' season is just about over, while the Heat are looking towards the playoffs, and Ortio is needed there far more than the Flames need him now.)

Status quo

If the Flames don't alter their goaltending at all over the off-season, next year we'll be looking at a Ramo/Ortio tandem in the NHL, while Olivier Roy and maybe Joey MacDonald or maybe Aaron Dell hold down the fort on the farm (assuming Jon Gillies remains in college).

For a rebuilding team, it's an acceptable move. In his first NHL goaltending stint, which lasted from the ages of 20-22, Ramo couldn't hold a save percentage above .900. In his return, he currently has a .909 save percentage over 30 games. It's not great, but it's an obvious improvement.

Ortio, meanwhile, leaves his first NHL stint with a .891 save percentage over 9 games. Giving up four goals on 13 shots to the Predators before being yanked certainly didn't help that stat, but it isn't a terrible - although not necessarily great - outing in his first taste of NHL action.

Both Finns are brimming with potential, along with college prospect Gillies, and both may prove beneficial to the Flames.

But if one of them goes down, who do the Flames have to call on?

Making a trade

I've seen two names come up recently regarding goalies the Flames may trade for: Cam Ward and James Reimer.

My initial position was the Flames weren't in immediate need of making a trade for a goalie. However, while at the start of the season the Flames' goaltending prospect pool looked rather strong - in addition to Ortio and Gillies, there was also Laurent Brossoit, who is currently posting a .920 save percentage in the ECHL for the Oilers' affiliate - it has now depleted somewhat.

If Ortio graduates to the NHL in just his second North American season, then Gillies will be the Flames' only goaltending prospect left (barring the Flames drafting a goalie, but in all likelihood, that kid would simply remain with his junior team next season).

That leaves next to no insurance for the Flames in net, and may result in the team rushing Ortio. While the Flames will, in all likelihood, continue rebuilding next season, they still need an actual presence in net.

Hence, Ward and Reimer.

Ward

Cam Ward has fallen out of favour in Carolina, and for good reason. Anton Khudobin is younger, cheaper, and currently posting a .927 save percentage. Ward, meanwhile, has a save percentage of .896 this season.

To put that into perspective, Reto Berra had a greater save percentage when he was with the Flames: .897.

Ward may have been a hero in 2006, but that was eight years ago. He has two years left on his $6.3 million deal, and has only ever posted a save percentage above .920 once in his career (.923, in 2010-11).

If the Flames trade for Ward, it had better be a bad contract for bad contract deal; otherwise, it makes no sense. Cam Ward isn't a good goalie. He isn't going to help.

Reimer

This leads to the better option of the two. Reimer seems like he isn't long for Toronto. Randy Carlyle seems to hate him for some reason. Because he was one of Brian Burke's guys, and Brian Burke is now managing Calgary, a team with no clear-cut number one... well, the connection is obvious.

Reimer is playing on a historically bad Maple Leafs team, and despite this, his save percentage is still better than any Flames goaltender this year at .911. Last season, before handing the crease over to Jonathan Bernier, he posted a .924 save percentage over 33 games. He's two years younger than Ramo, and has proven more than him already, although these are based on small sample sizes for both goalies (neither has played 40 games in a single NHL season).

However, we don't know what Toronto is looking for in return. If he's going to be costly, walk away.

If, however, he's going to be cheap - say, Colorado's second round pick cheap - then that's a trade the Flames should do. It would immediately take the pressure off Ortio, give him another year to adapt, and not leave the Flames in dire straits should a goaltender go down.

A Ramo/Reimer tandem with Ortio starting in the AHL certainly sounds better than a Ramo/Ortio tandem with not much else.

In summation

It comes down to three things:

  1. Do you want to throw Ortio into the fire?
  2. Can Ortio handle the fire?
  3. How much is another goalie going to cost?
You don't want to rush your prospects. Ortio is, at this point, still a prospect. A very promising one, yes, but nothing is guaranteed, and it's a long season. Considering how he struggled on smaller ice earlier in his career, and is still in his first full season over here, a second season in the AHL where he continues to be starter may be best for him.

That would point towards getting another goalie. Reimer may be the best option out there. There aren't a lot of realistic free agent options.

Who would you take in the Flames' net next season?
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