Upon my review of the Flames' AHL prospects and their respective contract statuses for next season, I realized that I left out what could be one of the more important decisions the team makes this summer in twenty-four-year-old netminder David Shantz, who was signed after being invited to training camp last summer and will be a UFA heading into the off season.
After nearly giving up on his hockey career altogether, Shantz emerged as the closest thing the Heat had to a #1 goaltender down the stretch and into the post-season. After spending twenty eight games with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL--during which he was named the ECHL goaltender of the week twice, going 18-5-4 with a 910 save percentage, and two shutouts--Shantz was re-called by the Heat on January 28th and Irving was demoted as Playfair, frustrated with the inconsistency of his goaltenders, implemented a shake-up.
Shantz appeared in thirty-two games for the Heat in the regular season, going 15-10-4 with one shutout and a .908 save percentage--not extremely impressive numbers, but after struggling to start the post-season as Abbotsford was out-scored 18-6 in three consecutive losses, Shantz rebounded nicely, allowing only one goal in his next two games as the Heat came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Rochester Americans. In thirteen playoff games, Shantz started all but one, going 6-6, making 301 saves, and registering one shut-out in game seven of the North Divison Semi-Finals.Shantz' name has popped up a few times as a potential replacement for Vesa Toskala in backing up Miikka Kiprusoff next season. At twenty-four years old and with some pro experience under his belt, Shantz certainly isn't the worst option out there, plus he would come cheap on an AHL contract. Of course, there are several more established goalie options on the free agent market this summer, including Jose Theodore, Antero Niittymaki Dan Ellis, Martin Biron, Alex Auld, and Chris Mason, but if Kent's theory on the general interchangeability of the majority of NHL goaltenders expressed in his Kiprusoff piece also applies to the position of back-up netminder, it shouldn't really matter who the Flames sign to fill that role. We've been down this road before with numerous back-up goalies in the past--whether it were Brian Boucher, Curtis McElhinney, or Vesa Toskala, something about their performance has always left fans, and apparently management, wanting more--but can you really argue that any one of those guys were better or worse than the next? That is an important distinction to make when allocating cap space to a goaltender, and as we all know too well, more money doesn't necessarily buy a better player in today's NHL.
Shantz's future in the AHL largely depends on that of Matt Keetley, who is an RFA this summer. If the Flames choose to re-sign him, that opens up the possibility of Shantz moving up to the big club; however, if Keetley and Irving both struggle again next season, the Heat would be out a quality AHL 'tender. If the Flames choose to go after another UFA goalie to fill the void and choose to re-sign Shantz, the crowded crease will reign again in Abbotsford, barring demotions or trades, which can't exactly be beneficial to the development of Irving and/or Keetley.
What do you think? Should the Flames re-sign Shantz and is he a good back-up option, or would you rather see them dip into the UFA market?