On July 24, the Flames came to terms with top goalie prospect Joni Ortio. His deal is for just two years: a nice little bridge contract for the 23-year-old to prove he's worth a bigger contract. He's also only one of four goaltenders who currently have contracts with the Flames, plus another two prospects who have yet to be signed.
And there's something telling about Ortio's new deal:
Brad Treliving on Joni Ortio's deal: "it's a two-way deal in year one, and a one-way deal in year two." #Flames— Will Nault (@Fan960Nault) July 24, 2014
A two-way deal simply means a player receives a certain amount of money when they play in the AHL, and a different amount when they play in the NHL.
Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller are the Flames' only NHL goalies at the moment. Ramo's contract expires after the 2014-15 season, while Hiller's is complete a year after, the same time as Ortio. The fact that Ortio's contract jumps to a one-way - he gets the same amount of money whether he plays in the AHL or NHL - at the same time Ramo's expires points towards Ortio having an NHL future rather quickly, assuming his second season in North America goes well.
There's also the fact that Ortio will no longer be exempt from waivers as soon as his contract becomes a one-way. A one-way contract has nothing to do with the status of whether a player is waiver exempt; in Ortio's case, it's coincidental.
Ortio's salary terms have him making $600,000 at the NHL level both years. It both is and isn't a pay cut: his AHL salary on his two-way deal is $115,000, a $47,500 raise. With both Ramo and Hiller in net, he'll be spending this upcoming season primarily in the AHL (though, should a goalie get injured, he's likely the first call up), so that raise was important. After that, he makes $600,000, no matter what.
Goaltending in 2014-15
Jonas Hiller probably has the edge over Karri Ramo right now. He has more experience (326 NHL games played compared to Ramo's 88), better stats (a career .916 save percentage compared to .902), and a greater contract ($4.5 million cap hit over two years compared to $2.75 million over one year). The only edge Ramo holds over Hiller is age (28 years old compared to Hiller's 32), but even then, there isn't that big a gap between the two in that aspect.
What the Flames will have this upcoming season is two capable goaltenders who will likely be able to split the difference in games, with the edge going to Hiller. The former Ducks goalie was edged out of Anaheim last season, but he still got 50 starts; Ramo, meanwhile, was one of four goalies to start for Calgary, and managed to get 40 starts.
Something like 51 games for Hiller and 31 games for Ramo may not be out of the question. However, depending on how well both Ramo and Ortio do, Hiller may find himself with more starts, and Ramo may find himself as trade bait. Ramo is going to need an impressive season to force the Flames' hand in keeping him; otherwise, he may end up the victim of a numbers game.
Goaltending in 2015-16
The only goalies currently signed for this season are Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio. (Side note: how fun a tandem could Jonas and Joni be? Just for their names.) Ramo may force the Flames to keep him, or he may no longer be on the team at this point.
Jon Gillies will have completed his junior year at college, and he may forego his senior year to sign with the Flames, or he may return to Providence to finish school. Either way, he probably won't be on the Flames at this point: it's either college or the AHL for him.
This would leave the Flames with a Hiller who will turn 34 years old partway through the season, and a 24-year-old Ortio. A 51/31 type of split may be in the cards here as well, as Hiller would still be the starter, but Ortio will need playing time, and the Flames may not be able to risk sending him down for fear of another team scooping him up for free.
Bottom line: if Ortio builds on his outstanding rookie season from 2013-14, there's a pretty decent chance he's in the NHL full time by 2015-16. His new contract appears to be structured around that.
Goaltending in 2016-17
If all goes well, Ortio may have earned himself a contract extension (and a raise) by this season, and will be one of the Flames' main goalies. Gillies should have signed with the Flames by this point, and depending on his performance, could be in the AHL or NHL.
Mason McDonald, the Flames' 34th overall pick from the 2014 NHL draft, should have signed with the Flames by this point as well. As a 20-year-old, he may go back to junior as an overager, or the Flames could bring him up to play in the AHL. There, he may split time with Gillies, or the team could have signed another minor league goalie, similar to Brad Thiessen, for him to play with.
If Gillies ends up in the NHL at this point, then the Flames will be going with an extremely young tandem. This will either be Gillies' first or second professional season, so it's more likely he plays in the AHL, and the Flames sign another NHLer (maybe a Jonas Hiller extension) to split time with Ortio.
Goaltending is an isolating position, with few players and fewer spots available to go around. The above are just some scenarios of what may happen with the Flames over the next three seasons, working with just the goaltenders we know the Flames currently have at their disposal.
What we do know is this: next season will start off with Hiller and Ramo, while Ortio is being groomed to take over at the NHL level.
Ortio had a great rookie North American season, but that's all it was: one season. Similarly, Jon Gillies has had two great college years, but they've only been two years. And Mason McDonald finished his season better than when he started it, but he still has a lot of growing left to do.
It isn't likely that all three current Flames goaltending prospects work out, but it's goaltending: all you really need is one. Ortio is currently the closest to making it, so the main focus is on him.