Ever since the season ended, people on social media have been asking themselves the question of whether the Flames should retain Jonas Hiller, or re-sign UFA Karri Ramo and move Hiller on to be the starter to Joni Ortio's backup.
Indeed, out of all the possible outcomes, Ortio's position probably looks the safest: he would need to clear waivers to play in the AHL next season, and it seems highly unlikely that the Flames will trade him.
That makes a move for Talbot seem strange, at first glance. Why bring in a backup to replace two probable starters?
In response, here's a comparison between Ramo, Hiller, and Talbot, looking at their numbers and adding up those intangibles that you apparently cannot tally.
In the following graph, the X axis is unadjusted even strength 5v5 save percentage, the Y axis is the adjusted percentage, the colours indicate shots faced per 60 minutes, and the plots are sized by total time on ice, including the playoffs.
The graph shows us that Talbot has the best save percentage out of the three, while surprisingly also facing more shots per game than Ramo and Hiller. However, that could be explained by the fact that he played several games while Henrik Lundqvist was out with an injury, and several teams adopted a shoot on sight approach to him.
Out of the two Flames netminders, Hiller has a superior save percentage to Ramo, having faced on average 0.7 shots more per game, as well as playing over 900 minutes more. In fact, despite playing in five fewer games, Talbot actually played more minutes than Ramo, even though he didn't play a single minute in the playoffs.
To counter some of Talbot's numbers, though, you have to remember that he had a far superior defence in front of him. They wouldn't allow as many opportunities, cleared up rebounds, and made life difficult for opposition forwards - something Hiller and Ramo lacked at several points over the last season.
In conclusion, Hiller's figures are the most impressive. Talbot has a better save percentage, sure, but over a much smaller sample.
When looking for a starting goaltender, you look for several keys. You want him to have experience in all situations, preferably being able to withstand high pressure games. Talbot played well under pressure while Lundqvist was injured, but he only has two years' experience in the NHL, and that is as a backup.
Ramo had the best season of his NHL career this year, his two years in Calgary closely resembling his best form in the KHL. His trip to Europe was almost out of necessity though, having to rebuild his reputation after several poor years in America.
Hiller takes this category, too. His previous failings have been well documented, but if you had to pick one of the three to go out and win you a game, you'd choose Hiller, with his years of starting NHL experience. He's ahead of Ramo, who has had two half-decent years as a backup/alternative starter, and Talbot, who has had two years of being Lundqvist's backup on a much better team.
Another thing you look for in a starting goaltender is leadership. Your goalie has to be one of your best players every night. After all, he's always on the ice, often isolated. He has to essentially be a figurehead. He needs to be almost a letter-less captain.
At 32, Hiller is the oldest of the three, which means he has the least time left in his career. However, his age would also make him an ideal mentor for the young incoming Ortio, as well as the impending arrival of Jon Gillies. He could be the Jiri Hudler to Ortio's Johnny Gaudreau.
Depending on how the Flames view Ortio and Gillies' impacts how they might view Ramo and Talbot. If, as many fans do, they feel the young pairing are the future of the organisation, it makes little sense to sign two mid-aged goalies (Ramo 28, Talbot 27) to long-term deals.
Again, with Talbot only having backup experience, this counts against him, as he would have to come in and be the starter, something he hasn't been used to. He also does not have the starting experience to help mentor the two youngsters coming in.
While Ramo has a bit more starting experience, he too is comparably under-experienced. However, the experience he has gained from playing in Europe could stand him in good stead. Whether he is up to being a full-time starter for at least the next couple of years is up for debate.
Taking everything into account, it looks like the Flames should go with Hiller. There's reason to like Karri Ramo and think he is capable of being a starter, but Hiller's experience will prove vital to the younger goalies coming through. He is also still a very good goaltender. Add in that Ramo, as a UFA, will expect a wage rise, then Hiller may represent better value for money.
In all honesty, the move for Talbot makes very little sense for the Flames. Why sign an unproven NHL starter to lead the team? Unless they are willing to risk losing Joni Ortio to waivers and keep him in the AHL another year, he is going to be the backup. If, and only if, the Flames are willing to risk losing Ortio, which seems doubtful, then Talbot would be a very capable backup, but not a starter.