The Flames had enviable goaltending stability for almost a decade. Miikka Kiprusoff was the unquestioned starting goaltender from when he arrived in 2003 until he retired after his one rough season in 2013. Between the 05-06 season and the 11-12 season, he played between 70 to 76 regular season games per year. Unreal numbers. He generally did not have much help in the crease, with backup goaltenders like Philip Sauve, Jamie McLennan and Curtis McElhinney failing to provide any significant help to him, although Curtis Joseph had a nice brief run as his backup. Following his retirement, we had the year of Joey MacDonald, Reto Berra and Karri Ramo (not a great year), the season where Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo worked really well together and helped carry the Flames into the playoffs, and then last year...
Last season was a disaster. Hiller’s game completely disappeared, Ramo had a brutal start and was injured for the remainder of the season after he had started to play much better, it turned out Joni Ortio was not the goalie of the future and Nicklas Backstrom somehow ended up playing games in the NHL again and for the Flames. To top it all off, top prospect Jon Gillies had season ending hip surgery after just 7 stellar AHL games, while other goaltending prospect Mason McDonald continued to be severely shown up by the goalie drafted right after him by the Canucks, Thatcher Demko. Things were brutal, none of the 4 goaltenders that started games for the Flames are in the NHL right now (although watch for Ramo to possibly sign with the Leafs in the coming days). Flames GM Brad Treliving was tasked with a complete overhaul of the organization’s goaltending depth chart. While things have not gone exactly as one would have predicted prior to the start of this season (Brian Elliott is not the goalie leading the Flames to victory right now), things are actually looking pretty good throughout the whole organization. Lets take a look.
Chad Johnson: 15 GP, 10-4-1, 2.11 GAA, .928 SV%, 3 SO
Chad Johnson was brought on to be a competent backup that could play a good 20-30 games if needed, due to the fact that Brian Elliott has never really had the opportunity to play a large majority of the games over the course of the season. It turns out, Elliott is not going to get the opportunity to play the majority of the games here either, as he struggled out of the gate, while Chad Johnson has been unbelievable. He has generally put up great numbers as a backup throughout the entirety of his NHL career, while last season he posted a .920 save percentage in 45 games with Buffalo after starter Robin Lehner was injured and missed months of game time. Right now, Johnson is taking full advantage of the opportunity available to him on his hometown team and it looks very possible that this is not just a hot streak, but that Chad Johnson is a quality NHL goaltender.
Brian Elliott: 13 GP, 3-9-1, 3.31 GAA, .885 SV%, 0 SO
There was a lot of fanfare about the acquisition of Brian Elliott on draft day and for good reason. He had a stellar track record while splitting the crease with Jake Allen in St. Louis for the past few years. He looked like the answer to the Flames goaltending problem. While people were excited about bringing on Chad Johnson as backup, not many thought that we would be seeing so much of him. Elliott has really struggled thus far. He definitely has the ability to turn it around still, but unless Johnson falters, he is going to have to play extremely well when he gets starts to have Glen Gulutzan keep going back to him. Regardless of how it plays out, Elliott has a history of being a quite good NHL goaltender and he is a good option to have available should he be needed. Who knows, maybe he is the starter when all is said and done, it just does not seem likely at this point.
Jon Gillies: 11 GP, 6-2-3, 2.88 GAA, .902 SV%, 0 SO
The good news about Jon Gillies? He is playing. After having a great start to his AHL career last season, he had to have major hip surgery and miss the duration of the season. Not a good scenario for a team’s best goaltending prospect. He is back this year and other than missing a bit of time with a finger injury, he has been the guy in Stockton. His numbers do not look great at this point, but with only 11 games played after missing a full year, I would not read too much into it for the time being. Just hope for an injury-free season of regular playing time.
David Rittich: 7 GP, 4-3-0, 1.43 GAA, .949 SV%, 2 SO
David Rittich was an offseason signing that went under the radar, probably because he was an undrafted 23-year-old Czech goalie who put up good, but not great, numbers in the Czech league. However, he looked quite good in preseason and has put up excellent numbers in the 7 games he has played in Stockton this season. It is a very small sample size to be sure, but it is a great start to his career in North America and something to be keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Mason McDonald: 12 GP, 7-2-3, 2.62 GAA, .896 SV%, 0 SO
The one kind of downer on this list is that Mason McDonald is still not putting up the numbers you would hope to see from a highly drafted goaltender prospect. The first goalie off the board in 2014, he has an .896 save percentage this point, after 3 years of a declining save percentage in the QMJHL. He is really young still (20) and it is early in his career so there is a ton of time for things to improve, but the results have not been promising since being drafted. Especially when you see Thatcher Demko (the goalie picked right after him by the Canucks) with an outstanding NCAA career and a .911 save percentage in 12 AHL games this year.
Tom McCollum: 2 GP, 1-1-0, 3.03 GAA, .903 SV%, 0 SO (ECHL)
Probably signed strictly for the Flames to have someone to expose in the upcoming expansion draft, he has had hardly any game time despite being signed a month and a half ago. 40 minutes of game time in the AHL, 2 games in the ECHL. Good for minor league depth, however.
Tyler Parsons (OHL): 13 GP, 9-1-3, 2.31 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO
Although it was somewhat surprising when the Flames selected Parsons in the second round of this 2016 draft, you can see why they liked him. He has been excellent backstopping a dominant London Knights team that still gave up a lot of chances. He posted a .921 save percentage in the regular season last year, .925 in the playoffs and .942 in 4 Memorial Cup games, leading his team to the championship. He is off to another good start this season and is a strong candidate to play for the United States at the upcoming World Juniors. A great prospect to have for down the road.
Nick Schneider (WHL): 25 GP, 19-4-1, 2.79 GAA, .903 SV%, 0 SO
Nick Schneider still leads all WHL goaltenders in wins. What a record he has, currently sitting at 19-4-1. His goals against average and save percentage still are not phenomenal, but he has improved in both categories from previous seasons and his record is unreal. Good for him to have so much success right now.
Depth is a Nice Thing to Have
After the disastrous performances in the crease the previous season, I think we all learned the valuable lesson that goaltending is extremely unpredictable and unless you have someone like Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, there really is no sure thing. Brad Treliving and Co. have done a tremendous job of stocking up the organization’s goaltending at every level. Johnson’s terrific play has the Flames set for now, while Elliott has potential to play well if he can get another crack at it. Presumably one of those guys (and it is looking like Johnson) will stick around going forward. Gillies needs time, but with such a tremendous NCAA career, there is still plenty of reason to believe he should be the goaltender of the future. As for David Rittich? Early days, but if he keeps up his play, he may hang around, maybe battling for a backup role with the Flames in the next year or so. McCollum is there for the minor leagues, Schneider likely as well once he graduates to professional hockey, while McDonald’s future is looking questionable but he still has 2 years left on his ELC and is just 20. Tyler Parsons may be the guy to come up and challenge for a starting role with the Flames a few years down the road. The Flames finally have goaltending depth, what a beautiful thing to have.