When the Flames brought in Mike Smith during the offseason, in my mind he looked to be a decent stopgap until prospects Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons were ready to make the jump to the NHL.
David Rittich seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought, perhaps he had NHL backup potential but I didn’t expect to see him in Calgary with Eddie Lack also being brought in.
Fast forward to the 2018 All Star break, and Smith is providing Vezina-calibre goaltending while David Rittich has been one of the better backups in the league, albeit over a small sample size.
Without question Smith has been Calgary’s best goaltender since the early Miikka Kiprusoff era, while Rittich has provided a reliable backup option for the rare nights Smith doesn’t start.
Mike Smith’s 0.926 sv% is the best by a Flames goaltender with at least 10 games played in a season since 2003-04 Miikka Kiprusoff who had a 0.933 sv%. #CofRed— Matchsticks&Gasoline (@MatchsticksCGY) January 25, 2018
The graph below shows that the Smith/Rittich tandem have had arguably one of the top five goaltending duos in the league, something Calgary hasn’t had in a long time, perhaps even in the Kipper days.
So what was once supposed to be a year of “good-enough until the kids are ready” goaltending has become a year of tremendous goaltending. As a result, we should look at how their emergence impacts the Flames organization.
When we look at the Flames organizational depth, there are four goalies to look at. Smith and Rittich at the NHL level, followed by Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons currently developing in the minors. I’ll do a brief look at all four goalies but the focus of this article is mainly meant for Rittich vs Gillies.
Anytime you get an older goalie like Smith, you have to play them on a year by year basis. Smith has performed exceptionally well this season, the Flames just have to be careful to not wear him down as the season progresses. He’ll be 36 in March of this season, so there is the risk that at some point he’ll regress, but he hasn’t shown any signs yet this year.
He’s still at least two years away so he won’t be too impacted by what’s going on in Calgary. He was just sent back down to the ECHL to get some more starts after backing up Gillies in the AHL for a few weeks. He has high potental, but will still take some time.
It seems so weird being a Flames fan and having a surplus of good goalies. After a roller coaster of goaltenders since the Kipper era, it feels nice to sit back and know the Flames have some really solid organizational depth.
The question I opened this piece with was about whether Smith and Rittich have altered the Flames plans, but now I want to look at if Rittich has made Gillies expendable.
By expendable I don’t mean the Flames should just let him walk or trade him for nothing, but if a team offered a good asset, could it make sense to trade Gillies because of how Rittich has played?
Through seven NHL games (which is a ridiculously small sample size) Rittich is 4-1-2 including 4-0-2 in his six starts with a 2.15 GAA and 0/929 sv%. Outside of his numbers, something I’ve really liked about Rittich is that he’s very calm and collected in the net. He’s not getting caught out of position or making risky plays, he’s just doing his job and doing it very well. Perhaps that’s where the 80+ games of professional experience in the Czech league factor in.
David Rittich is so underrated— Matchsticks&Gasoline (@MatchsticksCGY) January 26, 2018
Gillies has had a good year in Stockton, improving all his numbers from last season thus far. He has a 13-11-2 record with a 2.57 GAA and a 0.917 sv%. He was regarded as the undisputed goaltender of the future for the Flames for a long time, but with Tyler Parsons pushing, that may have changed.
Rittich is a full 17 months older than Gillies which isn’t a crazy amount, the question is what goaltender has a higher ceiling. Rittich has excelled in both the AHL and NHL with the Flames organization so he deserves his shot, he also seems to be well liked by the team for being a bit cooky.
Early returns seem to indicate that Rittich is the real deal, whether that is as a backup or having the potential to become a starter remains to be seen. With Gillies being 24, at some point he’s going to deserve his shot with a team, and if the Flames can get something good for him, it may make more sense to ship them out with two strong goalies in the NHL and an high-level prospect pushing from behind in Parsons.
Could the Flames recoup one of the draft picks they’re missing for 2018 in exchange for sending Gillies to a goalie hungry team? Who knows.
As I said earlier, it’s a nice change to have too many good goaltenders in the organization, but now the Flames need to make the best possible decisions on how to handle their assets moving forward.