It’s the offseason, which means I’ve already spent a lot of time on Capfriendly and other websites formulating all of the options and routes that the Calgary Flames could pursue heading into next season. It’s that time where anything and everything could theoretically be on the table before things start to shake out in the leadup to the expansion draft next month followed by the regular draft and free agency.
I know there are obviously bigger topics and questions surrounding the Flames, but I wanted to look at one smaller hole the team will need to fill before next year, and that is the Backup Goaltender spot.
As you can probably guess from the title of this article, I am going to be proposing a somewhat unorthodox solution, but I will try to back up why it makes some sense with this article. That solution of course would be bringing back David Rittich when he hits free agency this summer barring the Maple Leafs choosing to re-sign him which is extremely unlikely.
Here are my reasons:
1) The Flames Don’t Have Any NHL Ready Options in the System
While some have said that the Flames could just toss exciting prospect Dustin Wolf from Everett of the WHL right into NHL action, I’m not so confident in that. Don’t get me wrong, I think he has significant potential to be the Flames goalie of the future, but with the luxury of having Jacob Markstrom, there really isn’t a reason to rush him. The best course of action is to let him play with the Stockton Heat and get adjusted to the professional game and take a high percentage of the starts there.
Wolf did play three games for Stockton this year before the WHL started up. His first pro game was rough as he allowed five goals on 11 shots, but he came out with stellar efforts the following two games, making a combined 62 saves on 65 shots in a pair of victories. There is just no reason to rush him.
This isn’t a situation like Carter Hart in Philadelphia where the Flyers really didn’t have any other option but to move him up. If he is great in Stockton, then awesome, you consider him as a third if there’s an injury during the year and then maybe bring him up as a backup in 2022-23.
Looking at other options, I don’t see Artyom Zagidullin being brought back as much more than an AHL goaltender. It’s hard to see where he fits in the club as he spent most of the year as a backup or on the taxi squad with just one NHL relief appearance and six games for Stockton. Certainly not NHL ready as a backup you would trust your season to if Markstrom went down. Tyler Parsons and Louis Domingue may not be back at all and certainly won’t be considered for NHL positions next year.
2) David Rittich Didn’t Prove Himself to be a #1 This Year
Obviously coming into the season, Rittich was clearly the Flames #2 goaltender. However outside of a brief stint as the starter when Markstrom went down with an injury, he didn’t really play all that well. He had a short run of strong games against Toronto, but other than that he was just a “fine” backup at beset and there never really was any sort of goalie controversy once Markstrom was healthy.
He allowed two goals or less in just six of his 15 starts this year which simply wasn’t good enough and finished the year with a 5-8-2 record between Calgary and Toronto with a .901 SV%. After being acquired by Toronto he only played in four games, going 1-1-1 and having a particularly bad performance against Vancouver where he allowed five goals on 33 shots. That game really hurt his value in the eyes of Toronto fans/media and those kind of opinions, whether they are justified or not can significantly effect perceived value heading into free agency as he fell back to third string.
To me, this isn’t a situation like Cam Talbot in 2019-20 where he took the Flames net over the course of the season and playoffs. Talbot had a strong 12-10-1 record with an impressive .919 SV% and a track record of some success as a starter. Rittich doesn’t have that. Talbot got a 3 year $3M AAV deal from Minnesota which now looks like an absolute steal with his 19-8-5 record and .915 SV%. The type of situation and contract just won’t be there for Rittich.
3) There Aren’t Many Starter’s Jobs Available This Year for Rittich
Heading into this season, Rittich’s plan was most likely to play his best as a backup and have a strong year to increase his value, just like Talbot did. As mentioned above, that was not the case.
When looking around the NHL there aren’t many teams that either don’t have a bonafide #1 goalie/goalie prospect, or don’t have considerable capital ($/high picks invested) locked up in their goaltenders. These teams are Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh on first glance. If Rittich wants a starting job, these would be the teams for him to look at. Personally I don’t see teams that are still in “win-now” mode like the Bruins and Penguins taking a chance on a goalie with no playoff experience.
Looking at Buffalo, I could see the Sabres bringing back Linus Ullmark who had a very good season, and that would put Rittich at best competing for the #1 spot again and very possibly ending up as a backup.
I think Detroit and Chicago are real possibilities if he wants to earn his shot, although he would have to beat out Thomas Greiss on the Wings who has been solid for them. Chicago may be the best destination as their goaltending position looks more open but Kevin Lankinen could have something to say about that.
I guess Seattle could be an option but they will likely have better options made available in the expansion draft.
The main thing is that Rittich has shown flashes of being a really good goaltender, but would be a risky signing as a starter if he can’t consistently bring that level of play. At best I think he will be weighing 1B opportunities as even relying on him as a 1A would carry risk. With all of that in mind, I don’t see him getting much more than a one year contract with a cap hit easily under $2M.
4) Familiarity and a Fan Favourite
We like David Rittich. The players seem to like David Rittich. The team seems to like David Rittich. The question right now is if David Rittich likes the team back. I don’t blame him one bit if he feels or felt slighted by the Flames acquiring Markstrom in free agency. I think it was pretty clear that he was going to leave for greener pastures at the end of this season had he stuck around with Calgary, but now based on the season he had, those opportunities may or may not exist.
It seems very possible that Rittich could be one of those free agents that sits a few days or even a few weeks before offers really materialize if some of the above mentioned teams start to sort of their goaltending. If it starts to become clear that he is only receiving offers as a backup and the Flames are one of those teams, perhaps there is some sense in him coming back.
The door wouldn’t be as open for him to become a 1B type goalie compared with other teams, but he would essentially get a do-over at upping his value for a year and then looking elsewhere for a starting job.
Darryl Sutter being the coach would be a double-edged sword for Rittich as Sutter has shown a preference to heavily using his #1 goalie in the majority of starts, but at the same time with his style Rittich could see his numbers improve. Markstrom has had a history of injuries when he has been heavily used which could either result in Rittich taking over the crease for a while or getting more starts.
Rittich is clearly liked by his teammates, especially after they got to share the charter flight to Toronto after his trade which was a super unique experience. There is something to be said for familiarity, especially with both sides facing a lot of uncertainty. To be honest, I just need more Tkachuk-Rittich hugs.
What do you think? Should the Flames consider bringing Rittich back? Would he come back? Have your say in the poll below or in our various comment sections.
Should the Flames bring back David Rittich?
This poll is closed
Yes, it would be a good fit
Yes, but I don’t know if he would come back
No, time to move on/look elsewhere.