Remember Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames fans? How about Joey MacDonald? Joni Ortio? Of course we all remember Brian Elliott. Since Mikka Kiprusoff retired after the 2012-13 season, the Flames have had 10 goaltenders who have played 10 or more games in the Flaming C. Obviously this is not a path towards success, but consistent goaltending is a rare commodity in the NHL.
With the exception of last season’s St. Louis Blues and the one-and-done renegade-style goaltending of Tim Thomas in 2010-11, the past decade of Stanley Cup winners is comprised entirely of tenured goaltending fixtures. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ duo of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, Washington Capitals’ veteran Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings account for nine of the last 11 Cups. That’s a vast difference from the Flames’ experience.
Here is a brief look at the goalies who have tended the Flames net for a minimum of 10 games in the last six seasons:
- Karri Ramo, Games Played (GP) – 111
- Mike Smith, GP – 97
- Jonas Hiller, GP – 78
- David Rittich, GP – 67
- Brian Elliott, GP – 49
- Joni Ortio, GP – 37
- Chad Johnson, GP – 36
- Joey MacDonald, GP – 32
- Reto Berra, GP – 29
- Jon Gillies, GP – 12
Why so many? The fact of the matter is that it’s hard to acquire steady, high-calibre NHL goaltending. When you’ve got it, you don’t send it away. Take the Montreal Canadiens for example. They’ve experienced a high turnover at every position except the one inside the crease. The reason why? They’re building from the net out, and so they should. And if you’re counting on the draft, you might want to think again as goalie prospects are never a guarantee to develop into an NHL starter.
As the Flames have experienced, building a team and then slotting in a playoff-ready goaltender is a difficult task. To add salt to the wound, Smith, who they acquired via trade, was solid for them last season in five playoff games against the Colorado Avalanche. The Flames’ question mark in net all season was steady in the playoffs while the system in front of him broke down.
Even the team’s last great goalie, Kiprusoff, came by way of a trade. At the time of the trade, he had dropped to third on the San Jose Sharks’ depth chart behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala. If the Flames traded a second-round pick for a third-string goalie as they did back in 2003, the current fanbase would be apoplectic regardless of the success of the Kiprusoff trade. Instead, the way of the future is through the tandem the Flames have now.
So the torch has been passed – temporarily – to Rittich with a hungry Cam Talbot penciled in to back-up, to start the season at least. Such is the double-edged sword that goalies ride. Wins equal starts. A pretty simple formula, especially on a team without a bonafide starter like the ones mentioned above, though even some of them have learned this lesson,just ask Fleury.
But for now, this is the shot that every goalie who ever dreams of playing in the NHL hopes for: a crease that is theirs to lose. A successful season of Rittich looks simply steady. The Flames aren’t asking him to steal a majority of games, the best regular season team in the Western Conference last season is more than capable of winning games outright, but a handful here and there is always nice, and practically mandatory come playoff time. Simply steady means eliminating the bad goals – the unforced error type of goals that deflate a team, especially in the playoffs. As is going to be the case with other Flames looking to elevate to the next level, consistency is the key factor.
What Do the Flames Want?
The tricky life of a goaltender, measuring up to the demands of the team in front of them. If T.J. Brodie remains a Flame, expect the life of either Flames goalie to be a little harder. The 29-year-old registered 100 turnovers last season. So there is something to be said about the team in front of Rittich, and the Flames would love to ice a team this season that focuses a little more on defence, establishing a lead and protecting it rather than making headlines for continually coming back in games.
When it comes to doing the job, every goaltender approaches it slightly differently. Price is calm and positional, Quick is an acrobat prone to robbery, and Henrik Lundqvist sits on his goal line and snatches pucks off reflex. The list goes on. What the Flames have seen of Rittich so far has been rather middle of the road – capable of making big saves at timely moments, but occasionally poor on his rebound control. While Smith was practically a puck-handling defenceman, Rittich found himself in trouble more than a few times last season. Generally speaking, however, the Flames and their fans believe that he is the guy going forward.
If Big Save Dave can show up on a nightly basis and provide quality starts, Flames fans will be thrilled. When the playoffs come, everyone needs to raise their game, but that’s a long way off. The focus now is simple: give your team a chance to win on a consistent basis through steady, reliable goaltending. Eliminate the lapses in puck-handling judgement. And please, David, take the reins and don’t look back.