The Calgary Flames have a lot of goals. Long term, the ultimate goal is just like that of every other team in the NHL: to win the Stanley Cup.
But before that, the team needs to become a playoff contender. Before that, the team needs to become a more competitive presence within their division. And before that, the team needs to emerge from the rebuild status that it has just recently entered.
Within the long term goals lie an abundance of short-term goals, from rookie and prospect development to the never-ending progression and fine-tuning of veteran players in order to get a roster fit for the post-season. All pieces of the puzzle, yet some pieces are much larger than others.
A huge part of the Calgary Flames’ success (or lack thereof) in the last few years, came from the struggle to find a solid goaltender to rely on. Spoiled for nine seasons with the consistency and skill of Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames were never quite the same when the then-36-year old Finn decided to retire in 2013. Goaltending prospects were brought out from the woodworks at every turn, each bearing the cross of having to take over as the team’s next franchise tender, the next Kipper. Leland Irving, Curtis McElhinney, Henrik Karlsson, Reto Berra. The names and faces were aplenty, yet few survived the pressure and failed to perform, ultimately getting shipped out of Stampede City.
Two names have found their way in the Flames’ lineup coming into the 2014-2015 season, and if either of the two hope to take over Kiprusoff’s throne, Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo both need to focus on their own specific goals.
Jonas Hiller: Health
32-year old Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller had spent the entirety of his NHL career in sunny California, under the wing (pun intended) of the Anaheim Ducks. Within his first season there, the Ducks gained so much confidence in Hiller that they bumped him up to be J.S. Giguere’s primary backup goalie, placing Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers. Hiller lived up to the expectation, and soon surpassed it (and Giguere), taking over as starting goalie the following season.
Hiller’s play continued to elevate, and within two short years he found himself amongst the short list of the NHL’s goaltending elite.
But Hiller’s progression was hindered by health issues (aka the Injury Ninja’s less aggressive, just-as-terrible brother) and for much of the 2010-2011 season he was forced to take a back seat to Ray Emery and Dan Ellis.
What plagued Hiller was vertigo, a condition that causes extreme dizzyness, nausea, balance issues, blurred vision and a perception of motion when there is no actual motion. Naturally, a condition such as this can really mess with someone who’s primary tasks are to stay focused on one small object, and move with ease in order to stop said small object from getting past him.
The worst of Hiller’s vertigo symptoms came and went in 2011, but can resurface at any time. With proper preventative and follow-up treatment and a keen understanding of how to live with vertigo, Hiller can stay on top of his condition and get back to top form. His healthier years in Anaheim proved that Jonas Hiller is indeed among the league’s top goaltenders, a puzzle piece the Flames so desperately need.
Karri Ramo: Consistency
Karri Ramo is no stranger to the musical-chairs saga that is Calgary’s goaltending situation. Since joining the Flames in 2012, Ramo had been sharing the spotlight with Reto Berra, Joey MacDonald and even once in a while some of the farm team’s developing goalies. There would be weeks at a time in which Ramo would start every other game, emphasizing the team’s indecision and utter lack of how to go about finding their footing in net.
But it wasn’t just the inconsistency of the team’s management that was holding Ramo back, but the inconsistency of his own performance that played a major part in the Finn’s starting struggles. When he was good he was very good, but the stretches of good games were often interspersed with stretches of bad games. Despite this, Ramo managed to beat out Berra and MacDonald (who were experiencing performance issues between the pipes themselves) and is the only one of the three netminders to remain in Calgary from the previous season. Although his status as the team’s number one goalie may have been compromised with Hiller’s arrival, Ramo can now enjoy a more regular rotation, thus allowing a more steady development and eventually a starting role.