The 2018-19 Calgary Flames are a terrific scoring team whose most likely fatal weakness remains in net. Namely, they need a more reliable backup or “1B” goalie than 36-year-old Mike Smith. In a 3-1 loss on Dec. 22 against the St. Louis Blues, Smith proved his doubters correct again, letting in two questionable goals.
Based on a report last month by Frank Seravalli listing five goalies who could be on the move, there are several possibilities to replace Smith before the trade deadline. From Seravalli’s list, I have ruled out Sergei Bobrovsky because, among other reasons, Elliotte Friedman believes Bobrovsky will not waive his no-movement clause for Calgary, and Matt Murray who seems a long-shot to be moved.
Sticking with goalies on short-term contracts on rebuilding or middling teams leaves five goalies. Three of them: Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson and Cam Talbot are reportedly on the trade block and I am speculating on two others: Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. I have listed them in descending order of plausibility and desirability.
Jimmy Howard: The Rumor That Never Dies
Howard has been a speculated Flames target for several seasons. He is in the final year of his deal and all indications are that the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings will trade him before the deadline. The Flames would be thrilled if he could keep up his .922 save percentage (SV%), but the reported asking price is high.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland is reportedly asking for a first-round pick or a top prospect for Howard, who has been linked to the Blues. This strikes me as a bluff, as goalies rarely get that. Frederik Andersen, a younger goalie with years of team control when he was traded, yielded the Anaheim Ducks the 30th overall pick and a future second rounder at the 2016 Entry Draft.
More often, goalies get a second or third round pick at best. How much they receive for Howard will depend on how much of a bidding war the Red Wings can get going.
If they lower their ask, he is worth a gamble as a rental. He is an upgrade over Smith based on the last few seasons. Howard has put up decent numbers the last few seasons behind bad Detroit teams and Smith could go the other way to make the money work. Howard would not be a long-term option, but the Flames could do worse.
Robin Lehner Is a Promising, Cheap Option
The New York Islanders’ reclamation project has worked out well, with Lehner posting a .917 SV% while sharing the net with Thomas Greiss. He is a pending UFA but is young and promising enough to consider past this season.
Lehner has always had decent numbers, with a career even-strength .921 SV%. His main problem has been his physical and mental health. His best season was in 2016-17 when he appeared in 59 games for the Buffalo Sabres and posted a .926 SV% at even-strength. However, he faced a cold free-agent market last offseason. He subsequently opened up about his struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
He is healthy now, still only 27, and has a history of being in goaltending tandems, as he would likely be with David Rittich in Calgary. Should the Islanders fall out of the playoff race and start selling, the Flames should give them a call. I think Lehner’s trade price would be a second or third round pick, as that seems to be the standard rate for rental goalies. For instance, the Red Wings traded Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers for a fourth round pick and conditional third before last season’s deadline.
Mike Smith for Craig Anderson: Plausible but Questionable
To be clear: I am not sure this would be a good move, but it is one that seems plausible. Anderson was number five on Seravalli’s list, but it is hard to see many suitors for a 37-year-old signed through next season at a $4.75 million cap hit. The same, of course, goes for Smith.
The optics of trading a 36-year-old goalie with an expiring contract for a 37-year-old with term would not be great. Although Anderson has faced the most pucks in the league (1095 shots against), his .905 SV% is not much better than Smith’s. This could be shuffling the deck chairs. In fact, Anderson’s underlying numbers the last few seasons are far worse, and Flames fans already heard the “faced a lot of shots” excuse when Smith was acquired.
However, it could make sense as a salary dump move for both teams if injured Flames defenseman Michael Stone is included. Even when he returns, Stone is an afterthought as a $3.5 million seventh blueliner.
For two reasons, the Senators seem like a logical destination for Stone. First off, uniting Mark Stone with his brother may make it easier for Ottawa to re-sign the star forward, a pending UFA. Second, the Senators are not deep on defense, especially when it comes to highly-valued right-shot blueliners.
A deal where Smith and Stone go to Ottawa for Anderson, with about $1.25 million retained in order to equal the money, seems a plausible, but likely bad, trade. The Flames should only consider this move if they miss out on better goalies and can’t trade Stone by himself. It is worth noting that the Flames and Senators have been frequent trade partners, making three deals since 2016.
Corey Crawford: Any Gas Left in the Tank?
The Hockey Writers’ Greg Boysen recently wrote that the last-place Chicago Blackhawks should consider moving Corey Crawford as they face a rebuild. Signed through next season at a $6 million cap hit, the Flames could fit him in their payroll if they sent Stone and/or Michael Frolik back. The question for the Flames would be whether Crawford can defy the goaltender aging curve that claimed Smith.
Returning from a concussion, Crawford’s save percentage has dipped to .902, well off his career average of .918. Through 432 career games, Crawford’s .918 SV% for his career is better than Smith’s .913 when he arrived Calgary.
As the Flames are finding this season with James Neal, though, just because a player is defying the age curve does not mean he is immune to being affected by the aging curve at any moment. While there are no concrete rumors about Crawford’s availability, the Flames would be careful not to overpay, as the Blackhawks could put a deal off until the offseason.
Is Chiarelli Crazy Enough to Trade Talbot to Calgary?
For the Edmonton Oilers, Mikko Koskinen has stolen the number one job from Cam Talbot. Like Smith, Talbot is a pending UFA whose numbers have fallen off a cliff (.894 SV% compared to Smith’s .888). Talbot just happens to be five years younger than Smith. Is trading a goalie one season removed from solid play to their provincial rival too crazy even for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli?
Probably, but there are only so many potential suitors, and the Oilers may be selling low on a badly performing goalie in a contract year. The situation echoes Devan Dubynk’s final season in Edmonton when he was traded for bottom-six center Matt Hendricks. The Oilers would be looking for both forward and defensive depth. Calgary’s blue-chip players are out of the question, but perhaps something like Stone and a pick or prospect would work.
It may not be a good return for Edmonton, but that has rarely stopped Chiarelli in the past. For those curious, the last Flames/Oilers trade was in Nov. 2013 when Calgary acquired defenseman Ladislav Smid for Laurent Brossoit and Roman Horak.
Replacing Smith Before the Deadline Should Be Priority
Regardless of who replaces him, the Flames cannot rely on Smith in the second half of the season. At the very least, Rittich needs the ice time befitting a number one goalie. The good news for the Flames is that replacing Smith via trade should not, theoretically, cost much. Goalies have lower trade value, mainly because teams only carry two at a time.
Most teams won’t say no to a top-nine forward or top-six defenseman, but there are only so many goaltending vacancies at one time. Rittich probably needs to be handcuffed to a reliable backup or “1B.” Last season, the Flames fell out of playoff contention when their goaltending collapsed in February. As long as Smith is the insurance policy, they cannot be considered contenders.