One big question mark that the Calgary Flames will need to address once free agency begins is what their goaltending situation will be moving forward. This season, they decided to bring in veteran Cam Talbot to backup David Rittich. It worked out well, as Rittich made the All-Star Game and Talbot was terrific when called upon. However, with Talbot’s recent comments about how he can be and wants to be a starting goalie, the Flames may need to search for a new backup goaltender.
Of course, it is entirely possible Talbot comes back thinking he may be able to win the number one position. His numbers of a 2.63 goals against average (GAA) and a .919 save percentage (SV%) were far superior to Rittich’s 2.97 GAA and .907 SV%, as Rittich struggled during the second half of the season.
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There is also a chance that the Flames go and sign a big-name goalie who they intend to have as their starter, which would be possible given Rittich’s low salary of $2.75 million per season. If Talbot does move on and they decide to go with Rittich as their starter, these are the three backups they should target.
1. Anton Khudobin
Not only is Anton Khudobin the best pending unrestricted free agent backup goaltender this year, but he has been one of the best backups in the entire NHL the last few seasons. The 34-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down at this point, as he was having his best statistical season in the league prior to the league being suspended, posting a 2.22 GAA and a .930 SV% along with a 16-8-4 record. His GAA ranks third in the entire league among goalies who have played in 23 or more games, while his SV% ranks first.
Khudobin took some time to put it all together, as he was bouncing between the NHL and AHL as recently as four seasons ago. Since then, he has become extremely reliable and has become very trusted by the Dallas Stars coaching staff. As far as backups go he plays a ton, as he had already appeared in 30 games this season and played in 41 the season prior. This is extremely important for the Flames as Rittich was showing signs of fatiguing this season. Bringing in a goalie who is able to decrease his starts could prove to be extremely beneficial.
As far as salary goes, Khudobin would likely command the same type of deal he is coming off of, which was a two-year contract worth $2.5 million per season. If they were to get him at that price, they would be paying both of their goaltenders a combined salary of just $5.25 million per season, which would give them the cap space to spend in other areas as well.
Of course, he may choose to stay with the Stars, whom he has had plenty of success with over the past two seasons. However, if he wants the chance to become an NHL starter for the first time in his career, beating out Rittich for the job seems much more likely than Ben Bishop.
2. Thomas Greiss
It is highly unlikely that the New York Islanders will re-sign Thomas Greiss given that Semyon Varlamov has three years left on deal paying him $5 million per season, and that they are soon expected to sign Russian phenom Ilya Sorokin. That would mean that Greiss, who has spent the last five seasons as an Islander, will likely hit the free agent market this summer.
The 34-year-old had a solid – if not spectacular – season with the Islanders prior to the league pause, putting up a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% to go with a 16-9-4 record. He has been extremely reliable during his time with the Islanders in a backup/1B type role. Coming into this season, he had appeared in 40 or more games in three of his seasons with the Islanders, including a career-high 51 appearances during the 2016-17 season.
The German netminder along with former teammate Robin Lehner played a huge role in the Islanders’ surprising many and making the playoffs last season, and was awarded the Williams M. Jennings Trophy as a result. Greiss had a career year that season, posting an incredible 2.28 GAA and a .927 SV%.
Greiss will likely see a slight decrease in pay compared to his expiring deal that paid him $3.33 million over the past three seasons. The reasoning behind that decrease certainly wouldn’t be due to a drop off in play, but because of his age. Like Khudobin, he would give the Flames a chance to give Rittich more rest between starts as the season goes on.
3. Ryan Miller
Bringing in current Anaheim Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller is certainly the riskiest of the three on this list. The longtime veteran will be 40-years-old by the time next season begins. With his deal expiring, there is also the chance that he calls it a career and rides off into the sunset. However, if he does choose to play, he just may be able to help this team.
Despite not being a starting goalie since the 2016-17 season with the Vancouver Canucks, Miller has been an extremely reliable backup during his time with the Ducks. His numbers this season are not overly impressive as he has just a 3.10 GAA and a .907 SV%, but he is playing on a Ducks team that has struggled immensely the past few seasons. Even John Gibson, who is highly regarded as one of the leagues best goaltenders, has struggled behind the weak roster this season with a 3.00 GAA and a .904 SV%.
Miller would bring a ton of veteran experience to the young Flames’ locker room, as the former Vezina Trophy winner has appeared in 780 regular-season games and an additional 57 in the postseason. The one beneficial thing of signing Miller over the other two on this list is that he would cost much less. Given his age along with his average at best numbers this season, he may be willing to accept a league-minimum deal which would give the Flames nearly $2 million extra in salary cap.
Flames Have Busy Offseason Ahead
Regardless of what the Flames decide, they have some good options out there. There is always the possibility of trades too, which will make the offseason fascinating as we sit and wait to see what decision they end up making regarding their goaltenders.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.