Flames Taking a Chance on Unproven Vladar as Markstrom’s Backup

Like many people who follow the Calgary Flames, I was a tad confused when the team announced an offseason deal with the Boston Bruins that promised to shore up the open spot for the backup netminder. My first reaction to the trade was, “Dan, WHO?” I have to admit before the Flames swapped a third-round pick for the young Czech goaltender, Daniel Vladar was not on my radar. Could this relatively unknown player with only five NHL starts between the pipes really be ready for the big time? Well, it appears head coach Darryl Sutter thinks the 24-year-old is up to the challenge.

I was a bit surprised that the Flames didn’t wait until the end of training camp to announce Vladar as their number two netminder, but after his strong performance in the preseason, he gave them no choice. 24-year-old Adam Werner was also brought in to provide some serious competition for the backup job. Still, after a so-so preseason showing, he was shipped down to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Stockton Heat last week. The move gives Vladar a golden opportunity to start 15-25 games this season and prove he’s NHL ready.

Vladar Has an Early Vote of Confidence from Coach Sutter

After an excellent 37-save outing by Vladar against the Winnipeg Jets last Wednesday, Sutter had seen enough – he had found his man. “He’s proven that he can play at this level,” he told the media after the game. “Of all the players that are trying to make the team, he’s the one guy that has shown he can make the team.” This is a bit of a departure for the gruff rancher from Viking, Alberta, as the 63-year-old has a reputation for placing his trust in proven veteran players.

Dan Vladar Providence Bruins
Dan Vladar, former Boston Bruin (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At 6-foot-5, Vladar is a big man, but he moves well and covers a lot of net. The Flames coaching staff has been impressed with his overall athleticism and rebound control, but the big question remains – is this 24-year-old with only 300 total minutes of NHL action ready to be Calgary’s number two guy in the goal crease? How much of a gamble are the Flames taking here? It’s too soon to know exactly what the team will get on a nightly basis, but a lot of it depends on how much playing time the native of Prague sees.

We Could See Markstrom Start Over 65 Games

It’s no secret that Sutter likes to ride his number one goalie – a lot. We saw that with Miikka Kiprusoff in his first run with the Flames, we also saw that with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and we most certainly saw it in Calgary last season with Markstrom. Even after missing a few weeks due to a concussion, Markstrom still played 43 of 56 games in 2020-21, with 27 coming after Sutter took over the team. Over an 82-game schedule, that still translates to 63 starts for the Flames’ number one guy, so how many games will Vladar get into? And how many will he have to win to keep his job?

It looks like Vladar could see anywhere from 15 to 20 starts this year, but I would lean towards the lower end of that spectrum. If the young Czech can secure eight wins out of a possible 15 appearances, I think Flames management would be pleased with that return. Remember, because Calgary is paying Markstrom $6 million a season, that didn’t leave much cap room to spend on a backup. Vladar is only getting paid $750,000 each of the next two years, so this is a very low risk/high reward situation.

Vladar Has Excellent AHL Numbers

A couple of seasons ago, Vladar led all AHL netminders with a sterling 1.79 goals-against average (GAA) and a sparkling .936 save percentage (SV%). Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving admits that success in the minors doesn’t always translate into the big leagues, but knowing that goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet has had his eye on Vladar for several years gives him a lot of confidence in the young goaltender. “When a player isn’t established in the league, there is always a little risk,” he told the media. “Our (goalie guys) have always liked this guy and are really high on him. He’s been a very good goalie at the AHL level for a number of years and we think he’s at that age where he’s ready to take that next step.”

Another thing young Vladar has going for him is a pretty cool nickname that stems from having a strikingly similar last name to an infamous Star Wars villain.

Vladar got another huge vote of confidence from former Boston Bruin netminder Tuukka Rask, who called up Flames’ goaltending coach (and former teammate) Sigalet to give him his two cents on the 24-year-old’s future in Calgary. (from ‘Flames goaltender Vladar anxious to prove Rask’s reference was accurate,’ The Calgary Sun, 28/09/21)

“He said that it was a great move for us,” said Sigalet, who served as both a backup and mentor to Rask during the 2007-08 campaign with the Boston Bruins’ farm club. “He thinks Daniel is ready to take the next step and be an NHL goalie. He just raved about his personality and work ethic. He sounded like the perfect fit for a guy who was going to come in and be hungry to learn from Jacob Markstrom and be a good teammate who will go on early and stay on late and just do anything that you ask of him.”

Jordan Sigalet, on Tuukka Rask’s assessment of Vladar

Have the Flames Found a Backup For Markstrom They Can Trust?

Early in the 2020-21 campaign, the Flames were floundering. So, the coaching staff leaned heavily on Markstrom, with former backup David Rittich riding the pine for almost the entire first month of the season. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a number two goaltender, and the predicament only got worse when Calgary moved Rittich at the trade deadline. Markstrom ended up playing almost every game down the stretch, leaving third-stringer Louis Domingue with only a single start after the squad was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

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I think the Flames are hoping their newest backup goalie can provide some much-needed stability to the position and inspire a high level of confidence of his teammates. This season’s goaltending tandem has a very clear-cut hierarchy, with no doubt in anyone’s mind who the top dog is. But, if Vladar can play like his coaches think he can and effectively compliment Calgary’s defense-first style of play with some top-notch play between the pipes, then getting back into the playoffs just got a little bit easier and we definitely won’t be hearing “Dan WHO?” anymore.

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