The Calgary Flames entered the 2015-16 season with high expectations. Coming off a surprising playoff berth in 2015 and a first round series victory over the rival Vancouver Canucks, the Flames went out and beefed up their roster by adding Dougie Hamilton in a blockbuster trade and signed Swiss-Army-Knife winger Michael Frolik to bolster their top six forward group.
It was pretty much all downhill from there for the Flames.
Looking at the Conference Finals for the Calgary Flames Next Starting Goaltender
The season got off to a rocky start with Hamilton struggling to adjust to a new lineup and a three-headed goaltending monster that didn’t scare any opponents. The goaltending monster fittingly waited until Halloween to register its first win in regulation time, which improved the team’s record to 3-8-1.
Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio all took turns struggling to stop pucks and the Flames season was in serious trouble before the calendar even flipped to November. The Flames ended the season with a combined .892 save percentage, by far the worst in the league.
Even head coach Bob Hartley went from penthouse to outhouse as he won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 2015 and joined the unemployment line in 2016.
However, it’s not all bad news for the Flames heading into next season. The problems are easy to pinpoint, and in fact, it may only be one huge problem in goal that needs to be addressed. Calgary scored 231 goals this season which ranked 11th in the NHL.
With that much goal scoring, the Flames did not even need an excellent goaltender, as someone who could stop pucks at an average rate in the NHL would have been enough to keep them in the post-season chase all year.
Luckily for Calgary, there will potentially be a plethora of capable goaltenders available this summer and they can easily cut ties with Hiller and Ramo since they are both unrestricted free agents.
The free agent market may be a bit thin this summer for goaltenders, but even James Reimer or Cam Ward would be an upgrade for the Flames and could be a valuable stopgap option until Jon Gillies is NHL ready.
If the free agent route does not provide the Flames with an excellent option in goal, the trade market could be wide open this summer. An impending expansion draft that may very well occur next spring will only allow teams to protect one netminder. Many teams will be reluctant to lose a goalie for nothing, and will be forced to move on from a successful tandem by trading one of their valuable goalies.
It is always difficult to trade goaltenders during the season, so it would make sense for these teams to make a trade this summer in order to maximize their return. This could make for an interesting draft with many potential goalie trades happening.
To get an idea what goaltenders may be made available this off-season, look no further than the four teams that were left standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning could all have different goaltending tandems by this team next year.
Martin Jones has taken over as the number one in San Jose and will likely remain there for the long term. This means Reimer, who was acquired at the trade deadline, is expendable and will probably be the best free agent goalie to hit the open market. If the Flames want an upgrade without giving up anything in return, Reimer is the best solution.
The Blues have yo-yoed goaltenders for many years. Brian Elliott has consistently put up great numbers, but has watched from the bench as Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and Jake Allen all failed to take a deep and talented Blues roster past the first or second round of the post-season.
Elliott played well for the Blues this spring, and helped lead the team to the third round for the first time since 2001. However, he took a back seat as Allen started Game 4 and 5 of the Conference Final, before the Blues elected to go back to Elliott in Game 6.
If the Blues decide it’s time to go with the 25 year old Allen in goal, Elliott could be on the move as soon as the June draft. Elliott’s trade value would be high coming off a season where he put up a .930 save percentage, but he would be a major upgrade in goal for Calgary.
In the East, both the Penguins and Lightning find themselves in very similar positions. The Pens have a tremendous young goaltender in Matt Murray who emerged when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured late in the season. Murray has carried the Pens into the Stanley Cup Final, on their longest playoff run since the team won the Cup in 2009.
With the very likely chance that an expansion team would look to build around Murray in goal, or have an established veteran like Fleury, the Pens have no choice but to move one of their netminders.
The Lightning also have a solid, proven number one in Ben Bishop who is a nominee for the Vezina Trophy this season. Bishop was having another solid playoff run before being injured in Game 1 of the Conference Final. 21-year -old Andrei Vasilevskiy took over and played terrific for the Lightning in relief of Ben Bishop, falling just short of making the Stanley Cup Final. The Russian goaltender was a first round pick in 2012 and looks ready to be a number one in the NHL.
Will the Lightning go with the proven Bishop in the future, or hand over the crease to the young, excellent prospect? Whatever they decide, they may have to make the decision next month.
Even though the Flames didn’t make the playoffs this year, their fans should keep an eye on what’s happening in the post-season. You just may be watching the next Flames starting goaltender.