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Calgary Flames

The (Strange) Rise of Leland Irving



The initial shock was that Leland “Berlin” Irving was given the start against Vancouver: the best team in the West and the Flames‘ biggest rival. The greater shock was that he wasn’t merely decent, he was terrific. In two games, Irving is sporting a sparkling .951 EVSV%. Of course, that won’t last given the incredibly small sample size, but given his drafting position, his solid play in the AHL, and his ability to make a brilliant save on Daniel Sedin (that last one is probably more important than anything), maybe it’s time we start seriously considering him as the heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff.

A lot of Calgary fans have considered this to be a career revitalization season for the Finn, but being realistic about it, he's been entirely average. Of semi-regular starting goalies, Kiprusoff finds himself at 20th in EVSV%, with a very pedestrian .925. And while there's no reason to expect that number to rise, his ranking probably will if only due to the number of goaltenders with unsustainable percentages right now. Given the downward slope his play has been on the past few years, it's probably safe to assume this is the best he'll be.

That’s what makes Mr. Berlin so intriguing. A young goaltender most fans wrote off when he was the worst part of the AHL/ECHL carousel the Flames were running with Matt Keetley and David Shantz a few seasons back, Irving has been a top goalie in the AHL for two years running now. Actually, that should be rephrased: a top goalie in the AHL on a not very good Abbottsford Heat team: and now he seems to have arrived in the NHL on the heels of a Henrik Karlsson injury.

At this point the Flames find themselves with a serviceable, but hardly exceptional aging goalie making millions and an unpredictable (in that he's only started two NHL games at this point) but promising former first rounder. Oh- and a 29 year old backup goalie who'll come off the IR at some point and isn't waiver eligible.

So where does this leave Flames management? Do they trade Kiprusoff while he’s still tradeable (in theory) and try to acquire a cheaper veteran to tandem with Irving? Do they return to status quo when the Calgary Tower comes off the IR? It’s simply impossible to tell. The Flames ownership and management have made it very clear that money- and therefore winning now- is the priority. If Leland Irving provides a better chance of a couple home playoff games, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be with the team. That said, if there’s a risk that Calgary could lose Karlsson to waviers, it’s hard to imagine management taking that chance and losing a semi-valuable asset for nothing.

Either way, if Berlin continues his surprising and exceptional development, there are very few scenarios where he isn't the Flames starting goalie in a few short years.

by Arik Knapp