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Calgary Flames

No end in sight: Goaltending saga continues

More injuries, more confusion.



Well, isn’t that neat: the Flames are on a two game winning streak! That’s a first for this season. This is mostly thanks to the goaltending not being absolute rubbish. They’ve allowed less than three goals for just the third and fourth time this year. Sad, yes, but it is positive.

It's been no secret that the Flames' consistent issue throughout the season is goaltending. They had defensive issues early, but even when they (mostly) resolved them, the goals kept going in the wrong net. They're currently ninth in the league in High Scoring Chances Against/60 with 9.8 HSCA60 at 5v5, but have allowed 43 goals at 5v5, worst in the league. Those numbers are trending in opposite directions, indicating huge goaltending issues.

But those won’t last long. Calgary’s goaltending is definitely expected to get better. As flawed as they are, Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller aren’t going to be rocking sub-.900 SV% for much longer. Historically, they’ve been around the above-average mark for SV%, and goalies don’t simply fall off of a cliff like that by getting a few months older. They’re going through a stretch of bad luck, indicated by the Flames’ league worst PDO, and are likely to progress towards the mean. They’re going to get better, and with Ramo’s performances against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it may start happening soon.

But with that comes our favourite debate of October; who gets the net? Or, better yet, which goalies stay? Save for injuries, the Flames can't keep three goalies in the press box all year. Someone is going to have to go.

First things first, the Flames have to keep Jonas Hiller. He is simply the better goaltender of all those in the organization. Hiller stops more pucks, plain and simple. If you're going to have to pick one goalie to win you a game, it has to be Hiller. Perceived faults such as early and/or weak goals aren't enough to ignore the fact that he also keeps the team in the game when they need to. Ugly moments will always be more visible than solid goaltending, that's never changing, but it's important not to confuse the ugly moments with an overall bad game. Hiller is solid. The only way he's going to the AHL is for a conditioning stint.

The easiest target right now is Karri Ramo. Until November 21st, the Flames can still send Ramo back down to Stockton without requiring waivers. Past that date, then he'll have to be re-waived. Ramo certainly isn't in the teams long term plans, hence why they waived him in the first place, so sending him down isn't a big deal.

But Ramo can be useful for the short term. He's wildly inconsistent, but he has those nights where he is absolutely spectacular. That doesn't help the team if he's in the AHL. If you're going to be paying him $3.8M, at least pay him to do an NHL job.

So that leaves us with Joni Ortio. The fear surrounding waiving Ortio was the fact that he is young enough and good enough to tempt other NHL teams into picking him up. Preseason form didn't relieve those anxieties, but his regular season is enough to render him useless in the eyes of most NHL teams. Ortio can be waived and re-assigned now.

The thing about waivers, if I'm understanding the CBA correctly, is that a player can only be reassigned if he has cleared waivers. If someone else claims him, that doesn't count as clearing waivers, meaning that this hypothetical team will have to keep him in the NHL. As far as I know, goaltending corps around the league are more-or-less solid. No one is dialing other GMs in a state of panic asking about goaltenders, and they certainly aren't asking about a goalie that has allowed ten goals in his two starts. Ortio's value has decreased for the short term, which makes him an easy asset to move. No team is going to take on a third goalie with bad stats right now, so the Flames would be wise to send him down.

But won’t that take away playing time for Jon Gillies? As of right now, no. Gillies is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury, but there’s no timetable for when he can comeback. However, the Flames still only have two goalies with Hiller’s injury, so Gillies may be back by the time they need to make a decision.

That won’t matter a lot though, as neither goalie is ready for the leap to the NHL yet. Gillies does have two shutouts with the Heat, but he’s also been pulled twice. He still has some work to do. Ortio also just isn’t ready yet (I did not intend to give you election campaign flashbacks). They can split time, get better, and give the Heat a fighting chance at getting more hockey games with a playoff run. As of right now, the Heat have Eric Hartzell and Kent Simpson. Probably why they lost 4-0 last night. Just a hunch.

The fear at the beginning of the season about going forward with Ramo/Hiller would be that Ortio would be claimed on waivers. We don't need to fear that anymore. Ortio will likely clear if waived, and the Flames could keep plugging away with Ramo and Hiller. Sure, they may not be the best goalies a team could have, but Ramo's back-to-back good performances indicate that they're going to start returning to normal, and that's all the team needs to get by.

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