Now, some rust was certainly expected. Friday was the four-week anniversary of Ortio's last game action. However, it certainly wasn't the type of performance that left the 29 NHL general managers that passed on him feeling any regrets.
Thursday was a very different day for Ortio.
In a season in which -- as Tom Petty put it -- waiting has been the hardest part -- waiting to dress for a game, waiting to make that first start, waiting for a chance to play again, the Flames goaltender had to persevere another 24 hours of intense waiting, this time wondering if another NHL team would claim him after Calgary put Ortio on waivers.
As it turns out, no team did and the Flames immediately assigned Ortio to Stockton.
Dress it up however you want, going unclaimed on waivers sends a very loud message about where Ortio's stock is at and what teams think the odds are that one day he'll develop into a full-time NHL goaltender.
If you're another NHL organization, there were a lot of very attractive things about Ortio:
- Just 24 years old so approaching the age most goalies break out
- On the last year of a two-year deal so he comes with no long-term commitment
- Making only $600,000 this year (just slightly above the NHL minimum of $575,000) so was an affordable contract for even teams in a cap crunch
- Has posted good numbers in his career in the AHL
There he was, available for free. Ortio was that couch at the end of the driveway with the sign on it, 'Free - Help Yourself', and nobody bothered.
More Unknown Than Known Commodity
But the fact no other NHL team took him is an indicting indication that the Flames are not alone in their assessment that Ortio is just not good enough to play in the NHL right now and may never be.
That said, if Ortio is, indeed, a rising star loaded with untapped potential, who is on the verge of breaking through at the NHL level, surely at least one team would have done what they needed to do in order to put a claim in for him. Yet not one team did. That couch? Still there at the end of the driveway.
Two hurdles need to be crossed before Ortio gets another shot in Calgary.
- An injury or a trade need to happen at the NHL level as the Flames are poised to move forward with the veteran tandem of Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller.
- Ortio needs to string together a really impressive body of work in the AHL to restore confidence in Bob Hartley so the Flames coach would be comfortable starting him again. Last night was not a step in the right direction.
Come season's end and already looking at the probable departure of unrestricted free agents Ramo and Hiller, it's conceivable the Flames would be interested to keep Ortio -- a restricted free agent -- in the organization and try to re-sign him. However, perhaps the bigger and more pressing question is will Ortio be interested in re-signing in Calgary.
Before heading for the airport on Thursday, Ortio was asked what his emotions were. As he skirted the question, it's safe to say he didn't say what he was really thinking.
Put yourself in his position. Last contract negotiation, he fought for a one-way deal in year two of the two-year contract he signed. That was so he could get a shot this season at playing in the NHL. He made two starts -- game 9 and game 11. That's it. Two starts in seven weeks is probably not Ortio's definition of getting a shot.
With the Flames goaltending and all-round defensive play in shambles and both Hiller and Ramo not getting it done, Ortio finally got a legitimate regular season start on October 26 in Brooklyn. It was his first start in nearly four weeks. He made 31 saves but lost 4-0 to the Islanders. A week later, he got back in against the Canadiens at the Saddledome and in what would be a lasting impression, he yielded six goals on 31 shots. He never played again.
All total, last night was only Ortio's eighth start in a span of over nine months and just the third that you could classify as coming in a meaningful game. For a guy used to playing a lot, that's not nearly enough action to settle into any type of rhythm and give him even a remote chance at being the goalie some still think he could become.
It's amazing to look back at how close Ortio might have been to this story unfolding completely different. Maybe.
It was earlier this calendar year when the Flames called up Ortio and his hot streak began with that 36-save shutout in Vancouver on January 10. As Ortio kept it going and defeated the Coyotes, Sharks and Kings, at the time it sure looked like a defining time in his career. Some were thinking he might never go back to the minors.
But of course, Anaheim happened -- he got pulled in the second period, and back he went to the AHL the very next day.
We know Ortio isn't as good as he showed last January in that stellar run, but we also know he isn't as bad as he's shown this season with last night being a total write-off. The real truth is somewhere in the middle, the question is where.
There is a lot of season left for Ortio to make a statement that the needle is a lot closer to what he demonstrated in the NHL in January, but to prove that, he'll have to be much better than he was last night.
The good news is at least this time, he won't have to wait four weeks for another chance. With Jon Gillies and Kevin Poulin both injured, the Stockton net is Ortio's and his shot at redemption will begin tonight when the Heat meet Bakersfield again.
You hope the kid bounces his back and turns his career around. But at this point, he sure has a lot to prove.
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- At the Quarter Mark and After Thumping Chicago, Eight Reasons for Fans to Smile: After an impressive win over the defending Stanley Cup champions on Friday, the Flames find themselves in a much better spot with 61 games still to go. (Nov. 21, 2015)
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