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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fantasy Island: Flames GM Explains Why Trades Are More Difficult Than You Think

In pulling off three deals in a span of just over 24 hours, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is making trading in the NHL look easy.

But it's not, insists Brad Treliving, who spent some time with me recently to explain the nuances and many challenges involved in consummating a deal.

"I call it Fantasy Island. Well let's just go get this guy and this guy and that guy. Whether those players are even available is one thing. Then what is the cost of them," says the Flames GM.

"People say let's go out and make a bunch of trades. But there's more to it than that. First, you need to have a willing partner. Then, what you want they may not want to give up, and what you are looking to part with, they may not like, want or be able to afford."


Roadblock No. 1 - Salaries and/or the Salary Cap

Treliving says the many unknowns such as how much you're going to be able to spend on payroll from one season to the next complicates things.

"It's like setting up a family budget," he explains. "You say, 'Kids, we don't necessarily know what the costs are going to be but we're going to make some decisions.' The child says, 'OK, I'm going to get an allowance of X, I don't know what it is yet but I'm going to go out and plan on what I'm going to spend next year. Then you realize you were expecting $10 and Dad only gave you $4."

Sure, they have some idea what the salary cap will move to, but it's a moving target.

"You plan and you run different models of what you think the cap is going to be but you also have the variance in the world markets right now when you look at where the dollar is at and how that's going to impact you," says Treliving. "There's a whole bunch of different variables you have to consider."


Option to Retain Salary

"The process of making a deal. It starts, first and foremost, in finding fits," says Treliving. "I'm looking for X so you have to go find an X that someone is willing to part with. Inevitably, if you want X and they want Y, are you prepared to part with Y?"

Agreement at that point is just the start. The money changing hands is the next thing to sort out.

"For instance. You have player X, I have player Y, we like the fit, but oh yeah, by the way, now there's the financial component. You're either a cap or a budget team and you want to trade me X or I want to trade you Y but in terms of dollars, we can't do that. So to make it work, you have to take back this contract, but I can't take that one. It's finding the fits both from a playing standpoint, roster standpoint, positional standpoint, but it also has got to fit financially."

Where shrewdly managing the dollars and cents is key is around the option to retain salary. As part of the CBA, a team is allowed to retain up to half of a traded player's salary over the duration of their contract. A team can do this for up to three players.

For example, Dennis Wideman's five-year/$26.25M deal works out to an annual average value of $5.25M. To make a deal to a cap-strapped contender more feasible, Calgary could retain up to $2.625M for this year (pro-rated) and next.

"It all goes into the equation. If there is a deal you're looking at and you have to retain. How much, for how long, and how does that impact your overall structure?"


Roadblock No. 2 - Waiting for the Dominoes to Fall

One of the more frustrating trade deadlines for Flames fans recently was two years ago and the Mike Cammalleri deal that almost everyone expected but never came to fruition.

Now there were a lot of contributing factors in this example. For one, there was Cammalleri going ice cold before the trade deadline.

At Christmas, Cammalleri led the team with 12 goals in 29 games. He had 20 points, which was second on the team to Jiri Hudler. Then his hands turned to stone as he amassed just one goal and no helpers in the next 15 games leading up to the trade deadline.

Of course, after the trade deadline passed, he heated up again with 12 goals and 23 points over the final 19 games.


Waiting for Vanek

Another factor was how long it took Thomas Vanek to get dealt. Arguably the top winger available that year, Vanek didn't get moved from the New York Islanders to the Montreal Canadiens until just before the deadline.

"I remember that deadline quite well. I was in Phoenix and it was an odd deadline in the sense that there were a couple of potential bigger things going on for players that a number of teams were in on that held up the market," recalls Treliving.

Given how late the Vanek deal closed, it left teams that missed out on him very little time to re-group, turn to Plan B or C and pull off a deal for a winger in that next tier below -- such as Cammalleri.

"Teams were likely saying we've got interest in Mike, but we're in on something else but if that doesn't happen... But then when they found out it didn't happen, the clock is already striking midnight."

What bodes well for the Flames is the early trade of Andrew Ladd this year. Considered the No. 1 winger on the market. Because he's no longer available and with that deal completed over 72 hours before the deadline, teams that were chasing Ladd now have plenty of time to reset and turn their focus to other winger options such as Loui Eriksson, Mikkel Boedker and the Flames Jiri Hudler.


Roadblock No. 3 - Limited Markdown

There are also some common business best practices that enter the equation when you've got something for sale.

"You have to maintain price standards," says Treliving. "If you go to a store and you want a new pair of shoes and they're $10 but you know that if you wait until 11 o'clock, they'll give them away for $1, you're probably not going to buy them at $10."

You can bet that's what happened with Cammalleri. Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, interim GM at the time, set a price tag for his top trade chip and for the benefit of future dealings, wasn't going to just cave in and accept a fifth or sixth round pick for him at the 11th hour.

"That's played a large role in how we have done business moving forward," says Treliving. "We're going to be an organization that stands by what we're looking for."


All Eyes on the New Guy

A consistent approach is especially important for Treliving, still relatively new in his role as an NHL GM and still building his reputation.

"You need to establish the manner in which you do business. With each day or year that goes by that you're dealing with the other managers, you become more familiar with how people do business," he says. "If you say, no matter what, we're going to do business a certain way and we feel the market for player X is this and you stand by it, if someone feels at the end of the day that I just have to wait him out, you have to have a history of saying you know what, no, I'm asking for this.

"If you say this is what I'm prepared to do and we're going to stand strong with that. If your actions are such, people will take notice and your word will have that much more volume with each year that goes by."

That said, Treliving recognizes that there is a balance.

"Now, you also have to do what you feel is best for the organization. You can't be too stubborn. If you ask my wife, she'll say there's some stubbornness with me. So you also have to know when it's time to move."


Sticking with the Plan

Bottom line, know that Treliving knows where his team is at. It's become strikingly obvious now but even a couple weeks back when we chatted when the Flames weren't so far out, the direction was still clear.

"You understand where we're at. We are very clear in that our goal is to be to be a playoff team this year. But we are not about to start throwing out young assets at the trade deadline," said Treliving. "We're not about to start handing out first round picks and those types of things for short term gain. That's just not happening."

With the trade deadline 48 hours away and the Flames in possession of some of the higher profile pending UFAs still remaining, it sets up to be an interesting next couple of days. While the conditions seem ideal for Calgary to move out players like Hudler and Kris Russell, should only one of them get dealt, know that there's way more to why that may have happened than meets the eye.

"It should be fun," adds Treliving in closing.

No kidding, fun for all of us.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

NHL Trade Deadline 2016: Handicapping the Flames Top Eight Trade Candidates

One, two, three, four... I have no idea how many cell phone chargers Brad Treliving churns through in a month but you get the sense he's one of those guys that is hard on them.

With the February 29 trade deadline quickly approaching, aspirations of the Flames making the playoffs have flatlined. With 23 games to go, Calgary is 15 points back of a playoff spot in the Pacific and 13 back in the wild card chase with four teams to pass. They haven't been pronounced dead but the medical examiner is en route.

Not that his focus was any different two, four or eight weeks ago anyway, but it’s come time for Treliving to roll up his sleeves, start calling all those NHL general managers he has on speed dial and help his hockey club for next year and beyond. It's time to unload players not part of the future and bring in young players or assets that could be.

Last season, Curtis Glencross and Sven Baertschi were dealt for draft picks that ended up being the “currency" needed for the Flames GM to be able to acquire defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Rasmus Andersson. Think about it. Those two players, who both could be top-four fixtures for this club for many years, were the result of Treliving’s handiwork at last year's trade deadline.

Treliving got his wheeling and dealing started on Monday, picking up 2013 first round pick Hunter Shinkaruk from Vancouver in exchange for Markus Granlund. Call that the appetizer if you will as you can bet the main entree is still coming.

Below in a special edition of Eight From 80 Feet, I present eight other Flames that could be with a different NHL organization by next week.


1. D Kris Russell

Age - 28
Status - Pending UFA. Final season of 2Y/$5.2M deal.
Trade Possibility - 90%

Why Coveted - While the advanced stats folks have never been a big fan, there's still plenty to like about this defenceman. He wears a letter, is always willing to throw any part of his body in front of slapshots, is mobile, can log 25 minutes per night of ice time and can play both penalty kill and power play.

Why Expendable - Starting next season, the Flames wlll have over $17 million tied up in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. With speculation that Russell is seeking a deal in the range of $4 to $5 million, that's surely outside the price range for the Flames, who this summer owe big raises to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and still have other holes to fill including goaltender.


2. RW Jiri Hudler

Age - 32
Status - Pending UFA. Final season of 4Y/$16M deal.
Trade Possibility - 75%

Why Coveted - Just a year ago, he lead the NHL in even-strength points. After a slow start, he's been playing much better lately, suggesting early-season issues were injury-related -- maybe the groin that sidelined him for a couple of games. He's a veteran that could comfortably slot in on the right or left side in the top-six of a contender looking to load up for a long playoff run.

Why Expendable - He is a pending UFA that will command more money than the Flames likely will be willing to pay. Also, his age simply doesn't line up with the team's young core and when Calgary will be ready to win. If he was 27, that's a different story, but he's not.


3. RW David Jones

Age - 31
Status - Pending UFA. Last season of 4Y/$16M deal.
Trade Possibility - 60%

Why Coveted - Brings size, experience and can be an effective bottom-six winger on a good team. He played well in the post-season last year with five points in 11 games. He's a poor man's power forward, who can be a force at times and he's been better since he's been able to stay healthy. He's an honest veteran player that could bolster the forward depth of any contending team.

Why Expendable - I view Jones as being in a similar place to where Curtis Glencross was a year ago. What is his future in a league that keeps getting younger? While the possibility of bringing him back but on a much cheaper contract does exist, Calgary would be better off going with younger and cheaper options in their bottom-six.


4. C Joe Colborne

Age - 26
Status - Pending RFA. Final season of 2Y/$2.55M deal.
Trade Possibility - 25%

Why Coveted - As a first round pick, who has good size at 6-foot-5, decent hands and can play center or wing, those are all attributes that will intrigue a GM that feels he can play a bigger role and have a bigger impact than he has in Calgary.

Why Expendable - Spending time as a healthy scratch lately suggests he's not a roster lock. Was a key in shootouts but not many games go to shootouts any more. As a pending RFA, he's in line for another raise and with an excess of bottom-six forwards, the Flames may wish to go another direction and open a spot for a younger prospect on a cheaper, entry-level deal.


5. RW Josh Jooris

Age -  25
Status - Pending RFA. On a 1Y/$975K deal.
Trade Possibility - 20%

Why Coveted - While regular playing time has been elusive, Jooris has shown he can be a versatile bottom-six player, who can play wing or centre, kill penalties and can be an effective energy guy. He's at his best when he gets in fast on the forecheck, is physical and plays with an edge. He also has good speed that often can lead to scoring chances.

Why Expendable - The frequency he's been in and out of the line-up suggests he's not on great terms with the coach. Plus he's due for a new contract and last year's was a lengthy negotiation. That said, with so few right shots on this team and with Granlund departed opening up a spot at centre, a deal is probably unlikely.


6. D Tyler Wotherspoon

Age - 22 (turns 23 on March 12)
Status - Pending RFA. Final season of his 3Y entry-level contract.
Trade Possibility - 15%

Why Coveted - As a second round pick that has put in plenty of time in the AHL, he could be an affordable third pairing/depth defenceman for a team up against the cap. Plus, he's still got upside being only 22 years old. A fresh start in a new organization might be the tonic necessary to rejuvenate a once-promising career.

Why Expendable - Not long ago, it seemed as if he had been passed on the Flames depth chart. Brett Kulak beat him out to open the season in Calgary and Jakub Nakladal was the first D called up after the Dennis Wideman suspension. With more young D coming in Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Hickey and Oliver Kylington, the blue-line has become an organizational strength and Wotherspoon could be leveraged to help the team address a different need.


7. LW Brandon Bollig

Age -  29
Status - In second year of 3Y/$3.75M deal.
Trade Possibility - 10%

Why Coveted - He is not an everyday player but he does play his best hockey against big, playoff-like teams. One of those 'good in the room' types, he could be a useful depth guy for a Western Conference team looking to increase its size and bring in a veteran presence at forward. Also attractive is his playoff experience from both last year and his time in Chicago. One year left on his deal could be viewed as attractive although that might also be a deterrent.

Why Expendable - He has been a frequent scratch this season. Micheal Ferland, who is six years younger, has the potential to play that same physical role but also while contributing way more skill. He won't be around when Calgary is ready to be a playoff contender so moving on from him makes sense if the Flames can find a taker -- even if it means retaining some salary if necessary. I'm just skeptical there will be any offers.


8. C Mikael Backlund

Age - 26
Status - In first year of a 3Y/$10.7M deal
Trade Possibility - 5%

Why Coveted - He's a dependable centre currently playing some of the best hockey of his career. While very good in a defensive role, his offensive abilities are underappreciated. Always a darling of the advanced stats crowd for the positive impact he has on possession, that hasn't often translated into goals as he scored just five times in the first 50 games. But with six in his last nine games, now everyone is seeing and appreciating Backlund's two-way game.

Why Expendable - With holes elsewhere in the line-up, can the Flames afford to have Backlund at centre when they already have Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, now that he's moved there. Remembering that you have to give up something to get something, Backlund might be that player Calgary needs to reluctantly part with in order to help land that bona fide No. 1 goalie or top line right winger. However, should such a trade happen, this is one that would likely occur in the off-season.


Others:
  • Jonas Hiller - If you could get a late a pick from a team looking for veteran goalie insurance, you do it and call up Kevin Poulin. 
  • Deryk Engelland - His salary will scare teams off but if a team is willing to absorb that final year, he would bring veteran leadership, a physical presence and servicable depth to a blueline.
  • Drew Shore - One starts to sense his opportunity in Calgary may not come. Might there be another organization interested in giving him a shot.


Final Word

While we continue to hear Treliving laud how valuable Kris Russell is and how much the he’d like to be able to re-sign him, reading between the lines as he also mentions the real life constraints of the salary cap, you sure get the sense the team’s alternate captain is as good as gone.

Look how they’re handling his injury, for example.  Russell is a warrior, who has and will play through almost anything. He skated with the team yesterday and in normal circumstances, I bet he plays last night. The extra caution the Flames are taking with Russell reeks of a team committed to protecting an important trade chip.

Add in how sought after defencemen typically are at the trade deadline, I would be shocked if Russell is not moved by Monday’s deadline.

As for Jiri Hudler, I think it’s still likely he goes although he’s less of a slam dunk for me because I’m not sure where his value is at and whether a team will pay Treliving’s asking price – and just settling for whatever if you’re the Flames GM sets a bad precedent.

There might be others, potentially some surprises mixed in, we’ll see. If Tyler Wotherspoon was still in Stockton today, I would have had the odds of him being traded as higher but I've been impressed with his first three games and all the reasons he would be sought after are the same reasons Calgary should keep him.

I am also curious if when some trades shake down, if it’s draft picks that come back or prospects that are further along in their development.

One thing for sure, this year sets up to be one of the busier trade deadlines in Flames history if not in quality, then at least in quantity.

It should be fun.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Goaltending Five-Year Plan - Part 2: Review of Available Avenues, Potential Candidates

On Saturday in part 1 of my two-part feature on what the future holds for the Flames goaltending, I examined what the organization's five-year plan in net might look like.

In doing so, I took inventory of what Calgary has in the system today for personnel and how quickly the likes of Jon Gillies, Mason McDonald and Nick Schneider might advance from ECHL to AHL to NHL.

By going through this gap analysis, we learned that the Flames are in need of two NHL-calibre goalies for the next two seasons at least. Further, it would be smart planning if one of those goalies is around at least three seasons to be there through the transition to Gillies as the starter.

Now that we know what is needed, who does Brad Treliving bring in to address these needs? That is today's topic. In a primer to what's out there on the goalie market -- advertised or not-advertised -- and a peek at whom the Flames GM might be inquiring about, I have compiled a comprehensive list of goaltender possibilities for Calgary for 2016-17.

Whether all of these players are actually available, that's hard to say, but you'll never know if you don't inquire. Besides, isn't everyone available for the right price?


Constructing a Tandem

As I see it, there are three strategic approaches the Flames could take with their goalies next season. The route they choose may end up a reflection what's available personnel-wise and the price they're prepared to pay:
  • 80/20 Split - I call this the Miikka Kiprusoff model. Bring in a bona fide No. 1 and give him 65 games. Complement him with a cheap back-up.
  • 60/40 Split - Bring in an established goalie as the starter -- perhaps someone on the back nine of his career, then also bring in an up-and-comer that could push him for that starting job.
  • 50/50 Split - This is the 1a/1b approach. Bring in a pair of goaltenders with No. 1 potential, who both have something to prove, then let them duke it out in a 'win and stay in' approach. 

Hang on, I missed one.

The fourth option, of course, is the glorious three-headed monster approach where you bring in three goaltenders and have them all grumpy about playing time. You'll remember from October how well that worked. God willing, surely we won't have to persevere a repeat of that anytime soon.


Five Categories of Candidates

Just like different types of lumber are found in different aisles at Home Depot, if there was a Goaltender Superstore that NHL general managers would go shopping at when in need of new supplies, there would be four main aisles with each containing different types of goalies:
  • Unrestricted free agents 
  • Demoted veterans
  • Young NHL back-ups looking to be a starter
  • Young AHL starters looking to get to the NHL

In addition, there would be a miscellaneous aisle that is a catch-all of other available goalies in unique situations different from above:
  • Wild Cards

So with that as the breakdown, settle in and let's look at my arbitrary list of the top five options in each of these five buckets.


A. Pending UFAs

These are goalies on expiring contracts that are headed for free agency on July 1, 2016.


1. James Reimer, Maple Leafs

Age - 27 (born March 15, 1988)
Specs - 6-foot-2, 208 lbs
Drafted - 4th round (99th) in 2006
Contract - Second year of 2Y/$4.6M deal ($2.3M AAV)
Team - Toronto, 6th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 31 gm, 11-11-7, 2.47 GAA, .919 SV%

The 411 - In a relatively-weak UFA class this summer, Reimer is considered the best of the lot. In his time with Toronto and we're not talking about very good teams playing in front of him, the former Red Deer Rebel has posted save percentages in the .920's twice. That's pretty good. This year he's in that same vicinity and that Leafs line-up is all kinds of awful. The big question is how crazy will the bidding war get on July 1? While three years term for Calgary would be ideal, if they have to go four to sign him, it's something to consider. That said, I can see the requested term and the annual salary both being more the Flames are prepared to offer.


2. Karri Ramo, Flames

Age - 29 (born July 1, 1986)
Specs - 6-foot-2, 206 lbs
Drafted - 6th round (191st) by Tampa Bay in 2004
Contract - On a 1Y/$3.8M deal
Team - Calgary, 5th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 37 gm, 17-18-1, 2.63 GAA, .909 SV%

The 411 - Ramo gave the Flames consistent goaltending for three months starting in November, until he suffered his season-ending torn ACL. While I'd put the odds at around 25 percent, it wouldn't surprise me if Ramo returned to the organization. He was in a real nice groove when he got hurt and given his injury, the offers from other organizations may be minimal. The one thing I don't do as the Flames is bring back Ramo after major surgery to be the No. 1. Instead, he becomes a back No. 2 option after you've pursued others that you maybe more interested in. That 6-8 month recovery timeline from his surgery is concerning..


3. Antti Raanta, Rangers

Age - 26 (born May 12, 1989)
Specs - 6-foot-0, 193 lbs
Drafted - N/A
Contract - Final year of 2Y/$1.5M deal ($750K AAV)
Team - NY Rangers, 3rd NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 13 gm, 5-4-2, 2.53 GAA, .907 SV%

The 411 - Raanta came over to North America after a couple of impressive seasons in Finland. He spent two seasons backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago before Scott Darling muscled his way into the picture and eventually forced Raanta out. This year he's backing up Henrik Lundqvist. Do you see the pattern? He has played well in a back-up role and has earned his shot at more playing time. Will he be offered a starting gig somewhere? I don't see that happening but on a two-year deal, maybe he's the low-man in the aforementioned 60/40 split... or 65/35 anyway.


4. Jhonas Enroth, Kings

Age - 27 (born June 25, 1988)
Specs - 5-foot-10, 171 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (46th) in 2006 by Buffalo
Contract - On a 1Y/$1.25M deal
Team - Los Angeles, 6th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 12 gm, 4-5-1, 2.19 GAA, .926 SV%

The 411 - Enroth is a conventional size for an NHL goalie if this was 1986 but by today's standards, he's small. However, he's been pretty good. After mostly being the back-up to Ryan Miller in Buffalo, Enroth is again in a back-up role with the Kings this season but is having the type of year in which he's showing maybe he could be a No.1 in the right environment. He's certainly at the right age. However, not sure I give him any more responsibility than half of a 50/50 share of the crease..


5. Cam Ward, Hurricanes

Age - 31 (born Feb. 29, 1984)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
Drafted - 1st round (25th) in 2002 by Carolina
Contract - Pending UFA, final year of 6Y/$37.8M deal ($6.3M AAV)
Team - Carolina, 11th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 38 gm, 17-12-4, 2.36 GAA, .907 SV%

The 411 - Ward's name has been a popular one because he used to be really good and he can probably be had at reasonable price. However, the concern is the indications are that the veteran that has lost a step, perhaps even many steps depending on who you ask. That said, could the Saskatoon native, who had four prolific seasons in the WHL with Red Deer (three trips to league final, winning once), rejuvenate his career back in Alberta? I wouldn't give him the starter's job but he could be a nice mentor-like complement to a younger prospect that is on the rise.


Other Notables - Anders Lindback Ari, Jeff Zatkoff Pit, Carter Hutton Nsh, Anton Khudobin Ana, Alex Stalock SJ


B. Demoted Veterans

These are goalies that used to play a lot more than they are now because a young prospect has come along and taken over the starting gig.


1. Frederik Andersen, Ducks

Age - 26 (born Oct. 2, 1989)
Specs - 6-foot-4, 220 lbs
Drafted - 3rd round (87th) by Anaheim in 2012
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 2Y/$2.3M deal ($1.15M AAV)
Team - Anaheim, 3rd NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 32 gm, 14-8-3, 2.39 GAA, .917 SV%

The 411 - The native of Denmark came over to North America in 2012, fresh off a scintillating season in Sweden where he posted a 1.67 GAA and .941 SV% in 39 games. After a superb season in Norfolk (.929 SV%), Andersen was off to the NHL where he was Jonas Hiller's back-up in his rookie season. While inconsistent at times, he would still be the No. 1 with the Ducks if not for the emergence of hotshot prospect John Gibson. While a nice complement to Gibson, Andersen is a RFA at season's end and may want more money and more opportunity than the Ducks are willing to offer. Instead, it would not surprise to see Anaheim shop Andersen and try to look for help elsewhere on their team and Calgary should be on the phone when they do.


2. Brian Elliott, Blues

Age - 30 (born April 9, 1985)
Specs - 6-foot-2, 209 lbs
Drafted - 9th round (291st) in 2003
Contract - Second year of 3Y/$7.5M deal ($2.5M AAV)
Team - St. Louis, 8th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 32 gm, 17-17-2, 2.06 GAA, .931 SV%

The 411 - Elliott is a UFA after next season but rather than wait another year, those interested in Elliott's services will want to get in on him this summer now that Jake Allen has seemingly taken over the Blues starting job. With St. Louis also having a couple back-up goalie options coming along nicely in their system in Phoenix Copley and Jordan Binnington, Elliott could become available this summer. While no stand-out in his four years with Ottawa, he's really come along nicely the last few years with St. Louis. Are his numbers by-product of the Blues tremendous defence or can he backstop a less-talented team to success? I suspect we'll find out soon enough. With one year left on his deal, he could be a guy that is traded somewhere and if he gets off to a good start, is offered an extension.


3. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets

Age - 28 (born Aug. 31, 1987)
Specs - 6-foot-3, 215 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (41st) in 2005
Contract - Fourth year of 5Y/$19.5M deal ($3.9M AAV)
Team - Winnipeg, 9th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 18 gm, 6-7-1, 2.77 GAA, .905 SV

The 411 - Pavelec's career numbers won't blow you away but he also has not been afforded the chance to play on very good teams. In the same organization his whole career, he broke in in Atlanta, playing parts of four seasons with the Thrashers. At this point, I'm wouldn't trust him to be your No. 1 but as the back-up in a 60/40 split or maybe a share of a 1a/1b, that would work better. and 1b and that works better. It is the emergence of Connor Hellbuyck that was been a game changer with the Jets. One thing that is attractive with Pavelec is he has just one year left on his deal. What I see unfolding for some NHL team is bring him in, playing him regularly, see what he's got, and then decide whether you want to re-sign him or let him go.


4. Mike Smith, Coyotes

Age - 33 (born Mar. 22, 1982)
Specs - 6-foot-4, 215 lbs
Drafted - 5th round (161st) by Dallas in 2001
Contract - Third year of 6Y/$34M deal ($5.67M  AAV)
Team - Arizona, 10th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 22 gm, 10-9-1, 3.06 GAA, .901 SV%

The 411 - Arizona has been a nice story this season but when they're ready to be a legit contender in the West, Smith's contract will be over. In fact, they're probably more than happy to start the transition to Louis Domingue right away. Because it's Arizona, a factor to consider is Treliving's familiarity with Smith from his time with the Coyotes. If the Flames can secure a young emerging star for one of their goalies, Smith wouldn't be a bad complementary piece as you're getting experience and leadership. However, you'd need the Coyotes to retain a chunk of his annual salary,


5. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings

Age - 31 (born Mar. 26, 1984)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 218 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (64th) in 2003 by Detroit
Contract - Third year of 6Y/$31.7M deal ($5.3M  AAV)
Team - Detroit, 7th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 23 gm, 7-9-3, 2.82 GAA, .906 SV%

The 411 - The Emergence of Petr Mrazek has made Howard expendable in Detroit, especially in a season where the Red Wings could miss the playoffs. One issue with Howard is there's a ton of money and term left on his contract. The second issue is he's a goalie that statistics would suggest is on the steady decline. His .923 SV% from three years seems like an eternity ago. To take him off their hands, the Red Wings would have to retain a big chunk of money and only then should Calgary consider the possibility.


Other Notables - Kari Lehtonen Dal, Antti Niemi Dal,



C. Young NHL Back-Ups Ready to Start

These are the guys to really pay attention to. They are stuck behind very good No. 1 goalies so see limited playing time but have shown flashes that suggest they could be very good if given the opportunity for a bigger role.


1. Darcy Kuemper, Wild

Age - 25 (born May 5, 1990)
Specs - 6-foot-5, 212 lbs
Drafted - 6th round (161st) in 2009 by Minnesota
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 2Y/$2.5M deal ($1.25M AAV)
Team - Minnesota, 4th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 16 gm, 6-3-5, 2.26 GAA, .920 SV%

The 411 - It wasn't long ago that Darcy Kuemper came on the scene and was touted as Minnesota's goalie of the future. But then he struggled last year, Devan Dubnyk came along and turned last season's amazing body of work into a long-term deal. Relegated to being the back-up now, Kuemper is someone that could be the Martin Jones of next season for whichever team is able to pry him free from the Wild. The potential is definitely there and it's encouraging is he's bounced back nicely. His age is also an attraction.
.

2. Scott Darling, Blackhawks

Age - 27 (born Dec. 22, 1988)
Specs - 6-foot-6, 232 lbs
Drafted - 6th round (153rd) in 2007 by Phoenix
Contract - First year of 2Y/$1.175M deal ($587K AAV)
Team - Chicago, 2nd NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 16 gm, 6-3-5, 2.26 GAA, .920 SV%

The 411 - An ideal tandem partner for Corey Crawford in Chicago as the Blackhawks prepare to go on a long Cup run. But this summer, with Crawford locked up long term, expect teams to try and get Darling out of Chicago. He would be a UFA after next season so it would a matter of the bidding starting earlier than the trade deadline.


3. Calvin Pickard, Avalanche

Age - 23 (born Apr. 15, 1992)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 200 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (49th) in 2010 by Colorado
Contract - Pending RFA, on 1Y/$850K two-way deal ($67K in AHL)
Team - Colorado, 2nd NHL season
2015-16 Stats -13 gm, 4-3-1, 2.67 GAA, .918 SV%

The 411 - In his fourth pro season, we're at the point where the only reason Pickard is still spending some time in the minors is the lack of a roster spot for him with Colorado committed to Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra. With the Avs seemingly content with what they're getting from Berra in a back-up role and with the ex-Flame under contract for another season, what might it take to pluck Pickard off the hands of GM Joe Sakic, who co-incidentally was at the Flames-Canucks game on Friday in person. Avs have prospect Sami Aittokallio, 22, playing in Finland at the moment and his presence may make it easier for Colorado to part with Pickard.


4. Michael Hutchinson, Jets

Age - 25 (born March 2, 1990)
Specs - 6-foot-3, 202 lbs
Drafted - 3rd round (77th) in 2008 by Boston
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 2Y/$1.15M deal ($575K AAV)
Team - Winnipeg, 2nd NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 21 gm, 6-11-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV%

The 411 - The Jets are a fertile ground for goaltender prospects given Connor Hellebuyck looks like he will assume the Jets No. 1 job soon and they also have promising 2013 second rounder Eric Comrie in the pipeline as well. As a result, it seems inevitable that Hutchinson will move on at some point. Hutchinson's body of work in the NHL is up to 62 games and while he has looked very good at times -- he's posted a pair of shutouts, he's also struggled at times also. He should come affordable though and could be a worthwhile investment.


5. Phillip Grubauer, Capitals

Age - 24 (born Nov 25, 1991)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 182 lbs
Drafted - 4th round (112th) in 2010
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 2Y/$1.125M deal ($562K AAV)
Team - Washington, 2nd NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 14 gm, 6-4-1, 2.13 GAA, .925 SV%.

The 411 - The German played very well during his four seasons in the minors, which has enabled him to work his way up to the NHL where in his rookie season, he's caddying for workhorse Brandon Holtby on that very good Washington Capitals team. Given Holtby will remain the man for Washington for a very long time, Grubauer is someone that could be lured out of Washington eventually. Whether they're prepared to part with him as soon as this summer, that remains to be seen, but should he continue to play at the high level he has in the NHL, he'll be quite an asset the Capitals.


Other Notables - Keith Kinkaid NJ, Mike Condon Mtl



D. AHL Starters Looking to Get to the NHL

Promising goalies that have excelled in the minors and appear ready for a chance to break through at the NHL level but maybe victim of the numbers game in their organization.


1. Matt Murray, Penguins

Age - 21 (born May 25, 1994)
Specs - 6-foot-4, 178 lbs
Drafted - 3rd round (83rd) in 2012 by Pittsburgh
Contract - Second year of 3Y/$2.78M deal ($894K AAV)
Team - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 2nd AHL season
2015-16 Stats - 30 gm, 19-9-1, 2.11 GAA, .931 SV%

The 411 - Murray has been phenomenal in the AHL. After leading the circuit with a .941 save percentage as a rookie last season, he's second this season at .931. With a job expected to open up on the NHL roster next season with current back-up Jeff Zatkoff a pending UFA, the Penguins would be happy to have Murray on their roster. But with Marc-Andre Fleury under contract for three more years and with 2013 second rounder Tristan Jarry also in the system, Murray will be courted heavily. On the weekend, Elliott Friedman reported Calgary had, indeed inquired, but were rebuffed. At least for now.


2. J-F Berube, Islanders

Age - 24 (born July 13, 1991)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 175 lbs
Drafted - 4th round (95th) in 2009
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 2Y/$1.125M deal ($562K AAV)
Team - NY Islanders, 1st NHL season (after four AHL seasons with the Kings)
2015-16 Stats - 3 gm, 1-1-0, .905 SV%.

The 411 - Capped his fourth and best season in the Kings system last year by backstopping Manchester to a Calder Cup. Looked in line to back-up Jonathan Quick when LA signed Enroth. Placed on waivers to start the season, he was claimed by the Islanders. Not wanting to expose him, New York has kept him on their NHL roster all year other than when he was injured for six weeks and went to AHL on a conditioning loan where he went 4-1 with a .960 save percentage. With Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss ahead of him and both with term left, you would think he could be pried free for the right price.


3. Magnus Hellberg, Rangers

Age - 24 (born April 4, 1991)
Specs - 6-foot-5, 185 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (38th) in 2011 by Nashville
Contract - First year of 2Y/$1.25M deal ($625K NHL AAV, $95K AHL)
Team - Hartford, 4th AHL season
2015-16 Stats - 36 gm, 20-14-2, 2.44 GAA, .916 SV%

The 411 - With Raanta on his way to becoming a UFA, Hellberg should be in line to be the Rangers back-up next season. That said, I doubt New York would have any issue bringing in an experienced No. 2 like they did last year with Raanta. What's clear is Henrik Lundqvist remains entrenched as the No. 1 and he still has five years on his deal. There are other younger options in the system for New York that could be his successor such as 2014 second rounder Brandon Halverson.


4. Anton Forsberg, Blue Jackets

Age - 23 (born Nov. 27, 1992)
Specs - 6-foot-2, 176 lbs
Drafted - 7th round (211th) in 2011 by Columbus
Contract - Pending RFA, final year of 3Y/$2.1M entry-level contract
Team - Lake Erie, 2nd AHL season
2015-16 Stats - 26 gm, 13-8-3, 2.64 GAA, .905 SV%

The 411 - Named an AHL all-star last season, he got into four NHL games this year going 1-3-0 with a .907 save percentage. Passed by Joonas Korpisalo on the Blue Jackets depth chart and with 2012 second rounder Oscar Dansk a future option also to back-up Sergei Bobrovsky, Forsberg could be available.


5. Jeremy Smith, Bruins

Age - 26 (born April 13, 1989)
Specs - 6-foot-1, 170 lbs
Drafted - 2nd round (54th) in 2007 by Nashville
Contract - Pending UFA, on a 1Y/$600K deal ($600K NHL, $150K AHL)
Team - Providence, 7th AHL season
2015-16 Stats - 27 gm, 7-16-3, 2.88 GAA, .910 SV%

The 411 - Looked in line to be the back-up to Tuukka Rask in Boston this season when the Bruins signed free agent Jonas Gustavsson. With top prospects Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre at Providence, Smith was loaned to Iowa this season before returning to Providence recently when Subban got injured. Smith will be a UFA this summer so will be looking for a good situation for himself.


Other Notables - Jordan Binnington, Stl, Zach Fucale Mtl


E. Wild Cards

In addition to the four buckets above, there is a miscellaneous bucket also. These are guys whose circumstances are all rather unique with each of them an intriguing option for different reasons.


1. Ben Bishop, Lightning

Age - 29 (born Nov. 21, 1986)
Specs - 6-foot-7, 216 lbs
Drafted - 3rd round (85th) in 2005
Contract - First year of 2Y/$11.9M deal ($5.95M AAV)
Team - Tampa Bay, 6th NHL season.
2015-16 Stats - 45 gm, 24-17-0, 2.13 GAA, .923 SV%

The 411 - A situation to keep an eye on in Tampa Bay is what happens with Steven Stamkos as Ben Bishop's fate could be tied to him. If the cap-crunched Lightning want to re-sign Stamkos, it might very well mean they will trade away Bishop to open up some cap space. The Lightning can do that because they've got a young star goalie in the making in 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy and also have Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis in the minors. Calgary has reportedly shown interest before in Bishop, who was previously with St. Louis and Ottawa. It would be a summer trade and would require giving up a good player or two but it would give the Flames a de facto No. 1 starter.


2. Niklas Svedberg

Age - 26 (born Sept. 4, 1989)
Specs - 6-foot-0, 176 lbs
Drafted - N/A
Contract - Pending UFA, on a one-year deal in KHL
Team - Ufa Salavat Yulayev, 1st KHL season (after two AHL seasons, one NHL season)
2015-16 Stats - 53 gm, 29-19-3, 2.37 GAA, .916 SV%

The 411 - After a couple of solid seasons in the AHL with Providence, Svedberg spent most of last season with Boston and putting up decent numbers in 18 games -- 7-5-1 record with a .918 save percentage. However, he was unhappy with his playing time behind Rask so bolted for the KHL. However, before departing, he said he would be back. As a UFA now, he has the opportunity to come back to the NHL for next season and if he's looking for an opportunity for playing time, Calgary certainly would be an option.


3. Jonathan Bernier, Maple Leafs

Age - 27 (born Aug. 7, 1988)
Specs - 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
Drafted - 1st round (11th) in 2006
Contract - First year of 2Y/$8.3M deal ($4.15M AAV)
Team -  Toronto, 6th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 26 gm, 6-15-2, 3.17 GAA, .895 SV%

The 411 - Bernier looked like a stud prospect for the longest time but things have not worked out in Toronto leaving people wondering if he simply won't be the star everyone expected or if it just won't happen while he's with the Leafs and that a fresh start could get him back on track. With one year remaining on his deal before becoming a UFA next year, I see trading for him and seeing if he can rekindle his game as a worthwhile gamble given his upside. It seems Toronto is prepared to move on from him too so he's available.


4. Al Montoya, Panthers

Age - 31 (born Feb. 13, 1985)
Specs - 6-foot-2, 203 lbs
Drafted - 1st round (6th) in 2004 by NY Rangers
Contract - Pending UFA, final year of 2Y/$2.1M deal ($1.05M AAV)
Team - Florida, 6th NHL season
2015-16 Stats - 17 gm, 9-4-1, 1.91 GAA, .930 SV%

The 411 - With Roberto Luongo under contract until 2022, the Panthers are set for their starter for a long time. As an unrestricted free agent, you'd expect Montoya to look for an opportunity where there's potential to play his way into more playing time and potentially be a starter. What makes Montoya a 'wild card' is his roller-coaster career. He looked like a first round flop for a long time yet in spurts has played really well including two years ago with Winnipeg (13-8-3, .920 SV%) and this year with the Panthers. Would be an interesting guy to roll the dice on for a couple years.


5. Jack Campbell, Dallas

Age - 24 (born Jan. 9, 1992)
Specs - 6-foot-3, 200 lbs
Drafted - 1st round (11th) in 2010 by Dallas
Contract - Pending RFA, on 1Y/$650K two-way deal ($90K in AHL)
Team - Dallas, 4th year in the minors
2015-16 Stats - 12 gm in AHL (3-6-3, 4.27 GAA, .868 SV%), 19 gm in ECHL (13-5-1, 1.62 GAA, .946 SV%)

The 411 - The first goalie selected in 2010, selected out of the U.S. National Team development program, Campbell was expected to be the Stars future No. 1. However, things have gone sideways for him lately and his future has become cloudy. After a dreadful start to this year in the AHL, he was jettisoned to the ECHL. That's the wrong direction to be moving when you've got his kind of pedigree. He's been dynamite in the ECHL so perhaps he's found his game again but one wonders if Dallas is getting close to cutting bait on him given they're set in net with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, both signed for two more years.


Other Notables - Tuukka Rask Bos or Malcolm Subban Bos


Final Word

As you can see, there are plenty of options for Treliving when it comes to figuring what to do with Calgary’s goaltending for the 2016-17 season. While the UFA class is small and not all that sexy, there are other goalies out there, it's just a matter of finding the right situation and having something to offer that other teams want.

While we may see him start to address his goal crease needs as early as this week with the trade deadline, the off-season is the more likely time he'll get his work done. Many of the goalies that could be on his short list are on playoff contenders and likely wouldn't be available until this season is over.

With the young core of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett at forward and with the nucleus of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton on defence, finding the right goalies to bring in for the next few seasons is one of the most critical tasks Treliving has faced in his tenure as Flames GM.

Get it right and this team could get be contending for a playoff spot again as early as next year. Get it right and the Flames will have the luxury of breaking in Gillies when he's ready, not when he's needed.

Get it wrong and the losses will mount, the team unravels, the negativity sets in and the harmful, long-lasting impact that inflicts on an organization and its culture is something hockey fans in Alberta should be very familiar with by now.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Goaltending Five-Year Plan - Part 1: Taking Stock of What They Have, What They Need

When the Flames lost Karri Ramo to a season-ending knee injury, many turned their focus to the immediate future and how the Flames would manage the rest of this season with a goaltending duo of Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio.

However, with playoff hopes all but officially extinguished, the more compelling question is who will be in net for the Flames next season and beyond.

At the moment, Calgary has no goalies with NHL experience under contract for 2016-17. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Here in part 1 of a two-part look at what the future looks like in net for the Flames, I examine the goaltending prospects in the system today and project where (or if) they might slot into the organization's five-year plan.

In this look-ahead that extends through 2020-21, you’ll see several references to TBD. Among the spots still to be determined are both NHL jobs for next season. In part 2, I took a closer look at what’s out there and the various avenues GM Brad Treliving could go in filling those two spots.


What's in the Cupboard?

The Flames have five goaltending prospects that are either under contract or are restricted free agents at season's end so still under team control.

This does not include veterans Hiller or Ramo, who are both on expiring contracts and set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. That said, is Ramo a candidate to re-sign with the Flames in 2016-17, just like he did last summer? Maybe. I’ll get more into the likelihood of that in part 2.

For now, here are the five prospects in the system along with where (or if) I think they fit into the team's future plans.


1. Jon Gillies

Age - 22 (born January 22, 1994)
Drafted - 3rd round (75th) in 2012
Current Team - Stockton, in his first AHL season.

We'll start with Jon Gillies as he is viewed as the club's future No. 1. In my top 20 Flames prospect rankings published last month, I have Gillies as Calgary's top prospect.

The caveat is he is still a long way away. In a bad season for goaltenders in this organization, the first blow came in October when Gillies suffered a hip injury that would require season-ending surgery. His first pro season, after three years of playing NCAA at Providence College, lasted only seven games spread over four weeks.

There is no doubt that losing nearly a full season of development will push back Gillies' potential arrival date in the NHL. Even without the injury, he was likely going to need at least a couple seasons in the minors.


Typical Timeline: College to Pro

It’s been proven that NCAA goalies usually need plenty of time in the minors to work their way up to the NHL. Here's a look at former college goalies that have played in the NHL this season and how long each of them spent developing in the minors before reaching the big time. The list is sorted in order of fewest games spent in the minors.

Listed in parentheses is the round they were selected in the NHL draft, plus the number of years they spent in college.

Connor Hellebuyck (5th round, 2 years) - 1.5 seasons and 70gm in AHL
Jonathan Quick (3rd round, 2 years) - 1.5 seasons and 71 gm in ECHL/AHL
Andrew Hammond (FA, 4 years) - 1.5 seasons and 75 gm in AHL
Brian Elliott (9th round, 4 years) - 2 seasons and 82 gm in AHL
Mike Condon (FA, 4 years) - 2 seasons and 99 gm in ECHL/AHL
Ben Scrivens (FA, 4 years) - 2.5 seasons and 107 gm in ECHL/AHL
Cam Talbot (FA, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 118 gm in ECHL/AHL
Carter Hutton (FA, 4 years) - 3 seasons and 134 gm in ECHL/AHL
Cory Schneider (1st round, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 136 gm in AHL
Keith Kinkaid (FA, 2 years) - 3.5 seasons and 143 gm in AHL
Alex Stalock (4th round, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 145 gm in AHL
Scott Darling (6th round, 2 years) - 5.5 seasons and 158 gm in SPHL/ECHL/AHL
Ben Bishop (3rd round, 3 years) - 4 seasons and 165 gm in AHL
Chad Johnson (5th round, 4 years) - 4 seasons and 170 gm in AHL
Ryan Miller (5th round, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 172 gm in AHL
Jimmy Howard (2nd round, 3 years) - 4 seasons and 186 gm in AHL
Al Montoya (1st round, 3 years) - 5.5 seasons and 199 gm in ECHL/AHL
Curtis McElhinney (6th round, 4 years) - 4.5 seasons* and 205 gm in AHL
Jeff Zatkoff (3rd round, 3 years) - 6 seasons* and 237 gm in ECHL/AHL

* In the minors currently so this number continues to increase.


Based on this, do not expect Gillies to be in the NHL in 2016-17. In fact, you're being recklessly optimistic if you are counting on him for 2017-18. Sure, he might be ready that quickly but looking at how long it took guys like Cory Schneider, Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller to ascend to the NHL for good, it would be foolish to bank on him being ready that soon.

For the Flames organization, the smart planning would be to pencil in Gillies for 2018-19 at the earliest. Let him barge down the door and earn an NHL job sooner than that if he proves he's ready but don't just hand it to him.


2. Mason McDonald

Age - 19 (born April 23, 1996)
Drafted - 2nd round (34th) in 2014
Current Team - Charlottetown, his fourth QMJHL season.

Unfortunately, the Gillies injury will also end up impacting the development plan for Mason McDonald, who Calgary selected as the first goalie taken in the 2014 NHL Draft. In his fourth year of major junior, McDonald has been focused on turning pro this summer. Last July at Flames development camp, he talked about his timeline to turn pro.

It is a scenario that undoubtedly happens if Gillies doesn't get hurt. But now with Gillies timeline backed up by a year, Calgary is in the position of having two top goalie prospects developing in the minors at the exact same time. That's not the end of the world, but there are reasons why ideally, they would have preferred to stagger the two.

If McDonald turns pro this summer, I expect he heads to the ECHL next season to be the No. 1 goalie in Adirondack. That will give him plenty of work while also enabling Gillies to get a majority of the starts in Stockton.

In 2017-18, that was potentially the season Gillies originally might have been NHL-ready. Instead, now it's unlikely Gillies is ready until 2018-19. In this scenario, do you keep McDonald in the ECHL for a second season? It would be an unusual move for a top prospect, but it's either that or he goes to Stockton and their reduced Pacific Division schedule and splits starts with Gillies.

The alternate option is the club returns McDonald to junior next season for his overage year and have him turn pro in 2017-18 instead. That buys you some separation from Gillies and gets you into a scenario where it's likely just the one year in the ECHL and then he bumps up the next season to the AHL to take Gillies' vacated spot.


3. Joni Ortio

Age - 24 (born April 16, 1991)
Drafted - 6th round (171st) in 2009
Current Team - Calgary, his third pro season (20 NHL games, 104 AHL games, 4 ECHL games). Plus two seasons in Finland.

The season was not supposed to unfold like this for Joni Ortio.

Entering a season in which he was waiver-eligible and on a one-way NHL contract, this was going to be his year to build off his impressive run he had last season when he came up to replaced an injured Ramo in January, was promptly inserted into the Flames line-up with the team reeling and chalked up four road wins in a row. In those four games, he stopped 115 of 120 shots for a .958 save percentage before (like a dozen Calgary goalies before him) getting lit up by Anaheim in the Honda Center and getting pulled after four goals on 11 shots.

But instead of one of two goalies with the Flames this season, he ended up one of three as something surely went sideways on GM Brad Treliving in the summer that resulted in Ortio being joined by Hiller and Ramo. As a result, Ortio became the guy a distant third on the depth chart behind the two veterans.

After going nearly a month without playing and from what we understand, refusing to accept a conditioning assignment and go to Stockton for up to two weeks to get in some game action, he finally made a pair of starts (not consecutive) in late October only to look rusty and never get a chance to start again.



Bottom line is the Flames didn't play him when the games were important and now, with playoff hopes pretty much dashed and Hiller owning the worst save percentage in the NHL, they're still not playing him.

Add it all up and it's hard to imagine the Flames are all that interested to bring Ortio back. Similarly, it seems hard to imagine Ortio being overly keen to re-sign with Calgary either.


4. Kevin Poulin

Age - 25 (born April 12, 1990)
Drafted - 5th round (126th) in 2008
Current Team - Stockton, his sixth pro season (50 NHL games, 171 AHL games).

Kevin Poulin is with his third organization this season. He began the year with the New York Islanders, which is the team that originally drafted him. However with their goaltending set in the NHL with Thomas Greiss as the newly signed back-up to Jaroslav Halak, Poulin was placed on waivers in late September and was claimed by Tampa Bay. The Lightning were looking for short-term depth with an injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy.

However, Poulin was never needed and quickly became a spare part with Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate, who were already set at that position. After the severity of Gillies' injury became known, Treliving acquired Poulin on Nov. 12 in exchange for future considerations. Calgary's need was for someone to step in and shoulder the load in Stockton as they were in desperate need of help with Ortio still on the NHL roster at the time.

Then Poulin dislocated his kneecap and missed six weeks, during which time Ortio was waived by Calgary and returned to the AHL. When Poulin returned in early January, the two of them split starts for the Heat.

A popular misconception with Poulin is viewing him as a journeyman and a non-prospect compared to Ortio. That's not really true. Poulin is only one year older, he was drafted one round earlier and they're both in identical situations contract-wise as pending RFAs.

Poulin also has had more NHL experience having played 50 games with the Isles.

Realizing after Ramo's injury that the schedule set up nicely for coach Bob Hartley to ride Hiller for a long period, I can't help but wonder if factoring into the decision to promote Ortio was so Poulin could keep playing games in the AHL instead of being stuck on the bench as has been the case for Ortio.

For what it's worth, Poulin has put up considerably better numbers than Ortio in the AHL this season. Given how the two have been used and also how they've performed, it wouldn't surprise me if after this season, Poulin is re-signed and the team cuts the cord on Ortio.


5. Nick Schneider

Age - 18 (born July 21, 1997)
Drafted - Undrafted in 2015, signed as a free agent
Current Team - Medicine Hat, his third WHL season.

Nick Schneider was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the No. 9 goaltender in North America for the 2015 NHL Draft. However, he was not one of the 23 goalies selected. Needing some additional goaltending depth for rookie camp, the Flames brought the native of Leduc in on a try-out.

Impressed by his performance in Penticton at the Young Stars Classic and in an exhibition game against the University of Calgary, plus with injury issues lingering with some of the other goalies, Schneider's try-out extended into Flames main camp and eventually led to him signing an NHL entry-level contract on Sept. 23.

Schneider, who essentially became a bonus draft pick, will return to junior next season and given Gillies and McDonald could both be in the minors for 2017-18, an overage season in the WHL the year after isn't something I'd rule out either.

From there, he'll turn pro and probably start off in the ECHL and spend a season or two there. Depending on injuries and other factors, he would be an AHL option also.

I don't expect Schneider to make the NHL but considering how hard it is to project goalies, you never know either. Anything can happen over the next several years, we'll just have to see how his stock rises or falls.


Projecting Out the Next Five Years

Now it's time to add some names to the whiteboard and see where we're at. Included is the player's age for that season.

As you can see, I've got Poulin re-signing with Calgary and Ortio exiting the organization after this year. While it's possible the opposite may occur, there's also a third option of a complete housecleaning with neither Ortio or Poulin re-signed. In that scenario, expect the Flames to sign a veteran minor leaguer, who has maybe had a couple cups of coffee in the NHL, to work with Gillies and be a more seasoned short-term fill-in should one of Calgary's goalies get injured.

2016-17

NHL - TBD 1, TBD 2
AHL - Gillies (22), Poulin (26)
ECHL - McDonald (20)

2017-18

NHL - TBD 1, TBD 2
AHL - Gillies (23)
ECHL - McDonald (21)

2018-19

NHL - TBD 1, Gillies (24)
AHL - McDonald (22)
ECHL - Schneider (21)

2019-20

NHL - Gillies (25), TBD
AHL - McDonald (23)
ECHL - Schneider (22)

2020-21

NHL - Gillies (26), McDonald (24)
AHL - Schneider (23)
ECHL - 2017 Draft Pick



Needs Assessment

As you can see, immediate help is needed and not necessarily short term either. To allow the organization to be patient with Gillies, not rush him and allow him to develop at his own pace, two goalies are needed for the next couple of seasons and ideally one of the them will be here for at least a third season as Gillies begins his transition to being the No. 1.

Of course, the big assumption we're making is that Gillies will pan out. When you go through the exercise of a five-year plan, you always assume top prospects like Gillies and McDonald will make the NHL but that is far from a certainty. If one or both fall off the radar, that will change everything.

Let's remember that in 36 seasons, the Flames have only drafted and developed three goaltenders that went on to be a regular in the Calgary line-up -- Mike Vernon, Trevor Kidd and Curtis McElhinney. And in the case of the latter, it was only for one season and it was spent as the understudy to Miikka Kiprusoff. Now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, McElhinney has never amounted to more than a back-up.

An additional wild card is there will continue to be new goalies entering the organization via the draft. However, I don't see drafting a goalie as an organizational priority at the moment. With McDonald drafted in 2014 and Schneider the equivalent of a 2015 draft pick, I suspect the Flames pass on drafting a goalie this year but then grab one again in 2017. That prospect would then turn pro and enter the current five-year plan by either 2019-20 or 2020-21.


Scouting the Options

For those looking for a list of candidates to potentially come to Calgary for the next few seasons, we'll get into that and do some speculating in part 2, which you can read here.

In that second piece, I also reviewed the various categories of goaltender the Flames might be looking for -- pending UFAs, veterans who have lost their jobs to young prospects, back-ups looking for an opportunity to be a starter and even minor leaguers looking to get a shot in the NHL.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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