So far this off-season, all eyes across Flames nation have been affixed on the entrance.
For two months, nervous anticipation has been building as fans anxiously await the identity of the two goalies that are going to walk through that door and form Calgary's goalie tandem for 2017-18.
With last year's duo of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson both pending unrestricted free agents, whether one, both or neither are back is anyone's guess.
But what about the exit?
Might a goaltender be leaving the organization at the same time?
With 19-year-old hotshot prospect Tyler Parsons expected to turn pro this fall, there are not enough nets for the Flames stable of goaltending prospects that are not yet NHL-ready and need a place to play in the minors.
Naturally, that makes one wonder if there isn't a goalie-for-goalie exchange that might unfold that will remedy both of these situations.
Falling on the Depth Chart
Expecting to get the lion's share of the starting assignments in the American Hockey League last season, that's not really how it panned out for Gillies and from what I've heard, that was much to his disappointment.
In fact, the workload was almost 50/50 from Christmas Day on with Gillies making 22 starts compared to 21 for Rittich.
In his first year in North America, Rittich also put up the better numbers over the course of the regular season:
- David Rittich: 15-11-4, 5 shutouts, 2.27 GAA, .924 SV%
- Jon Gillies: 18-14-4, 1 shutout, 2.93 GAA, .910 SV%
Usage in the playoffs was a similar story.
Gillies started the first two games as Stockton returned home from San Jose with a 1-1 split in the best-of-five series. But he was pulled by coach Ryan Huska halfway through game 2 and it was Rittich's crease the rest of the way, up until he was forced to exit game 5 after one period due to illness. Playing with the flu, he still stopped all 15 shots he faced.
Gillies came on in relief and despite stopping 37 of 39 shots over the final two-plus periods, the Heat lost 2-1 in overtime and were eliminated.
Choosing Rittich over Gillies in games 3, 4 and 5 -- the club's three most important games of the season -- speaks volumes about how much Rittich's stock has risen. At the same time, it's hard not to view that as an indicator that Gillies is losing his grip on the label of next-in-line.
Gillies Still Has Cachet
While the undrafted Rittich, 24, may have got those key starts at the end of the season, it's still going to be Gillies, 23, who has the better brand recognition on the market. For a long time, Gillies has been viewed as one of the organization's top prospects.
While he had tumbled to No. 6 in my last Top 20 Flames prospect rankings unveiled last February, he was No. 2 (behind Matthew Tkachuk) a year ago and the time before that in the biannual rankings, Gillies was No. 1.
With Parsons, a second round pick in 2016, ready to graduate to a higher level of competition after three stirling seasons with London (OHL), Calgary needs to create a spot for him and trading away a goaltender would accomplish that.
Might Gillies turn out to be a solid NHL goalie? Absolutely it could happen and it's that you-never-know allure, combined with his pedigree, that elevates his trade value.
However, for an organization that has drafted and developed only two starting NHL goalies since 1980 and none in the last 25 years -- Mike Vernon (1981, 3rd round) and Trevor Kidd (1990, 1st round) make up the entire list -- it would be foolish and irresponsible to operate under the assumption that Gillies will eventually ascend to being Calgary's starter.
Now would the Flames much rather move Mason McDonald instead? Presumably. But remember the adage that you have to give up something to get something. McDonald, who has seen his stock fall since being a second round pick in 2014, is simply not fetching you the same return as Gillies.
If general manager Brad Treliving has an opportunity to use Gillies as a trade chip to bring in a goaltender with an NHL resume and a bright future, it has to be considered.
Dealing From Depth
Despite the carousel of goalies that have been tried at the NHL level since Miikka Kiprusoff retired and the rocky last four years it's been between the pipes, one could argue that relatively speaking in regards to quantity/quality of prospects, goaltending is the position of greatest depth for the organization.
With the likes of Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Hickey, Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox all in the pipeline, defence is also in the conversation but proportionally as you play six defencemen every night but only one goalie, I'd give the edge to the goalies. With Parsons, Gillies and Rittich in particular, Treliving has done a nice job building up a stable of prospects.
Parsons has done nothing been impress since he was selected as the second goaltender off the board last June. Having already supplanted Gillies in the eyes of many as Calgary's goaltender of the future, he is coming off another terrific season in major junior in which he led the OHL with a .925 save percentage and also backstopped Team U.S.A. to a gold medal at the WJC.
Arriving on the scene last year after being signed out of the Czech league as a free agent. Rittich was advertised when he came over as very raw but with great potential and we've seen plenty of that upside. The next step for him is more playing time to build on his rookie season.
Meanwhile, there's also McDonald, who spent last year in the ECHL, AHL veteran Tom McCollum, who was signed mostly to meet expansion draft exposure requirements but is someone who still has another year remaining on his deal, and Nick Schneider, who was recently traded from the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Calgary Hitmen.
While Schneider will play another season in the WHL, where will the playing time come from for the other five? Calgary only has two minor league affiliates -- Stockton in the AHL and its new ECHL team is the Kansas City Mavericks. Five goalies for four nets doesn't work.
One solution would be to loan McCollum to another organization like they did near the end of this season. However, that still leaves too many guys that should be getting No. 1 minutes to expedite their development. You sense that something bigger needs to happen.
Using Gillies to Fetch What?
With the news earlier this week that Marc-Andre Fleury has waived his no-movement clause in order to be exposed in the expansion draft and be eligible to be selected by Vegas, it's looking more and more like Fleury can be removed from the list of potential Flames goaltending candidates.
A deal could still happen, via Vegas, but you get the sense that to the relief of some fans and the chagrin of others, Fleury will be the new smiling face of the Golden Knights franchise. So let's move on from him.
Among the other names that have been floating around this off-season has been Antti Raanta.
In a story that appeared in the New York Post last weekend, Rangers beat writer and longtime John Tortorella adversary, Larry Brooks, speculated that the Flames were one of the teams that have inquired about Raanta, who has backed up Henrik Lundqvist the last two seasons.
Rangers testing trade waters but right partner may prove elusive https://t.co/fV2gyUvzAT via @nypostsports— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) June 11, 2017
Now this isn't exactly earth-shattering news. When you are in need of two goalies like the Flames, you're going to be looking into all possible options so the 28-year-old Raanta is certainly a guy that Treliving is going to inquire about.
As Lundqvist's caddy, Raanta has posted solid numbers in The Big Apple. In 55 games (of which 44 were starts), the Finn went 27-14-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
Among the 52 goalies with at least 40 starts over that period, that ranks him 7th in GAA and 9th in SV%. Those are very respectable numbers, especially considering he's on a very economical contract. Raanta has one year remaining on a 2-year/$2-million deal.
Why Raanta Might be Available
There's two scenarios in which the Flames could acquire Raanta:
1. From the NY Rangers
Why a pre-expansion draft trade works for Calgary is they are in the very rare situation of having a vacant slot on their protected list at goaltender. If you look across the league, finding an open protection spot at any position is like finding an available camping spot in the Kananaskis on a summer long weekend.
All of the Flames aforementioned young goaltenders are exempt from being taken. Meanwhile, last year's duo of Elliott and Johnson are pending UFAs so there's no need to protect them.
If the Rangers are OK with then losing somebody else off their roster in the expansion draft, GM Jeff Gorton could deal Raanta to the Flames beforehand and that way, could get a return for him -- potentially Gillies.
With four years remaining on his deal, Lundqvist isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but they will need a successor eventually and Gillies, who grew up a six-hour drive away in South Portland, Maine, would give them a future option.
2. From Vegas
Last week I wrote about how Vegas, needing to build out their farm system, will likely be a clearing house for bringing in NHL-ready players that are then sent back out again in exchange for younger prospects.
For #Flames GM Brad Treliving, stopping by the Vegas outlet mall post-expansion draft may be the best time to shop. https://t.co/YO2SrhTTyZ pic.twitter.com/FqevqhiGLV— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) June 7, 2017
Depending on the asking price by New York, Calgary might be better served to wait and make an arrangement with Vegas in which the Golden Knights select Raanta and then flip him to the Flames.
The Golden Knights have the ability to put together a pretty good goaltending tandem for their first NHL season. While Raanta would be a nice option, it looks like they've already settled on Fleury to be their No. 1 and there are many other solid back-up options to pair with him like Washington's Philipp Grubauer and Colorado's Calvin Pickard. Also, Vegas GM George McPhee may well have already agreed to a side deal to take on either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi from Dallas, who now boast Ben Bishop as their starter.
So Raanta, despite his upside, could easily be excess goods if Vegas selects him as the best player (or trade chip) available from New York.
With an opportunity to bring in a younger player and potential goalie of the future for when Fleury's deal is over after the 2018-19 season, one can envision a trade scenario in which Vegas moves Raanta to Calgary in exchange for Gillies, who becomes a goaltender the Golden Knights can stash in the minors and keep developing for a year or two down the road.
What You're Getting with Raanta
In his four seasons in the NHL -- Raanta also backed up Corey Crawford for two seasons in Chicago -- he's started 22, 12, 18 and 26 games. That's not the workload of a No. 1. He has also never started a playoff game.
That's not to say he can't start 50-plus games next year. Consider the evolution of Cam Talbot, his predecessor in that Ranger back-up role. Talbot started 53 games over his two seasons as the understudy to Lundqvist. Then he was traded to Edmonton where he ramped up to 53 starts in 2015-16 alone. Last year, giving the Oilers the type of stability in net that you know Treliving would love to bring in, Talbot made an NHL-high 73 starts.
It also raises the question of if Raanta, then with who?
Is there enough confidence that Raanta could sharply increase his workload without issue that Calgary could bring back Johnson as the back-up?
While that scenario would give the team a very economical pairing in net, there is definitely some rolling of the dice with that approach and I'm not sure Treliving would be comfortable going that route. Signing two career back-up goalies to address the most important position on the team -- one that was exposed in the playoffs last season -- might be a move that carries too much risk.
As I noted here a few weeks ago in looking at potential pairings, Elliott would be the more logical goalie partner with Raanta. While Elliott hasn't proven to be No. 1 goalie capable of starting 50-plus games, I slot him ahead of Johnson as somebody certainly capable of playing 40-plus if that's how the playing time ends up being divided.
Re-signing Elliott would cost them a third round pick in next year's draft (a condition that was part of the trade when he was acquired from St. Louis) so that's a consideration, although a small price to pay to have the stability that Elliott provides. While last year's playoff bellyflop was a lasting impression for many, this is also a veteran who won 11 straight games at one point.
There are many other goalies that presumably are available. Mike Smith in Arizona is another. Potentially Petr Mrazek in Detroit depending on which way the Red Wings go. They also have Jimmy Howard, who outplayed Mrazek last year but is older. One wonders if the rebuilding Devils would move Cory Schneider if the right deal came along. There are many other names also.
Making a deal involving Gillies will certainly leave many fans nervous and experiencing traumatic flashbacks to Jean-Sebastien Giguere. While not a Flames draft pick, Calgary got the 1995 first rounder from Hartford when he was 20 years old. Traded to Anaheim three years later after winning just seven games with Calgary and spending most of his time with Saint John (AHL), he is a prime example of the goalie that got away. When Giguere retired at age 37, he had 262 NHL wins and a Stanley Cup ring.
But that's not a reason to not make a deal because for every Giguere, there are several guys like Leland Irving, Jason Muzzatti, Brent Krahn, Evan Lindsay and Andrei Medvedev -- all of them high draft picks who never panned out.
If in exchange for Gillies, you can bring back an equally good asset in the form of a goaltender with NHL experience, who could be in Calgary for at least the next few seasons, it's an opportunity you have to jump at. Meanwhile, you hope Parsons and Rittich continue their upwards trajectory in the minors.
Otherwise, heading out that exit instead will be the Flames playoff hopes.
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Expansion Draft: Bargain-Seeking NHL GMs about to hit the Las Vegas Outlet Mall - Debunking the myth that it's better trade a player prior to expansion draft than lose a player to Vegas 'for nothing'. As I explain, expect way more trades post-expansion draft. (June 7, 2017)
- Lazar Quest: Flames Hope Giving up Lottery Ticket Still Results in Hitting the Jackpot - Calgary acquired Curtis Lazar from Ottawa for the 47th overall pick in the 2017 draft. I examine why after being mishandled in Ottawa, the upside is still untapped. (June 2, 2017)
- 2017 NHL Draft: One Pick in First Three Rounds Would be a Flames' Franchise First - In this look at the draft from a Calgary perspective, I examine how realistic it is that GM Brad Treliving can acquire some additional picks given he has only five selections. (May 23, 2017)
- Expansion Draft: Six Strategies Available to Vegas and Potential Impact on the Flames - Golden Knights GM George McPhee gets to pick 30 players in the expansion draft but there could be a method to the madness of who he picks and why. (May 19, 2017)
- Perfect Pairings: A Sommelier's Guide to Six Tasty Goaltending Combinations - There have been much talk about what individual goalies could work for Calgary in 2017-18 but they need a tandem. I look at six combinations that each carry some allure. (May 13, 2017)