Calgary Flames: Should they target a backup goaltender?

OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 09: Calgary Flames Goalie David Rittich (33) prepares to make a save during warm-up before National Hockey League action between the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators on March 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 09: Calgary Flames Goalie David Rittich (33) prepares to make a save during warm-up before National Hockey League action between the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators on March 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Calgary Flames have been making some noise the past two weeks. Should they consider keeping that going and adding a backup goaltender?

Brad Treliving has definitely been one of the busiest GMs in the NHL lately. With the Dougie Hamilton trade to the number of signings he’s been making the last few days for Free Agency, especially with James Neal, the Calgary Flames have been making noise.

Should they keep it going?

The Flames have addressed a few of their problems. Finding a consistent top-line winger to play alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, filling out their top-six, adding a solid bottom-six center, and hiring a good powerplay coach. While their forward group looks significantly better, their defence somewhat took a hit. But that isn’t to say they haven’t finished when it comes to the blue-line.

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With all these moves, there’s one area Treliving hasn’t touched: the goaltending. Last season, Brad Treliving traded for Mike Smith a few weeks before Free Agency and right before the Trade Freeze went into play. At first, fans were confused and upset. But Smith managed to hold his own for a good chunk of the season. That is until he got injured. He was quite good until about February, then he got hurt, and he wasn’t the same when he returned.

But the Flames had David Rittich. Rittich was recalled from Stockton and managed to be a solid backup goaltender. For a while, he was actually one of the best backup goaltenders in the league and definitely deserved more games. But by the way things were going, he seemed to only see a couple games in a month.

So when Smith got injured, fans were confident Rittich could hold his own. Spoiler alert: he couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Rittich fan. However, a question is that if Smith were to get injured again, or if he needs more breaks in-between games (he is 36 years old, after all), would Rittich be able to hold his own?.

Now, this begs the question: Should the Calgary Flames target a backup goaltender?

This is somewhat of a loaded question, and it’ll depend on who you ask and different factors surrounding the goaltending situation. Let’s take a look at those factors.

Mike Smith

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The abilities of Mike Smith will play a big part in a backup goaltender. Even if Smith remains healthy for the entire season, he’s also 36 years old. It seems unlikely that he’ll be able to start about 65-70 games next season. While he did very well for the first 2/3rds of the season, it’s still worrisome that he’ll get tired and falter about midway through the season.

Even though Smith still had decent surface level numbers with an sv% 0.916 and 5v5 sv% of 0.927, he had some areas of concern. Particularly, his LDSV%, in which he sees the most shots against with low-danger chances. Among all starting goaltenders in the league (min. 2100 TOI 5v5), his LDSV% was second last out of 24 goaltenders at a mere 96.74.

I will say that his MDSV% was quite good, yet his HDSV% was below average and among the bottom of the starters. You simply cannot win with a goaltender who lets in low-danger shots more often than almost every other starter in the league, and you cannot win with a goaltender who has more trouble than half the league at stopping high-danger chances.

Not everything is on the goaltender, but you can’t deny that a goaltender will make or break a team. Just ask the Calgary Flames ever since Miikka Kiprusoff left.

Which is why that I don’t think Mike Smith should be starting 65-70 games next season. Like I mentioned, he’s getting older. And it’s clear he needs breaks too. He needs to split the time with another goaltender who can play at least 20 games a season. Which brings us to our next point.

Can David Rittich hold his own?

There’s no denying that David Rittich looked promising as a backup. For the first time in years, Calgary Flames fans weren’t concerned about the crease. In January, I looked into Rittich’s numbers (when he had only started six games in two months) and among eight of the best NHL teams (all of which made the playoffs except the Flames), he had some of the best underlying numbers among their backup goaltenders. He was the only goaltender to have a QS% of 1.000, which is incredible.

Related Story: David Rittich deserves more than back-to-back starts

He had the second best SV% at 0.935, the second best EV SV% at 0.947, and while his LDSV% could have been better (0.964), he also hadn’t faced a ton of shots at that point, and he made up for it with his MDSV% (0.950) and his HDSV% (0.792).

At that point, in six starts, Rittich was 4-0-2. In 16 starts to end the season, he went 8-5-3. He finished with an SV% of 0.904, 5v5 SV% of 0.913, an LDSV% of 0.970, an MDSV% of 0.910, and an HDSV% of 0.742. So while he saw a slight improvement in his LDSV%, he fell a lot in the other metrics. Among all the backups in the league with min. 400 TOI, he was in the bottom of the pact in basically every category.

It’s clear he’s a good backup. But he hasn’t proved that he’s good when he needs to play more than just a few times a month at the NHL-level.

David Rittich did file for arbitration today, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens with him. But since the Flames did offer him a qualifying offer, it means they still like him. Whether that’s in the NHL or still at the AHL level, I’m not sure yet.

What about Jon Gillies?

Jon Gillies did not have a successful run in the NHL this year either. When he was recalled when Mike Smith was injured and stayed up when Rittich was sent back down when Smith returned, he had bad numbers in basically every metric. However, the Calgary Flames have said that they like what they see in Gillies, but will he be enough for the NHL next season?

It’s hard to say, especially when he’s played so few games in the NHL. All I know is that, in the games he has started, you can’t justify keeping him as the backup next season.

If not those two, who’s available?

There are barely any UFA goaltenders left right now. An option I would have liked the Calgary Flames to target was Carter Hutton, but he signed with the Buffalo Sabres. They could always make a trade for a goaltender, but let’s see who’s readily available right now.

There are only four UFA goalies available right now who played in the NHL last season, but I’m not sure if we can really count on Jeff Glass. So for now, let’s say three. There is Kari Lehtonen, Steve Mason, and Ondrej Pavelec. Last season, Lehtonen and Mason both had cap hits above $4-million, which is absolutely too high for a backup. And they have both played in starting roles as well, which makes me think that they’re each expecting at least $3 million.

Pavelec, on the other hand, was on a contract of $1.3 million AAV. But he also didn’t do that great last season. So this leaves us wondering if it’s even worth picking up a free agent goalie. Right now, it doesn’t seem like it.

The only other option I wouldn’t mind the Flames to target would be Juuse Saros, however he was offered a qualifying offer by the Nashville Predators and he didn’t file for arbitration today. So he’s off the table.


There isn’t an available goaltender right now that would be a good fit for the Flames unless they make a trade. But would the Flames even get a goaltender? They seem set on Mike Smith and one of Rittich or Gillies.

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TL;DR: The Flames should target another goaltender. But there isn’t a free agent available and it doesn’t seem like the Flames even want to get another goalie. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the team ends up doing.