Most Calgary Flames fans don’t have fond memories of the Karri Ramo days. Probably with good reason. But he has become something of a symbol in today’s weak goalie market.
This has been a fairly weird NHL season so far in terms of goaltending.
Many teams that have otherwise good rosters are being held back by sub-par goaltending. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of “if only we had a decent goalie.” Several big-name starters have been hit by injuries, age, or perhaps just an off season, and are beginning to look like the netminders of yesteryear.
I understand goaltending is the most unpredictable position in hockey and the most difficult one to perform consistently well in. I also don’t consider myself a “goalie connoisseur.”
The Goalie Market
When a goalie is performing badly, the reaction from the ever wise and rational keyboard GMs is to offload said goalie somehow. Calgary Flames fans and even media have been calling for Mike Smith’s head all season. I doubt players like Martin Jones and Jake Allen have been spared the same treatment.
Setting aside the fact that it’s almost always a bad idea to “sell low” by trading someone who is playing below their potential, there’s a bigger problem with that approach. The consensus is that the goalie market is exceptionally weak right now.
I’ve heard essentially the same exchange between Elliotte Friedman and other podcasts hosts or analysts multiple times. I’m paraphrasing only slightly:
Sportsperson: “Elliotte, this team has a lousy goaltender. What should they do?”
Friedman: “Well, ideally they would get rid of that goalie and pursue a new one. But who is available right now?”
The name Jimmy Howard has been brought up a few times as a potential target for teams looking to upgrade in net. And… that’s about it.
The shallow goalie market makes sense. Teams that have reliable netminders are clinging on to them for dear life. Goalies that are now considered “available” are, well, available for a reason. They’re not that good.
The Resurrection of Karri Ramo
Hear me out on this. I’m not necessarily saying Karri Ramo will be the salvation of any sinking NHL team.
I’m not even talking exclusively about Ramo. I’m using him as an example of a broader category of goalies; those who hit a rough patch in the NHL, underperformed when they were given a short leash, and haven’t played in the big league since. One might include players like Steve Mason and Jhonas Enroth in that group.
Too many people talk as if there are no goalie options out there, like pursuing a new netminder is just a barren wasteland with no relief. Is that true?
Karri Ramo hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015-16 when he experienced that bad knee injury. After returning to health as a free agent the next year, he signed a PTO with the Toronto Marlies, was winless in three games he played for them and was not heard from again on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
He currently plays in the KHL and put up a 1.94 GAA and .930 Sv% last season. Not bad.
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For all of the bad memories we Flames fans have of our seasons with Ramo, he did show a reasonable degree of consistency, which is hard to find in a goalie. He played 34 games or more in each of his three seasons with the Flames. During that time, his Sv% hovered within the same .003 and his GAA never deviated by more than .05.
In his worst season with the Calgary Flames, he put up a .909 Sv% and a 2.63 GAA. Those numbers (which are not great) would still put him above the current renditions of Carey Price, Matt Murray, Corey Crawford, Martin Jones, Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo, and of course, Mike Smith.
His best season with the Flames featured a .912 Sv% and 2.60 GAA. If he were playing today, those numbers would put him above all of the aforementioned netminders, plus names like Connor Hellebuyck, Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, and even Sergei Bobrovsky.
Let’s face it. Karri Ramo’s numbers with the Calgary Flames were average.
There are several NHL teams that would kill for average goaltending right now.
Can you tell me with certainty that a super-motivated Karri Ramo, at 32 years old, would be worse than an ageing Mike Smith? That teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, or New Jersey Devils would not benefit from signing him to a low-risk contract?
As I’m writing this, just after the Calgary Flames’ 6-4 loss to the Boston Bruins, Mike Smith is 52nd in NHL goaltending with a .886 Sv% and a 3.09 GAA. Karri Ramo never even approached numbers that bad when he was in Calgary. Heck, even Joni Ortio put up better stats.
Now before you get yourself tied in a knot, I’m not saying that Ramo is better than all, or even any, of the NHL starters mentioned above. I also know that goalie injuries have been a problem this season, and have tainted the data in some cases.
But I am saying that based on the numbers alone, he is good enough to play as a backup in the NHL. And that given the current state of the goalie market, which allegedly has “no good options”, I believe he deserves another chance.
Ramo is part of a larger category of goalies who hit a rough patch in the NHL, and then were dealt a fairly harsh fate of being suddenly dropped and swiftly forgotten. They seemingly got the “you’ll never work in this town again” treatment.
Teams struggling for consistency between the pipes, including the Calgary Flames, should take a closer look at that group of goalies. You won’t likely find your next franchise starter, but you may find your Karri Ramo.
For the record, I tweeted “Ramo for backup” in September as a joke. But now I’m starting to think I was on to something.