Jon Gillies is the training camp decision no one is talking about

In case you missed it, today is the day that teams officially report to training camp. The majority of the day consisting of fitness testing with on-ice sessions beginning on Friday, but it is still the first official event that signifies it’s time to truly start gearing up for the NHL season.

The Calgary Flames, like all teams, have many questions facing them come the start of training camp. When will Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane sign? What resulting moves will have to be made should they sign for more than expected value? Who will earn the starting goaltender job between David Rittich and Cam Talbot? What will the forward and defensive combinations look like?

There are so many intriguing story lines to follow entering day one of camp, but there is one that isn’t really getting enough attention. That would be what the Flames will do with Jon Gillies.

Drafted 75th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, Gillies was poised to be the goaltender of the future. A big presence in net, a skill set the Flames desired, and an eventual college championship pedigree that set himself up for a successful NHL future.

Now 25 years of age, Gillies is far from being a number one goaltender in the NHL, in fact he has been fighting for ice time and battling injuries over the past few seasons that has made his development far more interesting.

Appearing in 12 NHL contests over the past three seasons, Gillies has posted a 2.71 GAA and 0.903 SV% with a 4-5-1 record. Last season he didn’t appear in a single NHL game, after appear in 11 during the 2017-18 campaign.

David Rittich, signed after being scouted overseas, has jumped him on the depth chart, while Tyler Parsons is being given more opportunity to develop as the “future”. With more goaltending prospects coming through the pipeline, Gillies’ placement in the organization is far more confusing now than when it was two seasons ago whilst negotiating a new contract.

That is where the biggest issue lies. Gillies’ contract sets the precedent and will make what the organization does with him far more challenging than people are taking notice to.

The Deal

Signed in 2018 offseason, Gillies earned himself a two-year, $1.5M contract that had an AAV of $750K. Totally manageable right? The caveat was that the second year of the deal would convert his contract from a two-way into a one-way deal, meaning that his salary stays the same in the NHL and AHL. Because of age and experience, he’s also eligible for waivers. If the Flames intend on keeping two goaltenders in the NHL, then Gillies would require waivers to be sent down to the AHL; they can’t move him between the leagues risk free.

Yikes.

Last season, it was a battle to see who would be the backup to Mike Smith. This season will be more of a battle to see how the organization can retain Gillies services moving forward. Three NHL goaltenders that might all be on the opening roster? This predicament feels reminiscent of the days of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, and Joni Ortio.

So what can the Flames realistically do with Gillies come the end of training camp?

the NHL

The best option for the player would be for Gillies to impress in training camp just enough to somehow earn a spot on the NHL roster. That is quite the ask, as Rittich and Cam Talbot both appear to be locks for the goaltending position, but it’s not impossible. Even though the Flames have had disastrous results with having three NHL goalies on the roster, if they want to retain Gillies enough then this is the safest route.

The biggest issue with that would be in terms of the salary cap. Using CapFriendly’s Armchair-GM tool, we can see that even with extremely conservative projections for Tkachuk and Mangiapane, in addition to Juuso Valimaki going on LTIR, the Flames would be over the salary cap with Gillies on the roster:

Even with Matthew Tkachuk at $7.5M (we can all hope), and Mangiapane at $900k, this still causes the Flames to be over the cap by just under $500k. This also leaves them with little wiggle room in terms of signing a potential PTO. Even if the Flames were to bury for example Austin Czarnik‘s cap hit in the minors, and sign Devante Smith-Pelly to a minimum $700k deal, they would still be over by a minuscule amount:

By keeping Gillies on the active roster, it makes the team’s forward flexibility and deployment that much harder. It may not even be possible if Tkachuk and Mangiapane go higher.

Test the waiver wire

Easily the riskiest option available, the Flames may have to send Gillies to the minors via waivers come the end of training camp. A once highly touted prospect could be lost for nothing. That isn’t always a guarantee.

Although everyone jumps towards the Paul Byron debacle a few years ago, remember that the Flames also were able to slide Curtis Lazar through waivers last season. Of course he ended up leaving for nothing anyways, but the point being that a player is not always guaranteed to be taken.

Should the Flames place Gillies on waivers on say the final day before rosters are set, and a team were to pick him up, then that team would be required to keep Gillies on their NHL roster. What is the appetite for most teams to carry three NHL goaltenders? Probably limited, so the Flames could have a chance.

You do run into a situation where a team, say the Ottawa Senators, could want to acquire a younger goaltender and deal with the ramifications afterwards. That would be the biggest risk for the Flames to monitor, but on the final day before rosters are set some teams may not have the ability to do so anyways.

It’s risky, but it could work, and the Flames would be able to retain Gillies’ services and give him another season of more playing time.

Trade Him

Although the least desirable rout, the Flames may need to face reality and recoup the best possible asset for Gillies while they still can. There was interest in Gillies a few seasons ago, but that has largely disappeared over time. There could be a team looking for his services, but right now it’s tough to identify a likely team.

It would be also tricky to gauge his value. There aren’t a ton of pure goaltender prospect trades in the NHL. Sometimes they are often thrown into deals, or already established in the NHL before getting dealt, so quantifying a return makes things hard. Of course, any return via trade might be better than losing him for nothing via the waiver wire.

If the Flames want to acquire a mid-range selection, that should be doable. That being said, do they still perceive him as a likely option down the road? If so, does gambling on a future selection make sense as a trade-off?

What to do?

All three options are on the table for the Flames right now, with the waiver wire being the most likely at this point in time. Things could change quickly though, injuries are always a possibility and perhaps even Talbot’s game is not up to par with Gillies come training camp. It’s a long shot, but Gillies may end up having to step into a role early if something were to happen.

When looking at the depth in net after Gillies, there is zero NHL experience. It would make sense for the Flames to want to keep Gillies for insurance since he appears to be a better option compared to their younger rookies. As we have seen this past season with Jordan Binnington, all it takes is for one hot streak for a goaltender to stick in the NHL. That isn’t to say Jon Gillies is the next Binnington, but the now Stanley Cup winning goaltender also went through a period where he was passed over by his organization.

The goaltending position is highly volatile, and with not a large enough sample size at the moment, it’s tough to completely discount Gillies. That being said, what the Flames chose to do with him on the 2019-20 roster could prove to be an important decision that isn’t being discussed enough.


Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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