The Calgary Flames seem to be involved in every single trade and signing rumour.
Brad Treliving has never been afraid to make big moves, and after a season that saw the Flames bow out of the playoffs in the first round yet again, there is the expectation that big changes are coming for the Flames.
I discussed a potential trade involving Matt Dumba last week, but the most interesting rumours lately have been around goaltending.
Goaltending has been a consistent question mark for the Flames for the better part of the decade and this offseason provides a unique opportunity for that question to be answered once again.
There are many goalies who will be available in free agency and trade, and the Flames are expected to be in the mix to acquire all of them. Let’s look into the bigger names the Flames have been tied to.
The Arizona Coyotes are in financial hell, and there seems to be a mandate for the team to spend smartly for the next few seasons. With two competent starting goalies in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper under contract and Adin Hill in the pipeline, the Coyotes are apparently listening to offers for Kuemper to give them cap relief.
The Flames have ties to the Coyotes organization through both Treliving and Don Maloney, and have executed trades in the past. Right now, it’s assumed that the Coyotes are sitting on a trade that would send them a first round pick in exchange for Kuemper.
There isn’t complete certainty that the Flames are the team who have offered that pick but it’s strongly expected that is the case.
Kuemper is coming off a season where he finished with a 2.22 GAA and .928 SV%. That’s good for fourth and third overall respectively among all goalies with at least 20 games played. Over the past two seasons combined, Kuemper has a 2.29 GAA and .926 SV%, ranked second overall in the NHL for both statistics.
However, he played just 29 games this year due to injury and other than 2019 where he started 53 games, he’s never surpassed 31. He’s a formidable goalie, but reliability as a starter could be an issue. He will also cost team assets to acquire, which is not the case for the next couple players who are pending unrestricted free agents (UFA).
It’s been reported on Vancouver and Calgary media that the Flames have serious interest in Jacob Markstrom. Sportsnet’s Pat Steinberg confirmed that the team is targeting Markstrom with the main caveat being Markstrom actually hitting free agency. If that happens, the Flames could be major players for his services.
Markstrom would immediately fill the starting goalie slot for Calgary. There is no doubt that Markstrom can handle the load of a number one. He played 43 games this past season, and 60 the previous two for the Vancouver Canucks. Over that time he’s finished with at least a .912 SV% and 2.75 GAA. Last season he finished 10th in Vezina Trophy voting and is expected to be a top five finisher for the award this season.
If he gets to free agency, Markstrom would be an incredible add for the Flames… at the right price. As a UFA, it’s conceivable that he could command up to $6 million per year on a six-year contract, big bucks for a goalie who is entering his 31-year-old season. If the Flames’ window to win is open though, it’s worth the risk in later years to secure a solid Markstrom for the first three or four.
And then, after talking about the sexy names of Kuemper and Markstrom, there is always the familiar face in Cam Talbot. There wasn’t much more Talbot could have done for the Flames this postseason outside of Game 6 against the Stars. He finished with a 2.42 GAA, .924 SV% and two shutouts in 10 games. He was lights out and proved why he can and will be a starter in the NHL again.
The Flames’ familiarity with Talbot both helps and hurts his chances to return to the team. With the mandate to shake things up, perhaps bringing Talbot back doesn’t make sense when a comparable goalie can be signed instead. It keeps the locker room fresh and it’s a change that doesn’t cost a whole lot. However, Talbot fit in really well with the team and there is always risk when introducing a new personality to a locker room. You don’t want a repeat of James Neal.
It’s also known that Talbot and David Rittich have a positive existing relationship which is important to have. This, on top of the fact that Talbot likely costs less costs less than Markstrom to sign, makes him a very possible re-signing for the Flames come free agency.
The devil you know. Rittich was the team’s starting goalie and MVP for the first half of the season. Until the end of December 2019, Rittich had a 17-10-5 record, 2.78 GAA, .912 SV%, and two shutouts. He was a deserving NHL all star and all deserving of his moniker of Big Save Dave.
However, he suffered an injury in his first game of the new year and was never the same. He really struggled in the second half of the regular season and lost the starting job to Talbot down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Rittich has proved that he has the skill to be a starter in the NHL, but unfortunately has not been able to perform at that level for a full season. Injuries happen but it’s hard to evaluate just what Rittich’s ceiling is without a full season of health play to look at.
Still, there’s no denying Rittich’s fiery personality and obvious talent give him the tools to be not only an effective goalie but a quality teammate in the NHL. With a full season to play with, Rittich could ascend to one of the top goalies in the league and it would be a shame to give up on him before he has the chance to show us what he’s got.
The Flames are just one of many teams linked to Matt Murray this offseason. The Oilers are also rumoured to be pursuing the Penguins’ goalie and it probably makes more sense to let the Oilers acquire him instead.
Murray had the rare privilege of winning two Stanley Cups in his first two seasons in the NHL. Both Cup wins happened when he was a rookie too, which is a stat for the history books.
However, Murray really struggled last season and ended up losing the starting job to Tristan Jarry for the majority of the year. Murray finished with a terrible .899 SV% along with -11.60 goals saved above expectation. He was a liability for the Penguins and it’s no surprise they want to transition to Jarry as their goalie going forward.
That being said, maybe Murray does still have gas in the tank and just needs a new team to play behind. With a fresh situation, perhaps he can return to the form he showed in his back-to-back Cup winning postseasons.
He’s entering his 27-year-old season so he’s not old by any means, but he’s also not young. As a pending RFA, the Flames would have to either acquire his rights from the Penguins, trade for him after the Penguins sign him to a contract, or sign him to an offer sheet.
Marc-ANdre Fleury, Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, etc.
This group of goalies are probably ones the Flames should completely avoid. All have had incredible careers already, but are well past their prime and will cost significantly more than they are worth.
Marc-Andre Fleury is entering his 36-year-old season and still has two seasons left with a $7 million cap hit. Braden Holtby is entering his 32-year-old season and finished with an abysmal 3.11 GAA and .897 SV% last season. Corey Crawford is entering his 36-year-old season and has averaged under 36 games played over the past three seasons due to injuries.
Repetition, repetition, repetition… Any time one of these names pop up, the Flames should be repeating the following words: “Absolutely not.” These goalies were all elite at the height of their careers, but those years are likely well behind them. The Flames should generally avoid these names.
Who’s next in net?
Goaltending issues and the Flames, name a more iconic duo… As the Flames work on determining what type of team they’ll be icing in the upcoming 2020-21 season, they already have their work cut out in front of them in terms of their forwards and defensemen.
Throw in the issue of figuring out their goaltending and it’s clear Treliving should be in store for a busy few months. Whatever the case, the Flames stand to benefit in making their decision sooner rather than later, as the first domino that falls might set to precedent for the remainder of the offseason.
Sign the Pledge: Anti-racist hockey fans for real diversity in hockey
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images