For the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013, the Flames will start the season with a true star goalie in net, Jacob Markstrom. In the time between these two goalies, the Flames have started 13 different goalies, with only two even playing 100 games with the Flames.
The remarkable turnover in the crease has generally not led to strong results for the team, so to celebrate the end of the goalie carousel, we decided to take a look at where each of those goalies are now.
Four are no longer playing, four are playing in Europe, and remarkably, five are still in the NHL. Here’s a look at who ended up where after their time in the Flames carousel.
Lack played in only four games with the Flames, and is now retired due to injury. In retirement, he has started coaching with the Arizona State Sun Devils, where prospect Demetrios Koumontzis plays.
Backstrom retired from the NHL in 2016 (also after playing only four games with the Flames), before playing three years in Finland. In Finland, he put up strong numbers in three seasons. After the 2018-19 season he did not sign another professional contract and has not played since.
Fans will likely remember MacDonald for the many games he platooned with Kipper in 2013. After Kiprusoff’s retirement, MacDonald played only 11 more games with the Flames. In those games, he performed quite poorly, even compared to many of the other stopgap goalies and temporary solutions the Flames employed between the pipes.
After his stint in Calgary, MacDonald moved to the AHL and then to the German league, where he last played in the 2016-17 season.
Years after MacDonald, Chad Johnson came to town. Expected to serve as a backup to Brian Elliott, Johnson ended up playing 36 games with the team before being traded from the team as part of the Mike Smith deal. He has since played in St. Louis and Anaheim, but did not sign a pro contract for the 2019-20 season.
How did they do?
Below is a quick look at how each of these goalies performed in their time with the team. All stats are 5v5, score/venue adjusted, courtesy of NaturalStatTrick. MacDonald’s stats only include his games played after Kiprusoff’s retirement.
Clearly, this was not a strong group in Calgary. Aside from Johnson, who played fine for part of a season, Lack and Backstrom are barely blips on the radar of Flames goaltender history.
MacDonald had a longer tenure with the Flames, but none of it is worth remembering. Considering the age or stage of their career these goalies were at when they reached Calgary, it is not particularly surprising to see their careers ended shortly after their times here.
Playing in Europe
Four former Flames netminders are currently playing in Europe: Reto Berra, Joni Ortio, Jonas Hiller, and Karri Ramo. The former two didn’t make too much of a mark, whereas the latter two were starters for a period of time.
Reto Berra, best remembered for making an unbelievable bicycle-kick save, played for the Avalanche, Panthers, and Ducks, and their minor league affiliates. Since then, he has been dominant in Switzerland, posting .920 SV% and higher for consecutive seasons.
Unlike Berra, Joni Ortio did not make any particularly memorable saves. Maybe this is why he was not given nearly the same opportunity in the NHL, and moved from Calgary to Stockton, and then on to various European leagues.
Like Berra, he has played well in Europe. This season, he has a .918 SV% in 18 games in the KHL. Before that, he put up strong numbers in the top Swiss and Swedish leagues for years. Since leaving North America, he has been successful everywhere he has played.
Jonas Hiller played 52 games in the 2014-15 season in the starter’s position, the first goalie with any staying power in Calgary, and ended his tenure with the Flames with 78 total games played. Hiller didn’t stick though, as the team looked to move in a different direction in the crease when he got older.
Remarkably, he is still playing at age 38 in Switzerland. Since returning, he has posted strong numbers, including a 0.918 save percentage this year.
Karri Ramo played even more than Hiller, with a total of 111 games played in a Flames jersey. However, Ramo never established himself as a number one goalie in the NHL and found himself back in Europe for the 2016-17 season. Now 34, he has an .888 save percentage in the SHL this year.
How did they do?
These goalies never quite worked out as long term starters with the Flames, but have gone on to have respectable professional careers elsewhere. Again, these stats reflect only the player’s time with the Flames.
Playing in the NHL
After seeing so many goalie’s careers suffer after their time in Calgary, its important for the sake of our sanity to also recognize those from the carousel who have managed to stick in the NHL. Even after not making the cut in Calgary for various reasons, these goalies found work elsewhere in the NHL: Jon Gillies, Brian Elliott, Mike Smith, Cam Talbot, and David Rittich.
Calling Gillies an NHL goalie might be a stretch, but he is at worst third on the St. Louis Blues’ goalie depth chart. If he can perform better than Ville Husso, the presumptive backup to Binnington next year, he may finally crack an NHL roster as a regular.
He, like Berra, has one incredible save on his NHL resume, and we must give credit where credit is due; it was a sensational stop.
Elliott split his time in the Flames crease with Johnson, but has managed to have more success than Johnson in his time since leaving the team, playing in Philadelphia ever since.
Unfortunately for Elliott, he will probably always be remembered by Flames fans as the goalie who was in net for the 2017 sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. Not a great legacy as a Flame. He did have a case for one goal to be called back though.
Like several others, Smith has, for unclear reasons, also continued to find work in the NHL. Next season, he will be returning to Edmonton, likely as the 1B to Mikko Koskinen.
We don’t need to go into Smith’s legacy as a Flame because that would incite too much anguish. He’ll always be remembered as the guy who completely blew it in the game where Jarome Iginla’s number was retired. Safe to say it’s much more comforting to see him score into his own net wearing an Oilers jersey than a Flames one.
The half of last year’s tandem that won the starting job in the playoffs, Talbot has been a rare bright spot for Flames goalies lately. Talbot basically assumed starting responsibilities once the calendar switched to 2020, and was incredible in the playoffs for the Flames.
Deserving of a nice raise, Talbot signed a three-year contract with the Minnesota Wild in free agency.
Rittich was very strong in the first half of each of the past two seasons, but suffered injuries that derailed his momentum. Smith took over two seasons ago, and Talbot last season. Still, Rittich has proven to be a reliable backup and 1A goalie when healthy, and even earned an all-star nod last season.
He’s a fan favourite because of his ability to make highlight reel saves and for his fiery personality.
Rittich will return for another season in Calgary as the backup to Markstrom.
How did they do?
With the exception of Gillies, the other four goalies actually had fairly good numbers in Calgary. Consistency was a major issue for all of them though, one of the major reasons why, other than Rittich, they no longer wear the Flaming C.
The End of the Carousel
In search of consistency, Flames management locked up Markstrom this offseason, effectively ending the goalie carousel’s rotation. If things work out as planned (and they should), Markstrom will be the Flames starter for years to come.
Even if they don’t, the nature of his contract makes it very likely he will have a spot on the Flames NHL roster regardless of performance, considering his salary and no-movement clause. Luckily, all signs point to Markstrom continuing his strong play into next season and beyond.
With only one position available to flip each season, the rate of turnover will dramatically decrease over the next few years. If Rittich keeps up his strong play and is re-signed, the rotation will stop altogether, finally allowing fans a break from the uncertainty in net.
Predicting goalie performance is notoriously tricky, but it looks like at least for now, the rotation of stop-gap solutions is over in Calgary, allowing fans a (hopefully long) break from the stress of inconsistent goaltending.