With the 2021 NHL trade deadline approaching quickly, the Calgary Flames organization will have to make some tough roster decisions. One of those decisions revolves around the future of all-star goalie David Rittich.
A pending unrestricted free agent, it’s unlikely the Flames will be able to keep Rittich in the off-season. With Jacob Markstrom carrying the lion’s share of the starts for the foreseeable future, Rittich will probably be looking for a team needing a starting or a tandem netminder so he can play more games.
How did we get here?
An undrafted free agent from the Czech Republic, the Flames signed Rittich to help fill their pipeline in the AHL, but he ended up beating out a number of goalies in the system for a job in Calgary. He earned tandem duties with both Mike Smith in 2018-19, and Cam Talbot last season.
The 28-year old recorded 0.911 and 0.907 save percentages in those seasons respectively, having a very strong front half of the season, but an injury-plagued back half in both seasons. He quickly became a fan favourite with his fiery personality, and was dubbed “Big Save Dave” for making a number of impossible-looking saves to keep the team in games.
There is no doubt this season has been difficult adjustment for the Flames goalie. With Markstrom signing a six-year contract, Rittich has been relegated to the backup role, seeing fewer starts than he obviously would have liked. However, Rittich has performed admirably in his role so far this season. Here are how the numbers break down, with data from Natural Stat Trick.
He actually has better numbers than Markstrom so far, albeit through less than half the starts. However, the end may be near. He is currently at the end of a two-year, $5.5 million contract, sending him into free agency at the end of the season. Rittich will be one of several goalies league wide entering the market this year, alongside netminders like Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen.
Multiple teams are in the search for veteran goaltending, giving Rittich a strong chance of being picked up quickly. If the Flames are destined to lose Rittich at the end of the season, it warrants the conversation of trading him at this year’s trade deadline.
Pros of trading Rittich
The first and most obvious reason to trade Rittich away is that the Flames have an enormous hole to fill in their top six, and Rittich is an asset that has value. Per TSN, there are 19 goalies currently injured across the NHL, including three for Ottawa. With Anton Forsberg bouncing around from team to team on waivers, there is clearly a market for netminders right now. Rittich’s status as a veteran all-star goalie is a gift in a trade scenario, something the Flames can take advantage of in order to help them elsewhere.
What the Flames need urgently is offence. Picking up a player to contribute in the offensive zone will make a huge impact to a group of struggling forwards. Multiple teams including the Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and more are in need of a goaltender quickly, so the Flames have the opportunity to leverage a deal which could favour Calgary. If the Flames can keep the deal within Canada, they can avoid a 14 day quarantine for both Rittich and the player coming back to Calgary.
If the Flames continue on their current trajectory and look to miss the playoffs as they get closer to the deadline, Rittich may return a high draft pick or two. If the Flames can add more prospects to their cupboards going into next season, this may help them down the road.
We have seen this team find diamonds in the rough in later rounds of the draft as well, like Andrew Mangiapane and Johnny Gaudreau, but if the Flames could even get a second or third round pick, they may find a useful player in a couple of seasons.
Finally, the Flames have other options to temporarily fill the backup role, including Louis Domingue or Artyom Zagidulin who are both on one-year contracts. Another potential solution could be signing 27-year-old Garret Sparks to an NHL deal, who has been outstanding with the Stockton Heat thus far. Both he and Domingue bring a wealth of NHL experience, and if the plan is for Markstrom to be the starter, either could likely be called on for a handful of NHL games this year.
In terms of goaltending behind Rittich on the depth chart, the Flames could realistically fill Rittich’s backup role this season.
|Goalie||Team||Games Played||Save Percentage|
|David Rittich||Calgary Flames||12||.928|
|Louis Domingue||Stockton Heat||2||.843|
|Artyom Zagidulin||Stockton Heat||3||.980|
|Garret Sparks||Stockton Heat||7||.925|
Cons of trading Rittich
Markstrom is set to handle the majority of starts for the Flames from now on, but burnout is always a risk. Having Rittich around is key in allowing Markstrom to rest, while still having an experienced goalie tending the pipes. His performance during Markstrom’s injury absence earlier this season proved Rittich could be an effective insurance policy. It is the first time ever that a team has had two All-Star goalies from the previous year on their roster, leading to the question, can the Flames find a better backup than Rittich?
It is also a risky proposition. If the Flames feel that they can be a playoff team and intend to push for a spot, do they trust Domingue or Sparks to be their backup netminder? Even if they did and the return included a right winger, the Flames would need to be certain that this player would be a fit in the top-six for this year, and ideally for a few seasons down the road.
If the Flames look to move Rittich for a player, the cost for a player with term will likely involved more than just the netminder. If so, they are going to need to give up other assets, which may weaken the team as a whole.
On top of that, Rittich’s teammates have said time and time again they trust him on the ice. He has an infectious personality, clearly making the best of a difficult situation. Making a goaltending change so late in the season has the potential to impact the dynamics and atmosphere of the team. And with how fragile this team has looked of late, making a move like this could be devastating for the chemistry of the team.
The pandemic and quarantine rules also throw a wrench in trading plans. Though there are potential trade partners in Canada, the ability to trade over the border is limited, and there are several teams in the US that could be interested in Rittich. The Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, and Carolina Hurricanes are just a few that come to mind.
Should Rittich stay or go?
Internally, the Flames have a difficult decision to make, but either way, Rittich is likely an expendable piece that would yield a strong return at the deadline. If the team sees themselves as a playoff team this year, they have a number of strong internal options that could take on the odd start here or there.
The Flames will need to go on a bit of a run to make the playoffs, and will need Markstrom to be the foundation on which that run is built. Whoever the backup is doesn’t matter; if Markstrom is not good enough or if he gets injured, the Flames can start getting their golf bags out from storage.
If the Flames do not see themselves as a playoff team this season, moving Rittich for a player with some term or a prospect is smart business. From an ownership point of view, it is unlikely that there will be fans in the stands at all this year, but next year will be key for making up for lost revenue. If the team wants to make money next season, they need to make the playoffs. If the Flames can build stronger for next season by trading Rittich, this may be the best possible scenario.
There have been a number of names swirling around this team including Rickard Rakell, Viktor Arvidsson, and more, and using Rittich plus any of the other assets the team has to acquire a top six winger would go a long way to helping the team make the playoffs next season.
It will be difficult to see Rittich go, having spent his entire NHL career with the Flames, but the Flames organization needs to work to build for the future of this core for however long they choose to keep it together. Moving Rittich at this point may be the best path forward.