This shortened 2021 hockey season has shown that the Calgary Flames aren’t shy of starting Jacob Markstrom more often than not. He’s started 38 of 50 games so far, and had it not been for his midseason injury, that number would have been higher as he was their best available option to give them a fighting chance of clawing back into the playoffs. Had the Flames been in a better situation, perhaps he would have been rested more with more appearances for David Rittich and Louis Domingue. What should the Flames do about their backup goaltender next year?
Calling for backup
The Flames traded Rittich heading into the NHL trade deadline, haven’t started Domingue yet, and Artyom Zagidulin had an unfortunate NHL debut in a relief appearance during a 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. There’s just too little data regarding their current backup situation, and nothing quite inspires confidence.
Calgary’s options consist of keeping Domingue, whose last NHL appearance was March 1, 2020 with the Vancouver Canucks. Without seeing any action in now over 13 months, Domingue becomes a bigger question mark than not, although he’s been keeping his spirits high when not on the ice with baking. Of course, now as the backup, he’s skated in more practises, but that’s pretty much it.
With just 11.3% of the votes, the option of bringing back Domingue isn’t appealing to many at all. His stats have been on the decline over the past few seasons playing on less-than-stellar teams, but after taking pretty much a whole season off due to circumstances he couldn’t control, it makes it hard to justify keeping him. Who knows if he would even come back? Being one of many goaltenders stuck in taxi squad purgatory this season, it’s hard to feel super connected to a team.
Zagidulin has seen limited play as well, being on the Flames’ taxi squad. In six appearances in the AHL with the Stockton Heat, he posted a 3-3-0 record with a save percentage of .911. A year ago, he was 16-7-5 with a .898 SV%. Neither of these goalies would be ideal options for the Flames, and given this current season, it might be a recipe for overworking Markstrom once more, which could add to injury risk all over again. He’s a slightly more popular option with 17.6% of the votes, but it’s still a move that doesn’t definitively make a statement for Calgary.
Then there is the option that the Flames could circle back and see if Rittich is interested in fulfilling a very specific role with fully defined expectations. It’d require some negotiations to make it clear what Rittich is meant to do as a backup, not to mention the salary expectations. It’s possible, and 26.1% of voters would welcome this idea, but it’s also unlikely that a deal could be made unless Rittich really wants to come back to Calgary.
And finally, the option with the most votes, finding a different backup goaltender was popular with 45.1% of voters selecting it. It seems as though the Flames would be expected to look elsewhere, and this could very well be a move they make as a part of their retool. Last offseason, Brad Treliving sought a long-term starting goaltender and found one in Markstrom, so finding a goaltender to fill the backup role should in theory come a bit more easily.
Not exactly back to square one
The Flames’ 2021-22 roster will undoubtedly look different, but it all depends on which domino is the first to fall in their retool. Things could take a drastic turn with a “blow it all up” approach, but the more likely scenario is that one move will be made at a time that will slowly reveal the Flames’ cards and intentions. Especially with the flat salary cap, fixing a roster while trying to remain competitive could make for one of Treliving’s defining offseasons.
Only time will tell what management sees in this team and which players they want to keep around. The backup goaltending position is one the Flames will have to address eventually anyway, but after so many years of the Flames’ goaltending carousel turning season after season, it’s nice to have Markstrom at the helm and for Calgary to have less worry between the pipes.
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