Last season saw the Calgary Flames begin with one of the most unprecedentedly impressive goalie tandems in the NHL. With newly signed Jacob Markstrom as the starter and David Rittich as the backup, the Flames made modern day NHL history by having a goalie tandem that both played in the previous NHL all-star game.
Unfortunately, this historic tandem was broken up in advance of the 2021 trade deadline. The Flames sent Rittich to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a draft pick, and promoted Louis Domingue to be Markstrom’s backup. Domingue’s contract was up at the end of last season, and the Flames have chosen to go in a different direction for the backup role this year.
This offseason, Brad Treliving acquired two young goaltenders that will be battling it out for that backup role. Daniel Vladar was brought in from the Boston Bruins for a third-round pick, and Adam Werner, previously with the Colorado Avalanche, was signed in free agency.
Let’s take a closer look at each goalie.
Vladar is a 23-year-old from Praha, Czech Republic. He towers at 6’5″ and weighs in at 194 lbs, definitely already possessing the size to be an NHL goaltender. He was drafted by the Bruins in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft, and has done nothing but impress at every level he has played in. Year-over-year, Vladar has improved almost across the board. Note in the following table, the final season saw him get promoted to the NHL.
He has played primarily in the AHL the past few seasons, and has done extremely well for the Providence Bruins. Over his AHL career so far, Vladar has a .920 SV%, 2.31 GAA, seven shutouts, and a 36-26-13 record.
The AHL is as close to the NHL as you can get. It’s structured the same way, teams play within systems that are common in the NHL, and the quality of players on both sides of the ice is high. Vladar has proven he can not only hold his own, but be a legit starter in the AHL. It’s no surprise that he was ranked as Boston’s top goalie prospect by several outlets heading into last season, including NBC, NHL dot com, and others.
Vladar’s NHL experience
After four seasons in the AHL, he finally played his first NHL games with the Bruins. He played in five games and though his overall numbers don’t look very good, that is almost exclusively due to one awful game dragging down solid performances in the other four.
Overall, his NHL totals are a 2-2-1 record, 3.40 GAA, and .886 SV%. However, if you remove that last stinker of a game against the Washington Capitals, his numbers improve drastically to a 2-1-1 record, 2.25 GAA, and .922 SV%. Incredible numbers and a very promising first run for a young goaltender with limited NHL experience.
It’s worth noting that Vladar has had to battle back from a few injuries as he moved up the pro ranks. He sufferred two concussions that held him back in his first pro season, and broke both his wrists in a training accident ahead of the 2017–18 season. He’s come back strongly though, and hasn’t had any other issues since.
Turning to Micah McCurdy of HockeyViz, his analysis of Vladar shows a slightly below-average goaltender. Again, that final game of his year against the Capitals is a huge reason for his depressed numbers.
The above chart shows that Vladar allowed more goals than expected, although a five game sample size is quite small. McCurdy’s analysis points to Vladar allowing 3% more goals than an average NHL netminder so far.
Vladar’s body of work and improvement in each professional season is very encouraging, and all signs point to him being a guy who can play backup minutes for the Flames.
On thing the Flames absolutely love though, is internal competition. That’s likely why they also added Werner, who is an intriguing backup option in his own right.
Werner is a 24-year-old Swedish goalie with similar size to Vladar; Werner stands at 6’5″ and weighs in at 205 lbs. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Avalanche and came over to North America for the 2017–18 season.
Werner’s European experience
Throughout his time in Europe, Werner posted strong numbers in some of the best leagues in the country.
|2013–14||Färjestad BK J20||J20 SuperElit||9||2.96||0.894||1||6-3-0|
|2014–15||Färjestad BK J20|
|2015–16||Färjestad BK J20||J20 SuperElit||30||2.49||0.916||3||20-10-0|
|2020–21||HC Vita Hästen (Loan)||HockeyAllsvenskan||5||3.87||0.862||0||2-3-0|
It’s clear to see the consistent progression and improvement in Werner’s game as he gained more experience in each Swedish league. His save percentage in the SuperElit—Sweden’s top junior league—improved from 0.894, to 0.906, to 0.916.
In the next level up, the Allsvenskan, Werner’s save percentage improved from 0.892 to 0.915. The last entry in the table above shows a rough five game stretch in the Allsvenskan, but this was during last season’s pause when he was on loan from the Avalanche. It isn’t exactly fair to include this in his Allsvenskan progression.
What is the most impressive for Werner is his last season in Sweden in 2018–19. As a 21-year-old, he played 26 games in the SHL, the top men’s league in Sweden. He posted an absolutely dazzling 2.02 GAA and 0.926 SV%, added three shutouts, and finished with a 15-9-0 record. He was simply sensational. By all accounts, he was the league’s third best goalie that season behind two goalies that were 25 and 26 years old with eight combined SHL seasons between them. Very impressive numbers from Werner, an SHL rookie.
Byron Bader from HockeyProspecting indentified Werner’s strong progression in Sweden as well.
Werner’s North American experience
Looking at his stats in North America shows a less promising player, however.
|2017–18||San Antonio Rampage||AHL||4||3.35||0.880||0||2-1-0|
In the AHL, he had a rough first season, but improved to decent numbers by his second season. Nothing incredible by any means, but the progression is there, and it was good enough for the Avalanche to call him up to the NHL in 2019-20 when he got into two games. He was okay at the NHL level, but a two game sample size is hard to draw any conclusions from in either direction.
Which Flames goalie has the inside track?
It’s almost certainly Vladar. Judging from what Treliving said after acquiring the two goalies, it’s clear that he intends for Vladar to be the backup this season. It will be his job to lose, but Werner provides a very interesting second option.
Werner definitely doesn’t have the same type of numbers that Vladar does in the AHL. However, being slightly bigger, one year younger, and likely with a larger chip on his shoulder, he’ll make things interesting.
In all honesty, these two goalies are probably better than most of the backup options available in free agency. Treliving gave up a third-round pick to get Vladar which is a small price to pay, and if either Vladar or Werner can play 20-30 games next season it’s a huge win. Whether that will be the case with Darryl Sutter’s traditionally heavy starter usage is to be decided.
Vladar has the inside track for now, but the most ideal scenario is for either one to emerge from training camp as a definitive backup option. It could go either way with these two goaltenders, and for the Flames, that’s a good thing.