After a long era of uncertainty in the crease, the Calgary Flames are set up for success in goal today and in the future. Through free agency, trades, and the draft, the Flames have turned a position of weakness into a position of strength. At both the NHL level and in the prospect pipeline, the Flames have identified and acquired goaltending talent without spending significant assets at the draft or in trades.
In the NHL, the team currently boasts one of the leagues most dominant goaltending tandems in Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar. Together, they already have seven shutouts on the year, in just 19 games.
In Markstrom, the team has its starter for the foreseeable future. Big, controlled in his movements, and unbelievably athletic, Markstrom is regarded as one of the top goalies in the league. When he was signed, the expectation was elite play, and he is delivering.
Vladar, on the other hand, was a relatively unknown product when the Flames acquired him for a third-round pick in the offseason. Out of the Boston Bruins farms system, Vladar was an AHL star with little opportunity to grow in Boston, previously stuck behind Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, and then behind Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.
The Flames did well to identify a crowded crease elsewhere in the league and take advantage, adding Vladar at the cost of only a third-round pick. After the start he and the team are off to, it seems like a draft pick well spent.
And, at just 24 years old, the sky really is the limit for Vladar. He could very well still outgrow his backup role with the team and become a starter in the league.
Here are some stats for the Flames’ tandem, with goals saved above expected taken at all situations, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
In Stockton, the goaltending situation is also solid. Two-time CHL goalie of the year Dustin Wolf is holding down the fort, seemingly unaffected by the transition from junior to pro hockey. His .930 save percentage is among the best in the league, and he’s doing it at just 20 years old.
Not to mention he was drafted in the seventh round. Due to concerns about his height (Wolf is six feet tall), he fell to Calgary near the end of the draft. Much like with Vladar, the Flames’ staff deserve credit for identifying an undervalued asset and using their last draft pick of 2019 to get him.
Wolf’s partner, Adam Werner, is also playing well. With a .922 save percentage in four games so far, he is proving he can step into a bigger role in case of an injury higher up the depth chart. He too was acquired at minimal cost—literally minimum, as he was a free agent signing given a league-minimum two-way contract.
Even in the ECHL, the Flames have a promising goalie. Twenty-year-old Daniil Chechelev, a fourth-round pick in 2020, just made his debut, stopping 31 shots and allowing only two goals. His second game didn’t go quite as well as he gave up three goals on 18 shots.
After a few seasons of junior hockey in the MHL, and experience last season in the second-tier Russian pro league, the VHL, Chechelev is another legitimate prospect in goal. Last season, he posted a .912 save percentage in 21 games in the VHL, and a .924 in the MHL.
Minor pro results
|Daniil Chechelev (ECHL)||2||1–1–0||.904|
Arseni Sergeev, another Flames seventh-round selection, looks nearly as promising as Wolf did a few years ago. When he was selected, it was difficult to find information about Sergeev due to the pandemic and the fact that he was playing all the way in Louisiana.
But the bet the Flames made on him is paying huge dividends early. Picked following a strong NAHL season with the Shreveport Mudbugs, he has now graduated to the USHL, where he has an impressive .951 save percentage across eleven games with the Tri-City Storm.
Clearly the scouts saw real talent behind the raw size and athleticism of Sergeev, who is 6’3″ and is just 18 years old.
Complete organizational improvement
Compared to years past, when the NHL ranks were filled with trade-acquired disappointments like Brian Elliott and Mike Smith, and the AHL was filled with disappointing high-end draft picks like Tyler Parsons and Jon Gillies, it’s truly remarkable how much the team has improved in goal, and how few assets have been used to do so.
The credit must largely be placed on the scouts and goalie coaches the team employs. While a turnaround in the Flames’ NHL goaltending can be at least partly attributed to Darryl Sutter, this is a top-to-bottom organizational improvement from consistently disappointing goalie prospects to dominance at every level a Flames’ goalie plays at.
And all it cost was a third, fourth, and pair of seventh-round draft picks, along with about seven million dollars against the cap. Hopefully, all of these goalies can continue their torrid starts for their teams, proving they are more than just hot streaks.
Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia