After years of discussion and debate over the organizational goaltending depth, the 2021–22 season was a bright spot for the Calgary Flames between the pipes.
In the NHL, Jacob Markstrom, although having a tough series against the Edmonton Oilers, is up for the Vezina Trophy. In the minors, Dustin Wolf won the award for the AHL’s best goaltender, despite it being his rookie season. And lower in the depth charts, Arsenii Sergeev was recently named the USHL’s top goaltender. It was a record year for the Flames’ netminders to say the least.
Not to be outdone, Dan Vladar—acquired last summer in a deal with the Boston Bruins—ended up being everything and more in terms of a backup goaltender. That is what made it even more surprising to see Vladar’s name come up on potential trade target lists right now.
Of course most of this has been driven externally, rather than the Flames pushing that narrative, but it’s important to note just how critical Vladar is to the team’s success this season and at least next season.
Vladar’s 2021–22 performance
Let’s start out with the past and make something extremely clear: Vladar had an outstanding season for the Calgary Flames. He won’t show up on anyone’s Vezina ballot, or be recognized as the team’s MVP, but he was a key cog in this season’s success.
Vladar’s numbers in his first season with the Flames
|Games Played||Games Started||Record||Shutouts||GAA||SV%||GSAA|
Vladar started a total of 19 games this season, which of course is due to the fact that Darryl Sutter relied upon Markstrom for the bulk of his games. That being said, in those 23 appearances he posted a 13–6–2 record, assisting the team to 28 of their 111 points—not even remotely a trivial amount for a backup at all.
If we take a look at the same stats for the backup goaltenders over the last few seasons, it shows just how impactful Vladar was.
|Flames Backup||Season||Games Played||Games Started||Record||Shutouts||GAA||SV%||GSAA|
Now there is a lot to break down when looking at the last few years of backup goaltenders. First off, what defines a true backup? For this chart, we took a look at the goaltender that played the second most games behind a starter.
That being said, I don’t think Cam Talbot’s outstanding 2019–20 season should be considered as a backup. Same with Mike Smith in 2018–19, both of those seasons were split between them and David Rittich, which makes it hard for the team to say they had a backup goaltender, when the Flames had more of a 1A/1B goaltending system.
But when you take a look at the players who demonstrably played in a less prominent role, Vladar’s numbers shine through. It can be hard for a goaltender who only starts 19 games to really find their footing consistently. Take Henrik Karlsson for example, playing in just nine games he posted a dreadful record of 1–4–2. The days under Miikka Kiprusoff were dark as the backup, with those games almost counting as automatic losses.
In just his 23 games played, Vladar’s numbers were as good as the team needed them to be. He posted a GSAA of -0.5, which was the lowest for a Flames true backup in over ten years. Essentially, Vladar pretty much was even in terms of GSAA meaning he never hurt the team, but also wasn’t at Jacob Markstom levels.
Vladar came into the Flames organization and shone as their definitive backup.
The Flames’ backup outlook for 2022-23
Looking forward, it becomes even more important for the Flames to retain Vladar’s services.
The most important reason is that Vladar is already signed for next season at an extremely—extra emphasis on extremely—team-friendly deal at an $750,000 AAV. You aren’t going to find that many quality goaltenders for that price this offseason. With the Flames’ cap situation about to get really tight depending on the status of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, they need all the space they can get.
Vladar is also 24 years old and remains a restricted free agent after his contract is up. Depending on where others are at in their development curve, Vladar could be a key piece for the team moving forward.
When looking down the depth chart, there also really isn’t a goaltender that can take his spot next season. Wolf needs to continue his development in the AHL for at least another season if not more before making the jump to the NHL, Adam Wener is a Group 6 unrestricted free agent and may not be back with the organization next season, Sergeev and Daniil Chechelev are both still extremely young and need more time to develop, and Tyler Parsons has essentially disappeared.
The Flames need a dependable backup to fill in when Jacob Markstrom needs a rest, which Vladar has already proven he can do.
Who wouldn’t want Vladar?
There is absolutely no surprise that there are rumblings around the hockey world suggesting that teams should try to trade for Vladar. A young goaltender under team control with a team-friendly deal, in addition to proven NHL experience would make any NHL general manager very happy.
Of course, it’s pretty simple: the Flames won’t be moving Vladar this summer.
Even if they are able to improve upon their original asset spent, it would just make no sense for the team. Excluding the contracts of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames know what they have in Vladar and wouldn’t give him away just because anoother team’s goaltending situation isn’t as strong.
What was once a weakness has become the Flames’ biggest weapon, and Vladar is instrumental in the Flames’ goaltending success.