Calgary Flames

Breaking down Dan Vladar’s current value with the Flames

The Calgary Flames are more secure in the crease than they have been in years. With two solid options at the NHL level and Dustin Wolf pushing to join the league from the AHL, the idea has been floated to trade Dan Vladar to get value back elsewhere. The team would be wise to resist this temptation.

Jacob Markstrom is a bona fide star, and Vladar an up-and-comer who has proven a capable backup with potential to become something more. Dustin Wolf looks like he could be a future star, and behind him Oscar Dansk and Daniil Chechelev provide quality minor league depth.

But still, there’s no reason to rush into a move to bring Wolf up to the NHL nor to move Vladar now. Vladar is a highly valuable asset to the organization at this point in their roadmap. Let’s breakdown why.

Wolf’s development takes priority

While there’s a fair argument to be made that Wolf is NHL ready after a superb start to his pro career last season, it may not be the best move for him long-term. In the NHL, there’s no doubt he would be relegated to a backup role behind Markstrom. His ice time would be limited and as a result he wouldn’t gain as much experience.

In 2021–22, Vladar proved he was a capable second choice behind Markstrom. But even as the Flames cruised to a playoff spot, he only started 19 games. Wolf would be looking at similar ice time in the NHL at best. In the AHL last year, he played 47 games as a rookie, winning the net from Adam Werner. That number should rise next year now that he’s proven himself to be the starter.

While the quality of opponent is much higher in the NHL and the experience could be considered more valuable because of it, there are also differences in preparation and physical toll between starting and backup goalies.

Wolf’s timeline looks better with Vladar in the picture

Wolf projects to be a starting goalie in the NHL, and is most likely better served developing the habits of a professional starter in the AHL, than the habits of a backup in the NHL. Dealing with the physical toll of starting the majority of the team’s games is no small task, and mastering it at the AHL level will help him one day make the jump to NHL starting goalie.

Some goalies really struggle to take on a starters workload in the NHL. David Rittich, for example, showed he could play at a very high level. But when given the opportunity as a starter, he struggled to maintain that level over the course of an 82-game schedule.

The Flames don’t have all their chips pushed in on Wolf quite yet, but they’d be making a short-term move in moving him up to the NHL now. Vladar is the exact type of player who the Flames want as backup right now, as his presence provides stability for both Markstrom’s workload, and peace of mind for the AHL goalies.

It’s true Vladar could also benefit from more ice time, but at 25 years old, his upside is lower than Wolf’s, and the backup NHL role is best suited for him.

Trade return would be unlikely to improve the Flames

If the Flames were to actually move their backup, there’s a big issue purely with the potential transaction too—it’s unlikely to help the team in the short term. With limited cap space, the Flames would be looking for a draft pick or depth forward in return.

But quality depth forwards are still available on the free agent market, and cost only cap space. Even if it is quite limited, its better to use the space available without giving up Vladar. A depth forward is the last real need the team needs to fill before the 2022–23 season. If there’s no trade to be made, there’s free agency. If all else fails, they can promote internally. There’s simply no need make room for a relatively pricier forward by giving up a quality backup.

And considering Vladar’s league-minimum cap hit, trading him opens up only a sliver of cap space. It’d be inconsequential for whichever forward they bring in.

Wrong move at the wrong time

Further, the trade return at this point would likely be a draft pick (or picks). Given he was just traded for a third-round draft pick last year, his value is likely around there or slightly higher. His performance with the Flames could fetch a third plus a late-round pick. However, subtracting Vladar is not a wise move at this point in the offseason. The Flames would then have to revisit the free agent market with more flexibility to make their final moves.

While it’s never a bad thing to have more draft capital to help build for the future, the Flames are clearly in win-now mode. The acquisitions of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and MacKenzie Weegar prove that.

Goaltending is arguably the most important part of winning. That said, the Flames are in the enviable position of having the depth to survive even a fairly long-term injury to Markstrom if they have to. Without Vladar, things start getting thin an awful lot quicker in case of an injury. Wolf or Dansk would be recalled, where the duo has a grand total of six games of NHL experience between them—all of which were by Dansk.

For a cap-strapped team in win-now mode, trading a capable NHL-calibre goaltender on a league-minimum salary deal just doesn’t make sense.

Vladar’s trade value will likely increase

One final consideration is the timing of the deal. Right now, in the NHL sleepy season before training camp, most teams are fairly settled on the group they have. Demand for a backup goalie is not extremely high.

But after another season of proving himself, Vladar’s value could rocket much higher later in the season. With the Flames’ defensive group looking possibly even stronger than last year’s group that allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, odds are in Vladar’s favour to put up more solid numbers. Teams on the fringe of the playoff picture will be looking to load up near the deadline, and a young up-and-coming goalie will be a prime target.

At that point, if the team is comfortable with the progression of Wolf and Chechelev in the minor leagues, trading Vladar would be the right move. But even then, if the return isn’t significant and the Flames are poised for a playoff run, there is no such thing as having too many reliable goalies in the system.

Goaltending depth can’t be taken for granted

If the Flames have learned anything from the period of time between Miikka Kiprusoff‘s retirement and the signing of Jacob Markstrom, it’s that quality starting goalies are hard to come by. Now, the Flames have a strong starter and backup, and a strong pipeline for the future. Most teams would pay a hefty sum to be in that position.

To be set in the present and future while also icing a competitive team is a luxury. It doesn’t seem like something worth giving up for a draft pick before the season. Unless the return is something exceptional and unexpected, Vladar is more valuable on the team than he is as trade bait.

Vladar was found gold for what it cost to acquire him, and was one of the better trades the Flames made involving a mid-round draft pick. He brings more value to Calgary as a Flame now than as an opponent later. Keeping him as the backup is a clear choice that’s best for the Flames, the Wranglers, and the whole organization.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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