As the 2023–24 NHL season inches closer, news around the league has started to pick up a little bit. However, the Calgary Flames remain as stagnant as pond water, still hanging onto six of their pending UFAs and absolutely no indication that any movement is remotely close. The most recent headline out of sports radio is yet another head scratcher.
On Sportsnet 960’s Flames Talk show, host Pat Steinberg indicated that it’s more than possible the Flames start the season with three goalies on their roster.
This comes on the heels of a historic season for Dustin Wolf in the AHL, who might be the best goalie not in the NHL at the moment, and the Flames currently having a very capable NHL tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar already signed.
I know the last 12 months have been ones every Flames fan is fighting hard to permanently block from their memories, but it appears that we’ve also forgotten about the 2015–16 season as well.
The three-goalie debacle of 2015
The Flames were feeling good heading into the 2015–16 season. They had a budding superstar duo in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan just about to hit their stride in Calgary, Mark Giordano was blossoming into a premier defender, fourth overall selection Sam Bennett made his NHL debut and shined in the playoffs, and the “find-a-way Flames” even managed to topple the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Things were good!
The only seemingly weak spot on the roster was between the pipes. The year before, the net was shared by Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, both putting up very solid numbers. Ramo had the best statistical season of his career, in fact. Up and coming goalie prospect, Joni Ortio, played six games for the Flames as well, also performing very well as a 23–year–old.
And, this is why things went totally off the rails to start the 2015–16 season.
Ortio was a solid goalie prospect and was widely considered to be the team’s goalie of the future at that point in time. However, the Flames shot themselves in the foot when they chose to sign Ramo to another contract on July 1, 2015, a one-year pact worth $3.8M. Hiller was already on the books for $4.5M, and Ortio was now eligible for waivers making $600K.
Come training camp, Ortio played very well and the team was in a pickle. A relatively inexperienced Brad Treliving had only been at the helm for one year, chose to keep all three goalies on the roster to start the year. This took up a roster spot that would have otherwise gone to a forward, and he placed Paul Byron and Mason Raymond on waivers as a result.
Byron was, of course, claimed off waivers by the Montreal Candiens and went on to become a fan favourite and one of the best penalty killers in the league. Meanwhile, Ramo, who was coming off a career best season, posted his worst results as a Flame starting in just 37 games earning just 17 wins.
The Flames had a disastrous season finishing 27th in the NHL, while Ramo left in free agency and hasn’t played in the NHL since.
Let’s try learning from Calgary’s past mistakes, just once
Craig Conroy was an AGM in 2015–16, so he is intimately familiar with this whole tale, and would therefore be motivated to avoid this same debacle in the future.
It makes absolutely no sense for the Flames to start the season with three goalies, for a multitude of reasons beyond the potential disaster that happened in 2015 happening again.
The Flames are currently over the salary cap and cannot ice a full 23-man roster with the current complement of players they have signed. And now, we’re hearing there is a “real possibility” that they use one of their already limited roster spots on a backup to the backup goalie? Come on.
If the Flames carry the minimum roster of 20 players: 12 forwards, six defencemen, and two goalies, they will have about $1.4M in cap space. That leaves zero flexibility if someone gets hurt of sick. If they add Wolf’s $813K to sit in the press box, he won’t even be allowed to sit on the bench in his gear and $660K of cap space remains. That’s below the league minimum, so the Flames wouldn’t be able to carry a single extra player.
This is a recipe for disaster. It makes no sense, and isn’t something an NHL GM should even be joking about.
Who is Craig Conroy, the GM?
At this point in time, we truly don’t know who Craig Conroy is as a GM. He has made exactly two decisions as the boss: the first to hire Ryan Huska as head coach, and the second trading Tyler Toffoli for Yegor Sharangovich. Neither are particularly impressive or upsetting, and that has been Conroy’s M.O. so far.
He hasn’t done anything with any of the pending UFAs, no trades at the draft, nothing to address this issue in net, and no action relating to his comments about wanting players who want to be here. If the Flames enter the 2023–24 season with three goalie on their roster, that will indicate a blatant failure by Conroy.
It’s been three months. It’s time to make some decisions.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire