Once upon a time, the San Jose Sharks traded third-string goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a second round draft selection. The draft selection became Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, while Kiprusoff became the best goaltender the Flames ever had. (Sometimes trades work out well for everybody.)
But since Kiprusoff hung up his pads in 2013, the Flames have trotted out many, many goaltenders trying to fill the void. This is their story.
Since Kiprusoff’s retirement, 13 different goaltenders have played for the Flames – Jacob Markstrom will be the illustrious 14th ‘tender in that lineage. That prior baker’s dozen can be distilled down to eight different pairings.
Tandem #1: Joey MacDonald & Karri Ramo [October – November 2013]
Bless his heart, Joey MacDonald didn’t have a lot of tread left on the tires when he arrived in Calgary as a waiver claim in February 2013. But considering the Flames were about to wave the white flag and trade Jarome Iginla, leaping head-long into a rebuild, having a 32-year-old journeyman goalie as their top dog made some sense. But it didn’t really work.
The story goes that MacDonald was bluntly told by then-Flames GM Jay Feaster to train hard in the summer and he’d have a starting gig waiting for him in the fall. But MacDonald turned up in a condition that suggested that he hadn’t trained hard, then openly criticized his defense after giving up some rough goals to Detroit in an early November game. Feaster waived him and sent him to Abbotsford two days later in a move that basically screamed, “Fine, we’ll see what the new guys can do!”
Tandem #2: Karri Ramo & Reto Berra [November 2013-March 2014]
You can’t say that Feaster didn’t try to plan ahead. Knowing that Kiprusoff was long in the tooth, he had acquired a pair of “the best goalies outside of the NHL” in Ramo and Berra via trades with Montreal and St. Louis, respectively. When MacDonald sputtered and was sent to the minors, he decided to lean on the new faces.
They weren’t amazing, but they weren’t awful either. Both had flashes of strong play, notably Ramo. But Berra garnered some interest at the trade deadline and with the Flames lingering near the NHL’s basement, Berra was sent to Colorado for a second round pick.
Tandem #3: Karri Ramo & Joni Ortio [March-April 2014]
With Berra gone, Feaster decided to elevate Ortio (a late round pick formerly of the AHL and ECHL farm teams) to try out alongside Ramo. He was fine, but failed to really gain a foothold in the NHL at the time.
Tandem #4: Jonas Hiller & Karri Ramo [October 2014-April 2016] (& Joni Ortio) [October 2015-April 2016]
One of the first things Brad Treliving did as general manager was sign Hiller, a veteran starter best known for his time with the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller and Ramo proved a capable 1A/1B tandem, with both showing flashes of brilliance (but not consistently enough to cement full-time starting duties).
Hiller and Ramo were a good tandem, giving the Flames solid enough goaltending that they won a playoff round in 2015. The following season, though, was mired with injuries and inconsistency – and a weird situation where the Flames were apparently convinced they’d lose Ortio on waivers, so they kept three goalies and lost Paul Byron on waivers instead. (The Ortio three-headed monster isn’t really a distinctly new tandem, as Ortio didn’t really play or dress unless one of the others was hurt.)
Ortio struggled throughout the season and eventually passed through waivers unclaimed. Seeking some consistency, Treliving let Hiller, Ramo and Ortio all walk in free agency and went looking for new goalies. This is the goalie version of Craig Button trading Marc Savard (during his feud with coach Greg Gilbert) for an obscure Russian prospect, then firing Gilbert anyway.
Tandem #5: Brian Elliott & Chad Johnson [October 2016-April 2017]
Treliving went for a wholly new tandem in 2016-17, trading picks for Elliott and signing hometown boy Johnson as a free agent. The duo was good enough to make the playoffs but inconsistent enough to losing during them, with Elliott giving up some rough goals in the post-season.
Once again, Treliving changed up his tandem entirely.
Tandem #6: Mike Smith & Eddie Lack [October-November 2017]
Johnson’s expiring deal, a pick and a prospect were traded for Smith and late picks and depth prospects for Lack. Unfortunately, Lack floundered in a handful of starts and was waived and sent to Stockton, replaced by an obscure Czech goaltender from the minors.
Tandem #7: Mike Smith & David Rittich [November 2017-April 2019]
Smith had flashes of brilliance over two seasons, but the real story here was the emergence of AHL starter Rittich as “Big Save Dave.” The name was somewhat derisive originally, referencing some rough play Smith had at the time Rittich got a string of strong starts. But playing almost exclusively on the road and on the back half of back-to-backs originally, Rittich thrived.
By the second season, Rittich was the starter until a knee sprain saw Smith get all the key stretch drive playoff starts.
Tandem #8: Cam Talbot & David Rittich [October 2019-August 2020]
Seeking a steady 1B to Rittich’s 1A, Treliving nabbed Talbot from free agency on a team-friendly deal. He was rewarded, as another Rittich injury (elbow this time) slowed the 1A down and allowed Talbot to get tons of starts down the stretch and in the wacky post-COVID-pause mega-playoffs.
Tandem #9: Jacob Markstrom & David Rittich [Presumptive 2020-21]
Presuming no more big changes, this will be the ninth different tandem for the Flames post-Kiprusoff, and the third different goaltending partner for Rittich in Calgary. (Ramo had four partners.)
The Flames are likely hoping that this tandem will last for awhile. Or at least until one of the younger goalies, such as Dustin Wolf, can supplant Rittich.
For the curious, since arriving in Calgary Treliving has drafted, signed or otherwise acquired 19 different goaltenders. In order: Mason McDonald (draft), Jonas Hiller (UFA), Brad Thiessen (UFA), Nick Schneider (UFA), Kevin Poulin (trade), Niklas Backstrom (trade), David Rittich (UFA), Brian Elliott (trade), Tyler Parsons (draft), Chad Johnson (UFA), Tom McCollum (UFA), Mike Smith (trade), Eddie Lack (trade), Artyom Zagidulin (UFA), Dustin Wolf (draft), Cam Talbot (UFA), Daniil Chechelev (draft), Jacob Markstrom (UFA) and Louis Domingue (UFA)
If you combine all the trades, the Flames spent a second round pick, a third round pick, a sixth round pick, David Jones’ expiring deal, Johnson’s expiring deal, Keegan Kanzig and Brandon Hickey’s rights and received Backstrom, Elliott (for a season), Smith (for two seasons), Lack, Ryan Murphy, a sixth round pick (Matthew Phillips) and a seventh round pick (Dustin Wolf). All-told, they ended up getting decent value even if the process was a tad labourous.