For essentially all of Brad Treliving’s tenure with the Calgary Flames, his club has struggled to find stability in net. Several netminders have come and gone, and they still don’t have a definitive top goaltender. But heading into 2019-20, the Flames may be in a position where they can get some serious value from their goaltending tandem.
An inexpensive pair
The Flames have three goalies under one-way deals for 2019-20: David Rittich ($2.75 million), Cam Talbot ($2.75 millon) and Jon Gillies ($750,000). All due respect to Gillies, but he’s obviously the third-best option here and seems like a fair bet to clear waivers and head to Stockton.
Thus, the Flames’ 2019-20 tandem will probably be Rittich and Talbot for a combined $5.5 million cap hit.
A quick comparison: tandems
There are eight tandems league-wide that are going to be less expensive (cap-wise) than Calgary’s.
The Lightning are also paying $1.4 million to bury Louis Domingue and Mike Condon in the minors, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here and focus just on their two NHL goalies.
Of the teams spending less than Calgary, you can make good cases that Colorado and Tampa have better tandems than the Flames based on the excellence of Grubauer and Vasilevskiy, respectively. A case can be made for Pittsburgh based on Murray, if he’s healthy, and Dubnyk, if he gets run support.
But beyond those four teams, there are a lot of question marks across the board – players yet to establish themselves as top dogs (like Rittich) and players trying to reestablish themselves (like Talbot).
A quick comparison: individuals
There are 12 individual goaltenders slated to have larger cap hits on their own than Calgary’s entire tandem – four of them are from the Flames’ own division:
- Montreal’s Carey Price ($10.5 million)
- Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million)
- NY Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million)
- Boston’s Tuukka Rask ($7 million)
- Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury ($7 million)
- Anaheim’s John Gibson ($6.4 million)
- Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck ($6.17 million)
- Washington’s Braden Holtby ($6.1 million)
- Chicago’s Corey Crawford ($6 million)
- New Jersey’s Cory Schneider ($6 million)
- Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million)
- San Jose’s Martin Jones ($5.75 million)
The reasoning behind throwing this much cap space at a single goalie is pretty obvious: these guys are all pretty damn good in net (or have shown the capability to be). These guys represent seven of the last eight Vezina Trophy winners – the eighth award belongs to Pekka Rinne and his $5 million cap hit.
But some of these guys have been hampered by age, injury, or both, and that makes it really challenging to work around their cap hits if they can’t be consistently superb. If you’re the Flames, the risk is spread between two guys and so their ability to maneuver remains relatively intact.
Aspiring towards league average goaltending
The Flames had a 90.3 save percentage in all situations last season – 21st in the NHL but just a smidge below Columbus in 16th (the midway point of the league rankings). They almost had league average goaltending despite (a) Mike Smith’s early season struggles and (b) Rittich working through a knee injury in the latter stages of the season. With a bit more balance in their tandem, and hopefully fewer peaks and valleys, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Flames’ netminding to improve and approach the midway point of the league.
Managing the cap is a challenge for all 31 teams. The Flames have obviously chosen to put their money towards their core offensive players – names like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and (eventually) Matthew Tkachuk. If the Flames can get league average goaltending that can give them a chance to win most nights, it’ll be more than worth the scant $5.5 million they’re spending.