What is David Rittich?

After four seasons in North America, and two and a half in the National Hockey League, it’s clear that the Calgary Flames have found something in “Big Save Dave.” But is he a backup? A starter? An All-Star? It’s unclear, and the window for him to find his game consistently might be closing.

2019-20 season summary

(Data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.)

Games played Wins Losses OT/SO L
48 24 17 6 0.916 0.971 0.890 0.836 0.986

As he did in 2018-19, Rittich basically had two seasons in one. In the first half, he was pretty good and one of the NHL’s most-used goaltenders in the 2019 half of the calendar: only Connor Hellebuyck started more games, and only Freddie Andersen, Jordan Binnington, and Hellebuyck had more wins. Rittich’s performance earned him a spot at the All-Star Game, albeit as an injury replacement for Darcy Kuemper.

Now, if you listen to our colleagues at OilersNation, Rittich’s season turned after his epic stick flip celebration on Jan. 29.

But here’s the thing: he’s always been a streaky goalie, at least over two and a half seasons in the NHL. Here’s a rolling five-game average of Rittich (blue) and Talbot (orange) and their even strength save percentage over the 2019-20 regular season.

Rittich was all over the damn place.

For the second season in a row, Rittich was heavily relied-upon and then faded in the second half of the year and lost the net. In 2018-19, he suffered a knee injury. In 2019-20, it was an elbow malady that hampered his second half. Cam Talbot ended up playing most of the key games in the back nine of the season.

Compared to last season

In the first half of 2018-19, the 2018 half, Rittich was awesome. He posted a 0.936 five-on-five save percentage, and he stopped 87% of all five-on-five high-danger chances. In the 2019 half, he slid to a 0.923 five-on-five percentage overall and 0.822 for high-dangers. Granted, he was working through a knee injury.

In the first half of 2019-20, the 2019 half, Rittich was decent. He posted a 0.919 five-on-five save percentage and a .848 high-danger percentage – his high-danger performance was markedly better than how he finished the prior season. In the 2020 half, he slid. He posted a 0.910 five-on-five save percentage and a .814 high-danger percentage.

In both seasons, the Flames leaned heavily on Rittich to open the season. In both seasons, he suffered an injury and was much less effective in the second half. Rittich is streaky, but he’s also unlucky. Fatigue also probably plays into how things went for him.

What about next season?

The 28-year-old Rittich is entering the final season of his current contract. He’s got an affordable $2.75 million cap hit and will be a pending unrestricted free agent following the 2020-21 campaign.

There’s something there with Rittich. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but between consistency challenges and the team’s arguable over-use of him, he hasn’t been able to turn those flashes into consistent brilliance – if he could, he might become a Vezina contender. At the very least, he’s established himself as a good backup or a reliable 1B goaltender. With the NHL likely to be operating under some kind of compressed schedule for the coming season, having two reliable goalies will be essential for teams to succeed and so Rittich will be a valuable commodity for the Flames.

Beyond that? It all depends on if he can perform at a high level consistently. There are still high hopes among the Flames’ braintrust for “Big Save Dave.”

2020 Player Evaluations

Mark Giordano | Sean Monahan | Sam Bennett | Johnny Gaudreau | Elias Lindholm | Dillon Dube | Milan Lucic | Rasmus Andersson | Andrew Mangiapane | Cam Talbot