Since it’s Top 20 Prospect season here at FlamesNation, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to 2015, when FN agreed that Jon Gillies was the #2 prospect in the Flames organization. This year, he received two 20th placed votes. We’ll let those writers speak for themselves, but I think they did it out of sympathy.

Prospects will always progress and regress. Development is never linear, and it’s not always upward.

At young-for-a-goalie 25 years of age, the discourse around Gillies suggests that he is probably done as a Flame. Is that a fair assessment, or was this just an extreme outlier of a year?

When we last checked in

Believe it or not, but Gillies was actually looking pretty promising. He wasn’t able to get much done in his brief NHL call ups, but his AHL tenure suggested that he was pretty darn close. He finished the season in the upper tier of AHL goalies, and was one of the younger ones in that group.

2018-19 story

He allowed six goals in his first start of the season. From there, things just got worse.

There’s no use mincing words: Gillies struggled. The Stockton net started off as a competition between him and Tyler Parsons at the beginning of the season (Parsons was actually the game one starter. He allowed five goals), but neither of them were quality enough to definitively win the net. Parsons’ various injuries throughout the season essentially gave Gillies complete job security, but even with the pressure off, he was unable to do much.

To his credit, he had a pretty good finish to the season, averaging a .919 SV% over his last 15 games. It was too late for the Stockton Heat, but it moved the season out of “total write-off” for Gillies.

Numbers & Growth

GP MIN SV% SV% rank among qualified goalies SA SA rank GA GA rank
2018-19 45 2479 0.889 42/47 1310 7/47 145 47/47
2017-18 39 2231 0.917 12/41 1130 13/41 94 11/41

So, yeah. Pretty bad.

His usage didn’t change that much from last season. He still saw a lot of shots relative to the rest of the AHL, but he just wasn’t able to stop them anymore. All of his bad habits were apparent and he really never got in the groove of things until late in the season.

Part of Gillies’ results may be because of the defence. Stockton infamously had all of their great rearguards plucked and were left with little to work with. That has to have some effect on his numbers, but they can’t explain all of them away.

Conversely, his second half numbers may have also had something to do with his defence. In late January, Gillies received a lifeline with the reassignment of Juuso Valimaki, who stayed with the Heat for every game except for their final game. While correlation is not causation, Gillies numbers pre-Valimaki (0.865 SV%) and post-Valimaki (0.909 SV%) are two different tales.

If it’s faulty to ascribe Gillies’ struggles solely to the lacking defence, it’s also faulty to chalk up his success solely to the arrival of one player. Valimaki is very good, but he simply isn’t able to turn a goalie from one of the worst goalies to an alright one that’s trending upwards, no one is. Credit where credit’s due, Gillies was a better player as the year went on and as he saw the net more often, although he had help from Valimaki (if it really is all because of Valimaki, we may not be appreciating him enough).

Nevertheless, it doesn’t wipe away the bad, which was stunning. Last season, Gillies having bad nights was rare: only four of his starts finished below .850SV%. This season, he had 13 such appearances. He was just an all around worse goaltender this season.

What’s next?

What to do with Gillies is on Brad Treliving’s to-do list. It’s right at the bottom, but it’s on there.

The organization’s other moves this offseason have placed Gillies into the afterthought category. His contract -two-way for the 2018-19 season, one way for the 2019-20 season- was signed with the belief that he would be in the NHL by this point as a backup. Nope, that’s Cam Talbot’s job. If that didn’t work, he’d be in the AHL. Wait, Parsons and Artyom Zagidulin are both here. Hmmmm.

The Flames do have space for Gillies: Zagidulin, Parsons, and Nick Schneider can all be moved to the ECHL (and truthfully, you can make a case for at least two of them to be there). They don’t need to trade him away, and it may be a bad move given the Flames’ goalie depth. Say what you will, but Gillies has NHL experience. He may not be a starter, or even a NHL backup, but he’s probably more reliable than Parsons and Zagidulin for an emergency stint.

Goalies are more volatile than players are on a year-to-year basis: it isn’t unheard of for goalies to hit rock bottom and then bounce back to being their normal selves. With maybe the worst track record of developing goalies around the entire league, an open backup position next summer, and Gillies being 25 years old, it really can’t hurt to try again for one more year to see if he can be something, especially if he’s still RFA at the end of the season. A trade to dump Gillies is not going to return anything of value, so might as well see what happens.

Though the Flames have been trying that for the past three seasons without any success. At some point, you have to pronounce it. Gillies’ professional career hasn’t been indicative of the type of goalie who becomes something at the NHL level, and his great finish to the season probably doesn’t change that.


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