Earlier this week, we discussed the Calgary Flames’ goaltending system in the mailbag. It’s probably worth going into in a bit more detail. In short: the Flames have a lot of goalies under contract, but a surprising amount of flexibility.

Four guys for four spots

A season ago, the Flames began the 2018-19 season with four goalies signed for their minor league system: Jon Gillies, Tyler Parsons, Nick Schneider and Mason McDonald. Gillies and Parsons spent much of the season in Stockton of the AHL and Schneider and McDonald were down in Kansas City.

Heading into 2019-20, the Flames once again have four goalies for four spots: Gillies, Parsons, Schneider and Russian signing Artyom Zagidulin.

Much ado about Gillies

Here’s the deal with Gillies: he’s on a one-way deal, so he’s making NHL money regardless of where he plays. He’s also no longer on his entry-level deal, meaning he would have to approve any movement to the ECHL. Long story short: barring a trade, he’s Stockton-bound. (The other three goalies can be moved freely from the AHL to the ECHL.)

Now, this would seem like an iffy deal if not for a quick glance at his 2018-19 performance:

  • From October to January, he was 6-12-4 with a 4.05 goals against average and .868 save percentage.
  • From February to April, he was 10-6-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and .916 save percentage.

In the first half, Gillies struggled but the Heat also had a pretty iffy defensive group that hadn’t played together much. In the second half, Gillies found his footing and the Heat had Juuso Valimaki to solidify things. Fun fact: 10 of Gillies’ 16 AHL wins came with Valimaki playing in front of him.

It’s easy to make the Jordan Binnington comparisons, but Gillies isn’t Binnington. But he’s still a player the Flames have sunk resources into developing and unless their hand is forced, they’re not likely to jettison him – especially after he just played two and a half pretty strong months of hockey to close out the latest season.

A surprising odd man out?

Presuming Gillies is in Stockton and is the starter, that leaves the Kansas City starting job to give Parsons and Zagidulin reps. Parsons needs to get playing time as he hopes to bounce back from his injury issues, while Zagidulin needs to get established on the smaller North American ice.

What this means is don’t expect to see Schneider get much work. If nothing else, he’ll be the backup in Kansas City – inheriting McDonald’s job from last season. He was solid in his AHL stints last season, but the Flames simply don’t have enough spots to fully develop four goaltenders at once. They have to make decisions, and the simplest one is to use Schneider in a less favourable spot in order to give Gillies, Parsons and Zagidulin starts and developmental time.