While Flames goalies Miikka Kiprusoff, Leland Irving, and Henrik Karlsson sit idly by during an indefinite NHL work stoppage, there is one professional Calgary netminder to keep an eye on.
Entering his fourth season with Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, Karri Ramo may be out of sight and out of mind for many Flames fans. With Kiprusoff turning 36 next month, Calgary has absolutely started to get a succession plan in place and there’s no question Ramo is a big part of it.
Ramo was acquired by the Flames in January as part of the Michael Cammalleri deal with the Montreal Canadiens that sent Rene Bourque, prospect Patrick Holland and a second round pick to the Habs. Ramo seemed like a throw-in at the time, and it’s understandable why. He hadn’t played in the NHL since 2009 and his North American career hadn’t been what you’d call stellar since his 2006 debut. But when assistant general manager John Weisbrod divulged how the Flames “coveted” Ramo at a town hall shortly thereafter, it became clear there was much more to this than just a paper transaction.
Last week, general manager Jay Feaster took it one step further.
“In an ideal situation for us, we think that where (Ramo) is in his development and given the experience that he’s had already in the NHL, and the calibre of play he has been showing in the KHL the past couple years, we think that he’s kinda number two on our depth chart behind Kipper,” Feaster told sportsnet.ca.
That’s fairly lofty praise for a guy who has yet to play a game with Calgary. It also sends a fairly clear message to the pair of NHL goalies already on the Flames right now. Both Irving and Karlsson are in spots where their future with the team is anything but cemented. While Irving seems to be the odds-on favourite to backup Kiprusoff this season, let’s not forget he’s only on a one-year, two-way contract.
“If (Ramo) could have been here this year, and if he could have been under contract to us and been backing up this year, we think he would have won that job in camp,” Feaster said. “The sooner we can get him over here the better and he too shares that opinion, he just has to honour the final year of his deal in the KHL this year.”
Feaster held talks with Ramo’s agent at June’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh and started to discuss the framework of what a deal might look like. The Flames cannot technically negotiate with him until his deal in Russia expires, as per the agreement between the NHL and KHL.
Things get infinitely fuzzy when you take the uncertainty of this NHL season into account. If part of this season is lost, as is expected, or a full season is wiped out, the status of Irving and Karlsson becomes even more in question. Both will be at the end of their contracts come July 1, 2013, and both will be in a tough spot regardless with Ramo becoming eligible to return to North America. Without a full NHL season to raise their stock behind Kiprusoff puts them in an even tougher spot, especially when the team believes Ramo would have won the backup spot this year.
Having the 26-year-old Finnish goaltender out of sight and out of mind for Flames fans is fair, as he’s been playing thousands of kilometres away for the past three years. Make no mistake, though: Ramo is absolutely a large part of Calgary’s plan. Kiprusoff will be 37 in October of 2013 and there’s no guarantee he’ll still be able to play 70-plus games at a higher level. If that’s the case, the first view of Ramo for Flames fans may be with a workload we haven’t seen in this city since before Kiprusoff arrived.