Four games into the season, the Calgary Flames seem to have found the balance they want on their roster. They’re rolling with 14 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goaltenders. Head coach Bob Hartley is making lineup adjustments on a game-by-game basis, as he tries to get a grasp on what he’s working with. Things are settled on…for the time being. Don’t be surprised, however, if there are a couple additions in the not-too-distant future.
A quick glance at the Flames organizational roster will leave you with a couple observations. First, they only have two goalies in North America on NHL contracts. Second, with 47 contracts, they’ve left themselves some breathing room under the limit of 50. That space could be very useful before the regular season wraps.
Let’s start in net. When Henrik Karlsson was traded to Chicago earlier this month, it left Calgary with two goalies eligible to play on NHL rosters right now: Miikka Kiprusoff and Leland Irving. That doesn’t leave the Flames a whole lot of room for error in the event of an injury. Many have suggested a trade might be the proper route to go down. Looking inside the organization, however, might provide better, and more feasible, options to explore.
Danny Taylor and Barry Brust of Abbotsford Heat are two of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League, with the latter fresh off an All Star Game appearance. Under the right circumstances, either would be a no-brainer to be called up in the event of a big club injury. The problem? Both Brust and Taylor are on AHL-only deals, ruling them ineligible to play in the NHL. If Calgary wanted to recall either goalie, they’d have to first sign them to a standard NHL player contract. The Flames went down this road with Krys Kolanos last season.
While signing one of Brust or Taylor is a possibility, Karri Ramo is one to watch as well. Currently playing with Avangard Omsk in the KHL, Ramo is putting up nothing but good numbers. He leads the league with 26 wins and his 1.92 goals against average and 0.933 save percentage are both top ten totals. I’ve written here before how Ramo could very well be a future succession plan to Kiprusoff, but that future isn’t far off.
The KHL regular season ends on Feb. 17, but with Omsk leading the Eastern Conference, they’ll be playing beyond that date, and could be playing far deeper than that. The Gagarin Cup was awarded on Apr. 26 last season; this year, that’s the last date of Calgary’s season. If Omsk goes deep, Ramo may not be here in time. In the end, the Flames may elect to stick with Kiprusoff and Irving only, but all of the options outlined above are being discussed internally.
In net may not be the only place with an addition coming. After his standout World Juniors and his back-to-back great seasons at Boston College, John Gaudreau could very well be officially in the Flames fold by season’s end.
The 2011 fourth-round pick has 31 points in 20 games with the sixth ranked Eagles. The latest his season could end is April 13th following the National Title game in Pittsburgh. With the ball very much in his court, there’s a solid chance Gaudreau decides to leave hand NCAA to start his pro career. The Flames certainly believe he’s ready to take some sort of a jump.
“I think he could play pro right now,” Flames assistant GM John Weisbrod to Sportsnet 960. “I’m certainly not in a position to prognosticate as to his chances of actually being able to play in the NHL right off the hop or how successful he’d be, but, the fact you could put him on a pro ice surface, and he could compete and be effective, I think that’s for certain.”
Gaudreau is one of the most exciting prospects in the Flames system right now, and many indications point to him leaving college this year. Calgary has been adamant in saying they will not pressure him one bit in his decision, which is the way to go. That said, they’ll also be leaving a roster open for him if he decides to go pro.
So, barring injury, the Flames have a pretty good idea of what they want their lineup to look like. For now. What happens later on this season is certainly something to keep an eye on.