Brad Treliving is playing his cards the same way as every general manager in every other sport.
If he were a baseball man, he’d be talking about a “closer by committee” scenario, speaking convincingly about how having so many good arms is actually a blessing. Someone will evolve into the crucial role as the most important reliever in the bullpen. Has to happen, right?
If he were a football man he would be effusing about how fortunate he is to have such “competition” for the starting quarterback role. Even in the face of that trusty old football adage, “If you’re telling me you have two No. 1 quarterbacks, that really means you don’t have any.”
Treliving is, of course, the general manager of the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, and he has an abundance of goaltenders. He just doesn’t have a No. 1.
The organizational pipeline is stocked with promise in 24-year-old Finn Joni Ortio, who is now waiver eligible and will stay with Calgary this season, college graduate Jon Gillies, slated to start at AHL Stockton this season, and junior Mason McDonald, a front runner to tend Canada’s nets at the World Juniors this Christmas.
“We’ll see how it all plays out,” a calm Treliving said Monday night in Edmonton, where he watched his Flames open their pre-season. “I’ve been in the other situation where you’re like, ‘Okay, who is going to stop the puck?’
“What I’ve found, the players usually sort it out,” he continued. “The good thing for us, to me, I think we’ve got depth at the position. Not only at this level, we’ve got a couple of kids coming.”
The Flames goaltending depth is unquestionable. But after a 2014-15 season where Hiller and Ramo seamlessly picked each other up as the other’s game began to wane, it’s the “right now” that is in question.
Hiller has the best pedigree, but it’s no secret the Flames are not enamoured with him as their No. 1. Hiller was being shopped at last year’s trade deadline, and then lost the nets to Ramo during the playoffs last season. So Treliving tried to trade him again at the draft.
The book on Ramo goes like this: He’s a true battler with high character, but his style is the opposite of economical. It’s our understanding the Flames like Ramo ahead of Hiller, but he is all over the place some nights, a goaltending method that is less acceptable today than ever.
Then there is Ortio. Calgary has waited a long time on the young Finn since drafting him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He played a five-game stretch last January for Calgary and won four of those games, allowing just five goals. But Ortio has just 15 NHL games on his resume.
Ortio looked like a young Miikka Kiprusoff during that January run, and now that he is waiver eligible there is no chance he’d clear waivers. Hiller has one year left on his deal at $4.5 million, yet rather than simply go with Hiller and Ortio this season; Treliving renewed Ramo for one year at $3.8 million in the off-season.
“If you look at it, they’re all in different stages,” Treliving said. “You have Hiller who has been a No. 1 in this league a long time. Rams has kind of made a name, he’s got some experience. And you’ve got the younger guy coming up. In a perfect world you want the big guy you can ride, but ultimately you want to have good goaltending on as many nights as you can get it. If it means it’s two guys, three guys… Whatever it is.”
Having said all of that, Treliving admits he’d rather not begin the season with three goalies. “I’ve never seen three work. You keep three if you have to. I’d prefer not to.”
So, what happens in Calgary’s nets over the next two weeks? Barring injury, here’s our take:
Ortio stays — period. He wouldn’t pass through waivers.
Ramo stays in Calgary as well. Head coach Bob Hartley prefers the elder Finn, and he’s likely a better stable mate and mentor for his young countryman Ortio, who still requires some grooming.
And Hiller? He’ll be heavily shopped as Treliving watches for injuries among NHL starters. The Flames would eat salary — it’s preferable to sending all $4.5 million to the minors — but they won’t keep three healthy goalies in Calgary.
Hiller can still play, but he’s overpriced at $4.5 million. If someone’s starter gets hurt, he’d be a nice fallback position at half the price.