CALGARY — Goaltending is a big-ticket puzzle for the Calgary Flames to solve this summer.
Calgary got the goaltending it needed to be successful in 2018-19. It wasn’t the reason for an early playoff exit.
But the team’s needs and wants may not align with those of Mike Smith, a 37-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency.
He and restricted free agent David Rittich essentially split duties in the Flames net, which didn’t sit well with Smith at times.
"I think after the all-star break I played some of my best hockey, the most consistent hockey I had all season," Smith said.
"To be honest, I probably didn’t handle not playing as well as I should have. I probably wore it a lot harder than I needed to and it probably affected the way I played early on in the season.
"I think you always want to be the guy. I’m a competitive guy. I’ve played a lot of games throughout my career.
"Obviously Rittich had a great season this year. Both guys want to play, so it’s a good problem to have."
Injuries combined with whoever was hot gave each netminder stretches of starts over the course of Calgary’s season.
Rittich, 26, posted a 27-9-5 record, a save percentage of .911, a goals-against average of 2.61 and one shutout in his second NHL season.
A 9-2-2 stretch mid-season helped him earn the nickname "Big Save Dave."
Rittich sustained a knee injury Dec. 31 that GM Brad Treliving called "a nuisance", but the Czech played through it.
Smith went 23-16-2 for a .898 save percentage, a 2.72 GAA and two shutouts.
The veteran tried to put an underachieving team on his back with a total of 188 saves in five playoff games, which had Scotiabank Saddledome chanting his name.
"I knew we were going to be in the playoffs and I wanted to be playing my best hockey at the most important time of the year and I felt like I did that," Smith said.
Rittich is due for a raise on his US$800,000 salary. Smith averaged $5.6 million on a six-year contract he brought with him from the Arizona Coyotes in 2017.
Treliving was assistant GM of the Coyotes when Smith signed that deal in 2013.
"Honestly going into the playoffs the last thing I was worried about was whether Mike was going to be any good," Treliving said. "I knew he’d be solid for us.
"(He) gave us goaltending that unfortunately we didn’t do anything with.
"I believe in David a lot. I go back with Smitty, his contract’s up. We’ll see. I guess it’s a question where we’re going to go with goaltending but certainly David is, I think, is a real good young goaltender in this league."
Jon Gillies, 25, and Tyler Parsons, 21, are Calgary’s goaltending prospects in Stockton.
The Flames also recently signed 23-year-old Artyom Zagidulin from Russia to a one-year deal.
Rittich says he’s taking a pass on the upcoming men’s world championship to ensure his knee and the rest of his body is ready for next season.
Flames head coach Bill Peters believes Rittich has what it take to be a full-time NHL starter, with certain conditions.
"I think he’s got the ability to do that, but until you’ve done it and been there, everyone is going to question it, right?" the coach said.
"There’s things he can do to allow himself to be able to play more games too moving forward as far as his ability to look after himself with nutrition, with everything that goes along with that, to making a real solid commitment to being a pro, a big-time NHL pro."