The Calgary Flames need a goaltender. That’s not a secret — not even a poorly-kept one. It’s simple fact.
And it’s not a fact that Flames general manager Brad Treliving is shying away from in the lead up to the 2016 NHL Draft and free agency.
“They tell me it’s good to have one!” Treliving quipped on Thursday when asked about his organization’s critical need for a goaltender. “So we’re in a bunch of different markets on that, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Treliving’s joking tone underscored an unusual and uncomfortable reality that his club is currently grappling with. Flames goaltenders Joni Ortio and Karri Ramo are unsigned. For the moment, Calgary doesn’t have a single NHL-level goaltender under contract.
It’s a double-edged sword for an upstart club that’s otherwise loaded with young talent. On the one hand, the Flames’ glaring organizational need in net paints them into a corner and necessitates bold, prompt action. Everyone in the industry knows that Calgary needs goaltending, and NHL GMs aren’t famous for throwing needy rivals a lifeline.
“Got lots of guys wanting to do us favours,” Treliving said, joking again. “They’re dying to help us out. They wake up every day saying, ‘How can we help the Calgary Flames?
“You talk to teams, you have a sense of what needs may be for different teams,” Treliving continued. “Obviously for us it’s goaltending, so I don’t think that’s a real big surprise or shock to anyone. So you talk to those teams and you may have an opportunity you can do something with, see if there’s something that fits, and try your best not to be taken advantage of.”
On the other hand, the fact that Ramo and Ortio are bound for free agency lends the Flames an enormous level of flexibility in seeking to upgrade an obvious Achilles heel. Their situation is fraught with uncertainty, sure, but it’s better than being committed to a tandem that, along with Jonas Hiller, combined to stop the fewest percentage of shots faced in the NHL last season.
Even if Calgary is the only club in hockey that’s obviously in the market for a starting goaltender, the Flames aren’t without leverage. The particular dynamics imposed by the upcoming expansion draft – the rules, released on Wednesday evening, stipulate that teams can only protect one netminder – would seem to break in Calgary’s favour.
For teams with two high-quality goaltenders, like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins, there could be an incentive to liquidate a goaltending asset before being forced to expose it to a Las Vegas-based expansion team for nothing. Arguably we’ve already seen a team – the Anaheim Ducks – behave in precisely this manner already this off-season.
“The expansion piece is new, so it creates a little wrinkle,” Treliving said on Thursday. “You’re modeling in terms of your own team, you’re modeling what opportunities may be out for you now.”
Though the expansion draft rules will have an impact on Treliving’s search for saves, the Flames don’t seem to be counting on expansion alone to hastily provide them salvation in goal. Just because Anaheim moved quickly to clear out a surplus goaltender when they sent Frederik Andersen to Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, other organizations shouldn’t necessarily be expected to act now.
“It’s a year away,” Treliving said of the expansion draft. “That idea that now there’s expansion so everybody’s going to be just dying to just give you players – that’s not quite the case…
“Whether that means that something’s going to happen today, tomorrow, or it might be something that happens at the deadline, it might be something that happens next year this time,” Treliving continued. “I think there is obviously a…knowledge of what may happen and people are trying to see if they can be aggressive or if that’s something that’s going to take some time.”
“It’s a balancing act of timing, it’s a balancing act of acquisition costs, it’s all those types of things. You’ve seen it in the market so far: there (have been) deals that have been done because of expansion coming. I expect there to be more. When those happen, we’ll see.”
As the Flames explore the trade market and their options, expect them to be aggressive. That’s been standard practice for Treliving and Flames president Brian Burke and the organization would like to solidify their goaltending in short order.
“This is the time,” the Flames general manager said. “You need a dance partner, that’s how it works. You’d like to get that taken care of and that’s sort of our preference right now.”