It has been seven years since the Calgary Flames had the type of goaltending star the team could hang its hat on. Since Miikka Kiprusoff left for the Finnish hinterlands in 2013 the club has been piecemealing its goalie tandems together, year after year.
Heck, one year they famously carried a trio of twine-minders, with disastrous results.
Is this the off-season in which Brad Treliving decides to finally land his club a legitimate superstar in net? This year there are several significant adds available, via trade or free agency, but the question is whether he sees upgrading his netminding as his priority.
With a flat cap and tight budget, Treliving will likely have limit his spending in goal in order to acquire a significant defenceman or two on the open market.
Rittich played in the All-Star game and Talbot carried the Flames in the second half as part of a dependable tandem that saw the club finish 13th in save percentage and 16th in goals against per game.
Goaltending was not an issue in Calgary, especially in the playoffs when Talbot shone.
Rittich is under contract for one more year at $2.75 million, so Treliving must make a decision on Talbot, an unrestricted free agent who has expressed an interest in re-upping with the club that helped him re-establish himself as a dependable everyday NHLer.
The team approached the 32-year-old during the pandemic pause with a desire to have him return but his stellar playoff play confirmed such a return would require a bump in pay from his “show-me” contract. With both sides comfortable with a return engagement, it seems pretty tempting to maintain such stability between the pipes.
However, with so many intriguing options out there, and potential heir apparent Dustin Wolf still tabbed to toil in junior where he is the reigning goalie of the year, is this the year Treliving sticks his neck out for a goalie who could be here long term?
A quick look at the six candidates:
Cap hit last season: $3.666 million
Stats: 23-16-2, 2.75 GAA, .918 SV%
Problem: His price tag.
The Vancouver Canucks revelation tops the list of unrestricted free agents and suddenly became very much in play after Thatcher Demko mopped up playoff duty with an all-world performance against Vegas. The six-foot-six, 206-pound wall will be the most expensive add possible, as he’s looking for a long-term deal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility he sees Calgary as a good fit.
Cap hit last year: $5 million
Stats: 19-10-1, 2.89 GAA, .920 SV%
Problem: Vegas will almost certainly lock him up.
His playoff brilliance reportedly has him on the verge of a long-term deal in Vegas at a shockingly low $5 million annually, which would be considerably less than Markstrom is seeking. It would open the door for a Marc-Andre Fleury trade (see below) and sets the bar a lot lower for UFAs with stars in their eyes.
Cap hit last year: $2.5 million
Stats: 16-8-0, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV%
Problem: Costly 1B option and unproven as a starter.
What a time to carry a franchise on his back and into the Cup final. Despite his age and status as a career backup, his run as potential Conn Smythe Trophy winner will garner him some interest from teams that may consider paying him more than just backup money. There’s no better backup in the league, but it’s hard to believe the Stars won’t do everything within reason to keep him, given Ben Bishop’s ongoing fragility.
Cap hit last year: $2.75 million
Stats: 12-10-2, 2.64 GAA, .919 SV%
Problem: He’ll want a significant raise and assurances he’s the starter. Both are minor issues.
Khudobin is the only UFA who posted a lower goals-against average than Talbot’s this year and only two goalies (Khudobin and Lehner) had a better save percentage. Talbot wasn’t getting the credit he deserved for his steady regular season play last year, but his playoff performance has him right near the top of the UFA rankings.
His comfort with the Flames and desire to return (if given higher billing than his backup) set the table for what may just be the most obvious fit out there. He’s a fitness freak who no one should be afraid to sign long-term.
Cap hit: $4.5 million for next two years
Stats: 16-11-2, 2.22 GAA, .928 SV%
Problem: The acquisition cost and injury issues.
For two seasons in a row the Saskatoon native has posted Vezina-type numbers, making him desirable league-wide if indeed Coyotes ownership has instructed management to cut costs. He’d come at a significant cost, which would likely include a first-rounder.
Cap hit: $7 million for two more years
Stats: 27-16-5, 2.77 GAA, .905 SV%
Problem: Acquisition cost.
In 2017 Fleury told Sportsnet he would have waived his no-trade clause to come to Calgary, meaning it’s unlikely the Flames would be on his 10-team no trade list. A trade like this isn’t possible unless the Knights agree to pay roughly half of Fleury’s $6.5 million salary this year and $6 million the following year.
Universally loved, he’d be a heck of a mentor for Rittich, although there’s the potential Rittich would go the other way in a deal like this.