CALGARY — It’s a rarity when Darryl Sutter informs the media that a young hopeful has successfully made his team.
It’s no secret the set-in-his-ways Calgary Flames coach has long preferred to put his trust in proven veterans.
But after seeing Dan Vladar calmly turn aside 37 shots Wednesday night, Sutter decided he’d seen enough.
“He’s proven that he can play at this level,” Sutter said of the 6-5, 185-pound goaltender who kept the Flames in a 3-2 loss in Winnipeg that could easily have been a significant beatdown. “Of all the players that are trying to make the team, he’s the one guy that has shown he can make the team.”
The coach delivered the news with a grin, well aware those who stuck their neck out to acquire Vladar this summer could breathe a sigh of relief.
After all, sending a third-round pick to Boston for a 24-year-old Czech native with just five NHL games under his belt was a gamble for a man they're counting on to be Jacob Markstrom’s backup.
“When a player isn’t established in the league, there is always a little risk,” admitted general manager Brad Treliving. “Our (goalie guys) have always liked this guy and are really high on him. He’s been a very good goalie at the AHL level for a number of years and we think he’s at that age where he’s ready to take that next step.”
Two years after leading the AHL with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage, Vladar entered Calgary’s camp as the man tabbed to start between 15 and 25 games.
For a Flames club that will be counting on stellar goaltending to complement its defensive style, he’ll need to win at least half those assignments if the Flames are going to get back into the playoffs this season.
It’s an important job the Flames looked to fill somewhat creatively.
When you spend $6 million on your starter, dipping into the free agency market to grab a veteran backup isn’t easy given the obvious budget constraints and the fact many wouldn’t be interested in joining a Sutter squad hellbent on starting Markstrom roughly 60 games.
“We looked at the marketplace for backups — you look at the cost of them and whether they’re willing to sign and see it as a good opportunity,” said Treliving, who is committed to paying Vladar $750,000 each of the next two years.
“At the end of the day, our group is high on (Vladar).”
The team would prefer Wolf remain in the AHL for a few years before subjecting him to the pressures of the NHL.
After years of keeping tabs on Vladar, Flames director of goaltending Jordan Sigalet was the one leading the push for acquiring him.
“We went into it with a list of experienced guys, and a list of young, unproven guys,” said Sigalet, who confirmed many veterans looking for an opportunity to play didn’t see one in Calgary where they knew Sutter would ride Markstrom hard.
“Then it also came down to, ‘Do you want an older guy that might not want to go on early and start later, or do you want a younger guy that is hungry and has room to grow and still has a lot of life left in his game?’ We took that risk and we’re happy with what he’s done in pre-season so far, but the regular season is a whole new chapter, so we hope he can carry it over there.”
A Bruins draft pick in 2001 who played one game in net for the club before retiring, Sigalet received a phone call from former teammate Tuukka Rask after acquiring Vladar.
“He said, ‘That’s a great pickup for you guys – he’s at a point where he could easily give you 15-20-25 good games at back-up,’ but he still thought he had a higher ceiling than that ... and so do we,” Sigalet said. “Tuukka confirmed what we saw on video, that he was a great goalie – a big guy who can move. He raved about his character too.”
Throughout a solid camp, Vladar insisted he wasn’t willing to look ahead to the season or assume he’d start with the big club. No matter how obvious it became the club was ready to give him the nod over Werner, he focused on his next practice, start and save.
And so, when told of Sutter’s post-game endorsement Vladar reacted with a touch of surprise.
“If he said that, that’s good for me,” Vladar said. “If I’m going to get a chance, I want a chance to prove I can be a part of this team and help this team and get some success. If he said that, the work just starts for me now. I’m not going to get too high or too low from it. I’m just going to do the same things as I’m doing — preparing for every single practice and every game and try not to get scored on.”
Asked what he still needed to work on, Vladar was too savvy to reveal any secrets.
“I don’t want to really say in the news, because next time if we play somebody then they might do it,” he laughed. “Every goalie has some things to improve on. I am really fortunate I have someone like Marky and Barbs (goalie coach Jason LaBarbera) who are really good. Marky is one of the best players in the NHL and Barbs is really good.
"I’m so thankful I have this opportunity to learn from them every day.”