June 20, 2023, 2:52 p.m
Among the many areas the Calgary Flames need to address this summer is bringing a goalie back into the ranks somewhere near the top of the list.
During the season, no NHL team had a negative swing the size of Calgary in 2022-23. Within a year, the Flames moved from Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom and his 0.913 save percentage to fifth in the bottom third in the league to 0.889.
If Calgary wants to return to the playoffs next season, their goaltenders will need to return to at least the middle of the pack. This fact becomes even more apparent when you consider that $8.2 million Markstrom and teammate Dan Vladar will be banking on the cap.
Will you wear Markstrom?
Markstrom is coming off a miserable season and possibly the toughest season of his NHL career. His 892 save percentage was the worst since becoming a full-time NHL player in 2015-16 and ranked 46ththere Among the 56 goalkeepers with 20 or more starts.
Flames fans found those numbers hard to put up with considering Markstrom’s stellar . 922 the previous season as he was racing to second place to eventual winner Igor Shesterkin in the Vezina voting. And true to Evolution Hockey’s model, Markstrom has gone from 29.1 goals made above the switch to just 2.1 a season over the course of the season.
Even after good nights or good weeks, the $6 million Calgary guy just couldn’t make it last year.
“It’s been a battle for me personally to find my game, find my voice and get through with my performance,” Markstrom admitted on Closer Cleaning Day in April.
“You know, as a goalkeeper, it’s tough. You’re there and you want to find him, you know you’ve got him and when you don’t show up… you almost try too hard, if that makes sense. (You’re) nervous and you want him more than just… out. And play and enjoy. In him, you know, trust him. »
The question now becomes: Was 2022-23 just a down year for the 33-year-old Markstrom? Or is it a sign of things to come?
The Flames builds on the former and has some statistical support. With the exception of his last two seasons, his best and worst as a rookie in the NHL, Markstrom has averaged just over 50 starts and a 0.912 save percentage over the past four years. Often, a goaltender with a steady stream of action will return to those averages after a down year.
But then again, target shooting is nothing but a perfect science.
“It was a great summer for me,” Markstrom said. “I’m up for the challenge to get back to where I want to be. I still feel like I still have a long way to go and I can still improve from last year and obviously better than this year.
“I feel like he’s here and I have to go to work and come back and get ready.”
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Who will be the replacement?
Vladar would replace Markstrom on a two-year contract and start a new two-year deal next season for $2.2 million. In most cases, returning a 25-year-old goalkeeper to team control on an acceptable contract would be a no-brainer.
But two-time MLS Goaltender of the Year Dustin Wolf is complicating things for Calgary.
The 2019 seventh-round pick posted a . 928 save percentage in his first two seasons in the AHL and established himself as one of the best prospects in the world. With seven saves and a 0.932 defeat last season, Wolfe became the first goalie named AHL MVP in nearly two decades.
Many believe that it is time for the Flames to make way for Wolf at the NHL level. One way a team can make a difference like this is by trading in one of their most consistent goalkeepers. Markstrom’s age, which has reached the $6 million limit, and his complete stalemate make it difficult for him to move and/or get a decent value.
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Vladar seems to be another story. He is younger, has an easier contract of carriage and no commercial protection. Also, despite finishing last season with a save percentage of 895, Vladar is still seen by many as a goaltender with great potential.
Personally, I don’t think moving away from the goalkeeper is Calgary’s best move… at least not now. I wonder about a hybrid approach where Wolfe starts in the NHL based on the team’s schedule while games start in the minors, like how Nashville handles things with Juuse Saros for short.
Going down this path, even for a few months, would alienate Wolfe if he wasn’t ready for the NHL right away while giving him a well-deserved reward. It’s also a more feasible approach since the Flames and their affiliates share the same city.
But if Calgary isn’t interested in a potential three-goal headache or looking to break free of the cap, a trade involving a goaltender could be on the cards. Until we know what next year’s tandem (or trio) looks like, it’s hard to say what the target workloads are for any of the goalkeepers involved.
What we do know is the magnitude of the net improvement next season. The Flames don’t need to beat Jennings or Vezina, but they also can’t be ranked in the top 20 if a return to the playoffs is realistic.