CALGARY, AB -- Two’s company. Three’s a crowded crease.
Far from ideal, but a situation that will sort itself out in training camp, vows Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley.
“We have lots of confidence in the three,” he declared. “It’s going to be tough. We’re going to let them battle and they’ll make probably most of the decisions for us.”
The candidates are familiar.
It’s the same trio, in the same situation, at training camp a year ago.
Jonas Hiller, 33, has one year remaining on a two-year pact inked last summer, and went 26-19-4 with a 2.36 goals against average and .918 save percentage in 52 appearances for the Flames last season. He was Calgary’s starter in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but didn’t finish that way.
Instead, it was Karri Ramo, 29, who was in net as the Flames captured their first series win since 2004, a six-game affair against the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ramo who closed out the playoffs, too, on the losing end of a five-game series with the Anaheim Ducks.
In 34 regular season appearances, Ramo sported a 15-9-3 record with a 2.60 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. The Flames signed him to a one-year contract on July 1st.
Joni Ortio managed just six appearances for the Flames last season, piecing together a 4-2 record with a 2.52 goals against average and .908 save percentage. Ortio’s wins, coming with Ramo nursing an injury, came consecutively in January to help keep Calgary on pace in the Western Conference playoff chase.
All three are vying for Calgary’s crease.
“I don’t think it’s any more challenging than it was last year or the year before that,” Ramo said. “It’s always the same thing. There’s a lot of goalies and you play best, you do your best, and the best one plays. It’s very simple. I don’t look at it at any other way that it would be any more challenging this year than last year. It’s not our job to make the decisions. It’s our job to stop the puck and do the best we can every day. We’ll move from that. That’s how I see it. That’s how I prepare every day, and be ready.”
The wrinkles are there, though.
All three are in the final year of their contract.
All three would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League.
And only two are expected to remain with the Flames when the puck drops on October 7th against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary’s season (and home) opener.
“It’s going to be a unique situation, having three goalies on one-ways, but I don’t think it changes that much for us three,” Ortio said. “We all have the same goal. We want to play. We want to be the one who starts October 7th. It doesn’t change our approach in any way. We still want to be the best goalies at camp. It’s different, but it’s still the same.”
At 24, Ortio is the youngest of the three goaltenders.
He’s also the least experienced, and comes in as the least expensive alternative.
But if history has taught the goaltender one thing, it’s that contracts are the furthest thing from Hartley’s mind.
“The organization has proved over the past years that contract status doesn’t matter that much,” Ortio said. “Being on a one-way brings more security, sure, and having to go through waivers, but that doesn’t change that much to be honest. You’ve still got to earn your spot and the two best goalies in camp will be the ones pulling on the jersey when the puck drops in October.”
The Flames will play eight preseason games before the start of the regular schedule.
Those eight games, suggested Hartley, will go a long way in determining which two goaltenders are left standing, and who finds themselves on the outside come October 7th.
And, like Ortio suggested, stopping pucks, and stopping pucks only, will be the factor determining Calgary’s net presence.
“Performances in preseason games will dictate our decision,” Hartley said. “After this, when it comes to money and contracts, I’ll pass it to [Flames GM Brad Treliving]. I told you early last year I’m not a banker. I’m a coach and we’ll try to make the best possible decisions for the organization.”