It’s been a funny season for goalies in the Calgary Flames system. Even leaving aside Miikka Kiprusoff’s rebound performance this season (and devastating loss to the United States at the Olympics) and the bizarre trade that sent away Curtis McElhinney for arguably the NHL’s worst goaltender this season, it’s been a strange year.
The Flames have four goalies getting significant ice-time in their minor league system. It’s an odd group, with one highly-touted draft pick, one late pick, and two older castoffs from other teams. The castoffs form the book ends to the group.
At the very bottom of the Flames goalie depth chart is Glenn Fisher, who joined the team as a free agent in the off-season. Fisher was originally drafted by the Oilers, played possum for three seasons in college before emerging as a capable goalie in the fourth year. He had a rocky professional debut in the ECHL in 2007-08, looked bad in limited action to start 2008-09, and was loaned to the Flames ECHL team. He promptly blew the doors off, posting a 0.930 save percentage over 20 games with the club. The Flames brought him back and he’s since reverted to a subpar ECHL net-minder, with a 0.888 save percentage through 22 games.
The other castoff is in a very different situation. David Shantz was a second round pick in 2004 and had a pretty nice junior career, but only showed flashes over three seasons in the Panthers’ system. He played fairly well in training camp on a tryout, outlasting every other Flames goaltending prospect. He had an ugly start in limited minutes in the AHL; entering January he had a 2-3-0 record with a 4.14 GAA and 0.851 save percentage. He’s been excellent since then; he went 8-3-1 in January with a 0.918 save percentage and has a 0.922 save percentage in the new year. He’s also taken over the starting job, beating out a crowded field.
Shantz’s season is a mirror image to that of his current backup, Leland Irving. Irving was a first round pick (26th overall) in 2006 and had a stellar junior career while putting up decent numbers (24-18-2, 0.912 SV%) last season, his first as a professional. He started strong this season, with a 0.921 save percentage through 2009-10’s opening month, and entering 2010 has a 10-11-2 record and respectable 0.914 save percentage. In six games in the new year he has a 0.880 save percentage, and spent time with the Flames ECHL affiliate in Victoria. Given his strong track record and his junior credentials, I don’t understand why head coach Jim Playfair ousted him so quickly.
The other goalie in the Flames’ system is Matt Keetley, who has had an up and down season. He was cut surprisingly early after a poor training camp, and struggled through October before playing brilliant hockey to close out 2009, stopping pucks at a 0.935 clip. A weak performance through January was followed by consecutive shutouts in February, but a bad game on the 27th was his last in the AHL. He’s been strong through four ECHL games.
As it stands, Shantz currently sits atop the Flames’ minor league goaltending depth chart, and the organization’s treatment of both Irving and Keetley might indicate that it doesn’t regard either as a particularly compelling option over the long haul. Both players have shown enough that it’s possible either could emerge as an NHL goalie down the road. Either might be an option worth investigating for an NHL team seeking a minor league goalie with some upside.