Just as Brian Burke once described the Vancouver Canucks as being a “goalie graveyard,” the same is now starting to be said another one of his former teams.
It’s been over five years since the Calgary Flames moved on from arguably the best goaltender in franchise history, Miikka Kiprusoff.
And since then, it’s been a rotating carousel of netminders that have been unable to grab onto the starter’s reigns for more than a couple of seasons.
Aside from a run to the second round in the 2014-15 season, Calgary has either missed playoffs or failed to get out of the first round every year since their Stanley Cup run in 2004.
For the first few seasons it was a lack of scoring failing Kiprusoff, however the tables have turned with Calgary’s goaltending picking up much of the blame.
Help may be on the way in the form of prospects Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons, but with Mike Smith’s recent struggles here’s a look at a timeline of the Flames tasked with picking up the slack from Kiprusoff.
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Ramo-Berra era (2013-2014)
Immediately after Kiprusoff’s retirement in 2013, Calgary’s plan to fill the shoes of the Finnish great was constructed by committee.
Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald began the season as the Flames goaltending duo, while Reto Berra joined the fold early in the season as a call-up from the American Hockey League.
Ramo eventually picked up the starters minutes and was adequate, if not unimpressive in his 40 games with Calgary posting a 17-15-4 record with a 2.65 goals against and a .911 save percentage.
After struggling over 29 games, Berra was shipped off to the Colorado Avalanche at the 2014 NHL trade deadline in exchange for a second-round pick that became current ECHL’er Hunter Smith.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 5, 2014
McDonald bounced between the NHL and AHL and was released at the end of the season, while rookie Joni Ortio gave Flames fans some hope with a nine-game call-up.
Hiller-Ramo era (2014-2016)
After the departures of both MacDonald and Berra, Calgary made their first big free agent goaltending splash in the summer of 2014 by picking up former Anaheim Duck Jonas Hiller.
After splitting much of the first month of the 2014-15 season with Ramo, Hiller eventually took over the starting role and helped lead the Flames to their first playoff appearance since 2009.
Hiller and Ramo formed an effective tandem during their first season together, but things quickly soured the following year.
Quickly losing the confidence of then-coach Bob Hartley, Hiller was benched for much of the first half of the 2015-16 season until Ramo went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Former #Flames goaltender Karri Ramo had three surgeries on his injured left knee and says it took him two years to recover and that rehab will last his whole career.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) February 9, 2018
Ortio finally had the chance to seize the starters role, however the Finn faltered with a 7-9-5 record in 22 games and was released at the end of the season along with Hiller and Ramo.
Mixed in with four sub-par games from an aging Niklas Backstrom and a promising chapter for the Flames between the pipes closed with a whimper.
Elliott-Johnson era (2016-2017)
Needing a big shake-up in the Flames’ crease, general manager Brad Treliving pulled the trigger on a deal at the 2016 NHL Draft to acquire Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
Along with the signing of journeyman Chad Johnson, the Flames finally seemed poised to make a run at the playoffs again with stability in net.
Elliott had a decent campaign with a 26-18-3 record and a .910 save percentage, while Johnson had an average year aside from a month-long stretch when he dominated the Flames crease.
While nothing spectacular, the duo’s numbers were good enough to get Calgary back into the playoff picture, but that’s when things came crumbling down.
16 playoff teams.
16 starting goaltenders.#Flames goalie Brian Elliott finished 16th in wins (0), SV% (.880), EV SV% (.889) and GAA (3.88).
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) April 20, 2017
Calgary would be swept by the Ducks, with the Flames letting Elliott walk as a free agent while using Johnson as a trade piece in their next goaltending experiment.
Mike Smith era (2017-present)
Throwing another dart at the goalie board, the Flames decided to trade Johnson, prospect Brandon Hickey, and a third-round pick to Arizona in exchange for veteran Mike Smith.
Former Canucks goalie Eddie Lack was brought in to backup Smith, but was quickly sent down to the AHL and traded to New Jersey after allowing 12 goals over four games with the Flames.
That didn’t faze Smith however, who was steady throughout the 2017-18 season with a .916 save percentage and was named to the 2018 NHL All-Star Game.
But after going down with injury in February during a game against the New York Islanders, the Flames had to turn to backups David Rittich and Jon Gillies as replacements.
The pair struggled to keep Calgary’s momentum going, with the Flames eventually fading down the stretch drive and missing playoffs for the seventh time in nine seasons.
This season, Smith has been a major question mark for Calgary with a 3.36 goals against and a dismal .872 save percentage in 11 games.
— Sportsnet 960 (@Sportsnet960) November 8, 2018
Rittich has stepped up as one of the league’s top backups with a .927 save percentage in seven games, but it remains to be seen if he can handle a larger workload.
Both Gillies and Parsons have been tabbed as goalies of the future for Calgary, but 12 goalies in five years surely is starting to strain the confidence of the Flames faithful.