It was no secret the Calgary Flames were interested in Ben Bishop.
By Bishop’s own admission, he thought he was heading to Cowtown at the draft this past June, but his asking price on a new contract reportedly got in the way. Then there was speculation Bishop could have been a Flames trade target at the deadline in March, but no deal ever materialized. But when Bishop was dealt by the Kings, who had acquired him in a deadline deal of their own, to the Dallas Stars on Monday, it signalled the end of the Flames’ pursuit of the mammoth netminder. He’s a Star today, will be a Star when he inks his next deal and will be pulling on Victory Green when the 2017-18 season commences.
That's a tough break for the Flames. Despite the fact Bishop managed only a .910 save percentage and 2.54 goals-against average this past season, he was no doubt the Flames’ top target when it came to improving between the pipes this summer. That’s because in the four seasons prior to 2016-17, you could count on one hand the goaltenders who had been better than Bishop. From 2012-13 to 2015-16, Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury were the only goaltenders with more wins than Bishop’s 123. Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Cam Talbot and Tuukka Rask were the only masked men with better save percentages than Bishop’s .922 mark. That's not to mention that only five goaltenders posted more shutouts and, when it came to puck moving, Bishop had that ability, too, as witnessed by his seven assists over that span.
But the only way Bishop will be taking in the Stampede in 2017 is if he decides to visit, because after Calgary seemingly struck out on the netminder not once, not twice, but three times, they’re going to have to look elsewhere if they’re to beef up in goal. So, with Bishop off the market, where do the Flames look next?
The Red Wings have a bit of a cap conundrum. Though the results of the campaign wouldn’t show it, Detroit ended the season with the highest final cap hit of any team in the league, which is a pretty good indication things need to change in Hockeytown. That could mean a changing of the guard in goal, which is something that many felt the Red Wings were set to undertake last season but were unable to complete. That’s not without reason, though, because despite Petr Mrazek being the heir to the crease, moving along Howard and his cap hit was never going to be easy.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland might have an easier time with that this summer, however. Howard’s play from 2013-14 to 2015-16 was mediocre at best for a goaltender earning $5.29 million per season, but if it weren’t for injury he could have very well been the single player that gave Detroit its best shot at keeping their playoff streak alive. He turned in a solid .927 SP across 24 games, which is the best mark Howard has posted in any season he’s played at least 20 games.
Howard would have a much better defense to play behind in Calgary, and if the Flames were willing to shell out big coin for Bishop, maybe they can stomach the cap hit for the Red Wings netminder.
Mason’s a tricky one because no one quite knows his situation at this point. He had an abysmal year with the Flyers this past season, but he had been rock solid in each of the past three campaigns and seems like the best bet Philadelphia has for a starter next year. The issue is, though, he doesn’t have a deal for the upcoming campaign. That could simply be because Flyers GM Ron Hextall is trying to use free agency to protect Mason in the expansion draft, but the risk there is Mason hits the open market. And if that comes to pass, the Flames should definitely take a shot.
The are a few pros with Mason. The first is that he’s certainly going to come cheaper than Bishop would have and with better value than someone such as Howard. And playing behind a stronger defense in Calgary could do wonders for a goaltender who has shown top-flight ability in recent years. In the three campaigns from 2013-14 to 2015-16, Mason’s .935 SP at 5-on-5 was the second-best mark in the league. The only goaltender better was Carey Price. So, yes, Mason is capable of being a true No. 1.
The cons, however, are that Mason hasn’t exactly been a picture of consistency. Mason won the Calder Trophy, finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and was top five in Hart Trophy voting in his rookie season back in 2008-09. But what followed were four seasons where he was well below average. The risk with Mason is that this past season was the start of another run of poor play.
The Islanders’ signed Thomas Greiss to a three-year, $10-million deal, Halak was sent to the minors and at one point there was a public trade request made. Put those three things together and it sure sounds as though Halak’s days in New York are numbered, and if the Flames want to chase a stopgap option, it might be wise to take a long, hard look at Halak.
Has Halak had a world-beating season in the past few years? No, not quite, but he’s given every single team he’s been with roughly league average goaltending, and sometimes that’s about all a team needs. Matter of fact, if the Flames got that much throughout this past season, it’s quite possible they would have been looking at a divisional playoff spot instead of a date with the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. Honestly, average goaltending might have even given Calgary home-ice advantage in Round One.
The intriguing thing about chasing someone such as Halak is there’s nothing tying the Flames to him beyond next season. Calgary doesn’t have to be a win-now team, so going for it with someone such as Halak isn’t the worst idea. And if the Flames decide to go another direction once Halak plays out the final year and $4.5 million on his deal, some intriguing goaltenders could hit the open market — Craig Anderson, Martin Jones and Antti Raanta among them, not to mention Carey Price. Alternatively, if Jon Gillies is ready to try his hand at the No. 1 job come 2018-19 season, a one-season wonder might be all Calgary really needs.
Given what Fleury has done in the post-season, this is no doubt the most tantalizing option for the Flames. Fleury has had his ups and down throughout his career and his regular season in 2016-17 was nowhere near as effective as it was in 2015-16, but ‘Flower’ is more than making up for it with his post-season play. Even before he posted a 29-save shutout against the Capitals, Fleury was sporting a sparkling .921 SP throughout the post-season and was the Penguins’ playoff MVP.
The question surrounding Fleury, though, is whether he wants to be in Calgary. And make no mistake, that is the biggest question, because Fleury almost entirely controls his fate. The 32-year-old boasts a no-movement clause and, should he choose, could refuse to waive it ahead of the expansion draft and ensure he remains in Pittsburgh. On top of that, if Calgary is on the list of clubs he doesn’t want to go to, Fleury can veto that deal, no questions asked thanks to a no-trade clause.
But will Fleury want to stay in Pittsburgh? Despite Fleury's play this post-season, Matt Murray is clearly the Penguins’ goaltender of the future and there’s no way Pittsburgh lets him slip away in expansion. If Fleury wants the chance to start, and the chance to win on another young, promising team, he could do a lot worse than heading to Calgary.
The first go-round for Elliott in Calgary didn’t go anywhere close to the way either party had pictured it. Elliott took forever to find his game for the Flames and it’d be fair to say that it wasn’t until the home stretch of the campaign that he actually heated up. In fact, up until about the middle of February, Elliott was abysmal. He had an .895 SP and managed only 11 wins in 28 games. So, why bring him back?
The obvious concern is that Elliott reprises his role as that below-average goalie the Flames saw through the better part of the campaign and his season didn’t exactly end on a high note as he allowed nine goals against on the final 59 shots he faced. But despite the way the season ended, Elliott was actually quite good over the final two months of the season. From Feb. 15 to April 8, his final appearance of the regular season, Elliott pieced together a .927 SP, 15-5-1 record and pitched two shutouts. That’s the goaltender the Flames had hoped they were getting all along.
Elliott had been so very good over the three seasons prior to coming to Calgary that it’s hard to imagine he’s going to struggle as mightily once he takes the ice in 2017-18, and the benefit that Elliott has over any other netminder is that he could come incredibly cheap. He was in the final year of his deal this past season and earned just $2.5 million and it's not like he’s in line for a raise after a subpar season. It might be worth trying Elliott out again on a short-term deal and seeing if he can’t capture the form that made him a trade chip the Flames were so interested in this past June.
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