As the Calgary Flames wrap up their 2013-14 season on Sunday night, Joni Ortio received recognition earlier in the day by being named the MVP of the Flames’ AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat.
While Finnish netminder Karri Ramo has been on the receiving end of accolades at the NHL level, his fellow countryman Ortio received his dues after posting a 25-8-0 record with a 2.35 GAA and .924 SV% in his first full season in the AHL. Ortio’s success, combined with the play of Ramo, puts the Flames in an interesting position. Three days shy of his 23rd birthday, Ortio would probably be best served by spending another full season with the Heat. At the same time, however, Ramo will need competition heading into next season. This is where things get tricky.
It wouldn’t do the Flames or Ramo, any good to just hand him the No. 1 position without a challenger to push him to get the most out of him. A player like James Reimer, or someone similar, would probably be the best fit for the Flames on a one-year contract for next season. Depending on injuries or level of play, maybe Ortio will be able to get in another handful of games in the NHL while again playing No. 1 minutes in the AHL. Hopefully, Ramo would be able to fend off whomever acting GM Brian Burke brings in and be able to play around 50-55 games.
Some may wonder why the Flames wouldn’t just hand over the No. 1 reins to Ramo while having Ortio serve as the backup next season. There are plenty of examples around the NHL, most recently the Vancouver Canucks burdening Eddie Lack with No. 1 time, to show that that immediate workload when a goaltender isn’t used to it can actually be damaging to a career. After all, the Flames are looking for a long-term solution in goal, not just a goalie for next season.
With Ramo just finishing his first year in the NHL at 27, it would make the most sense for the Flames to have a veteran goaltender come in to compete with him. Then, heading into the 2015-16 season, Ortio should have his shot at Ramo and the Flames’ No. 1 spot between the pipes.
In the meantime, the Flames can be happy knowing that their goaltending, both in the NHL and at their AHL affiliate, is in the capable hands of Ramo and Ortio.