When Karri Ramo left for the KHL in 2009, he didn’t exactly leave an impressive NHL stat line behind him. At the time of his departure, the Finnish goalie had played 48 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, registering a .895 save percentage with a 3.35 goals-against average.
But Ramo’s fortunes turned for the better during his four-season stint with Omsk Avangard, and now he’s back in the NHL with the Calgary Flames.
In fact, with the expected retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, Ramo could very well be the Flames’ starter next season. (Barring the acquisition of another netminder, it would seem to be either him or Joey MacDonald.)
Ramo, 27, went 26-9-5 with a .929 save percentage last season for Omsk Avangard. In terms of save percentage, only six KHL goalies were better than that.
Now, it has to be noted that success in the KHL doesn’t guarantee success in North America. We are, after all, talking about a league where journeyman Curtis Sanford registered a .927 save percentage last year.
Having said that, it’s hard to imagine Ramo does any worse in 2013-14 than the Flames’ goalies did last season when they combined for a .889 save percentage. Only the NHL-worst Florida Panthers had poorer goaltending (.887) than that, statistically speaking.
“Karri Ramo provides us with greater depth at a critical position,” said Flames general manager Jay Feaster when the club acquired the goalie’s rights from the Canadiens in December. “Ramo has NHL experience and is one of the top goaltenders in Europe. His work ethic and dedication are first rate, and he is just starting to enter the prime of his career. We believe he has the tools and mental make-up necessary to be a number one goaltender in the NHL, and are pleased to add him to our organization.”
From Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus to James Reimer in Toronto, we saw last season just how big a factor goaltending can play in turning a team from a loser into a winner. The Blue Jackets went from dead last in the NHL to middle of the pack; the Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Put it this way: Of the 10 teams with the highest team percentages in 2013, only Columbus and Edmonton missed the playoffs. And of the 10 teams with the lowest save percentages, only the Islanders made the playoffs.
Bit of a correlation there.
Whether Ramo is up for the task remains to be seen. But if he is, the Flames may not be as bad as many are expecting.