David Rittich

St. Louis Blues

PHT Morning Skate: Blues get names engraved on Stanley Cup

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• It is official, the Stanley Cup now includes the names of the St. Louis Blues for the first time. (St. Louis Blues)

• Speaking of the Blues, the party is now over as they get back to work. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• What is (and is not) distracting about Taylor Hall‘s contract situation for the New Jersey Devils. (All About The Jersey)

• Taking a look at some pre-season pre-draft rankings for the 2020 class. (TSN)

• Ten questions for the Columbus Blue Jackets entering training camp. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Golden Knights veterans share stories from their first NHL training camps. (Sin Bin Vegas)

• Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, but is that realistic? (NBC Washington)

• Inside Connor McDavid‘s NHL political awakening. (ESPN)

• Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich just wants to prove that he can be a starter in the NHL. (Flames Nation)

• Why Philadelphia Flyers defender Shayne Gostisbehere is saying sorry to Wayne Simmonds. (NBC Philadelphia)

• It is now or never for goalie Tristan Jarry with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Tribune-Review)

• What going to salary arbitration means for a player’s long-term outlook with a team. (Anaheim Calling)

MORE:
• 
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Cam Talbot could be Flames’ X-factor

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

If the Calgary Flames are going to repeat their 2018-19 regular season success and take another step toward becoming a Stanley Cup team they are going to need a better goaltending performance than the one they received a year ago.

The duo of David Rittich and Cam Talbot is one of the biggest — maybe the biggest — questions facing the team this season.

Talbot is the intriguing one here because his move to Calgary presents an opportunity for him to potentially jumpstart his career.

While his time with the Edmonton Oilers ended poorly, his first two years were extremely productive. He gave the Oilers above average goaltending, he was durable and played a ton of minutes, and was so good during the 2016-17 season that he finished in fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting. Given the number of minutes he played and the production he provided he was easily the second most valuable player on the team after Connor McDavid.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 questions]

After that, everything kind of fell apart for him.

The Oilers never gave him a capable backup that could ease his workload and ran him into the ground as a result, and they did so while making him play behind one of the most porous and lackluster defensive teams in the NHL. The results were disastrous over the past two seasons, and especially so during the 2018-19 season.

Was it a result of the workload? Certainly possible. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18 no goalie in the NHL appeared in more games, played more minutes, or faced more shots than Talbot did for the Oilers. He not only paced the league in all of those categories, he was significantly ahead of the next closest goalie in each category, playing 200 more minutes than any other goalie and facing nearly 200 more shots. During those three yeas he faced more than 5,800 shots on goal. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist is the only one that faced more than 5,400.

He played 11,247 minutes. Only two other goalies (Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones) played more than 11,000. There only four others that played more than 10,000 minutes.

As if the workload wasn’t enough, he wasn’t exactly playing easy minutes, either, serving as the last line of defense for a team that was awful defensively.

By joining the Flames he is going to the complete opposite situation.

With Rittich in place on a two-year contract Talbot will not be required to carry the bulk of the workload as there is the potential for a platoon situation to be put in place.

He is also going from a team that was 19th in the NHL in shots against the past two seasons to a team that was fifth and also boasts the reigning Norris Trophy winner. It is a much better set of circumstances.

Talbot has shown the ability to be a capable starting goalie in the NHL. Going from one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league to a Stanley Cup contender could be just what he needs to get back on track and return to that level. If it happens for him, it is going to have positive results for the Flames as well.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Goaltending, Lucic’s role among biggest questions facing Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Let’s take a look at three big questions for the Calgary Flames for the 2019-20 season.

1. Who is going to stop the puck?

There is probably no question that will impact the Flames more than this one.

Goaltending has been a constant struggle for nearly a decade now as the team has not finished higher than 15th in save percentage since the 2011-12 season, and hasn’t finished higher than 20th since the 2013-14 season. That is simply not championship caliber goaltending, and it was probably the single biggest weakness the team had this past season.

David Rittich was a nice surprise, but he struggled down the stretch and is still a bit of an unknown entering this season. Challenging him for playing time will be Cam Talbot who was brought in on a one-year deal to replace Mike Smith.

The Flames have elite, high-end forwards and a strong defense that is carried by Norris Trophy winning blue-liner Mark Giordano.

That core at forward and defense is good enough to compete for a championship right now and maybe even win one if everything goes right. Goaltending, however, is going to be the biggest “make-or-break” aspect of this team and if things do not dramatically improve in net it is going to be an impossible obstacle to overcome.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | Under Pressure: Treliving | Talbot the X-Factor]

2. What can they get out of Milan Lucic?

James Neal‘s brief tenure with the Flames did not go as anyone could have planned it, so it is not really a surprise they were willing to part ways with a 32-year-old winger coming off of a down year.

What is a surprise is that they traded him for Milan Lucic, a player that is regarded to have one of the worst contracts in hockey.

How badly has Lucic’s career deteriorated in recent years? He scored just 16 goals over the past two years and has looked like a player that is simply not built for the modern day, faster paced NHL.

If the Flames think they can rejuvenate his career or that his size and physical presence is going to dramatically alter the success they are likely setting themselves up for disappointment. They didn’t get upset in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche because they weren’t big enough or physical enough — they lost because they were outplayed by a faster team that is quickly emerging as a powerhouse in the Western Conference. Giving Lucic a significant role and assigning him to be the muscle to “protect” their stars as a deterrent is only going to hold them back.

If they play him in the bottom-six role he should be in they are committing $6 million in salary cap space to a player that isn’t going to give them that sort of a return on their investment.

Maybe they had to trade Neal, but trading him for a worse player with a worse (and buyout proof!) contract doesn’t seem to move the needle much in the right direction.

3. Will Johnny Gaudreau‘s playoff luck finally change?

Gaudreau has blossomed into a superstar for the Flames and is one of the league’s most dynamic offensive game-changers. He is the definition of an impact player and one that can take over a game on any given night, and he has consistently done that for the better part of the past three seasons.

The problem: It has not yet happened for him in the playoffs.

In his past two playoff appearances Gaudreau has scored zero goals in nine games while managing just three assists. Not great for a player that has been one of the best point producers in the league.

It’s easy (and lazy) to write that off as him “not being a playoff player” or being “too small.”  It is most likely a lot of bad luck. It is not as if Gaudreau has lacked chances in those playoff games. He still generated shots and he still created chances — he just hasn’t had the puck go in the net. That is not an uncommon development for any player. Pick out any superstar in the league and look at their postseason careers and you will find extended stretches over multiple postseasons where they did not consistently score goals.  Gaudreau is too good, too talented, and too productive to be shut down in the playoffs.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames, Rittich avoid arbitration with two-year, $5.5 million deal

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The Calgary Flames’ goaltending duo for the 2019-20 season is now officially set.

The team announced on Saturday morning that it has re-signed restricted free agent goalie David Rittich to a two-year, $5.5 million contract that will run through the end of the 2020-21 season. Rittich and the Flames were set to go to arbitration, but were able to avoid it with a short-term contract that could be a steal for the Flames over the next two seasons.

Rittich, who turns 27 next month, was a pleasant surprise for the Flames during the 2018-19 season by appearing in 45 games and finishing the season with a .911 save percentage, helping to solidify the position as veteran Mike Smith stumbled through one of the worst seasons of his NHL career. Even though he finished the regular season with superior individual numbers and appeared in more games, the Flames still opted to go with Smith as their No. 1 goalie in the playoffs.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Now that Smith has moved on to Edmonton, Rittich will share the net this season with veteran Cam Talbot after he signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract as an unrestricted free agent earlier this summer.

Given the way Talbot has performed the past two seasons it is not a stretch to think that Rittich will end up getting the bulk of the playing time. The Flames’ forwards and defense are good enough to take the team deep in the playoffs, so they don’t really need either goalie to steal games for them on a consistent basis. They just need them to not lose games for them.

With Rittich signed the Flames remaining two unsigned restricted free agents are forwards Matthew Tkachuk (in line for a significant raise) and Andrew Mangiapane. The Flames only have $4.6 million in salary cap space remaining and will no doubt need to make another move at some point to fit both contracts under the cap.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames stash Sam Bennett with new deal, cap challenges remain

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All things considered, the Calgary Flames’ new deal with Sam Bennett is well-manicured.

OK, with that mustache humor trimmed away, let’s note that the Flames avoided salary arbitration with Bennett, signing the 23-year-old to a two-year deal that carries a $2.55 million cap hit (so it’s $5.1M total).

Let’s start with the stuff that will push Flames fans from relieved back to possibly unsettled. (No, this isn’t Milan Lucic-related.)

The Flames still have three RFAs to sign: star-agitator Matthew Tkachuk, interesting goalie David Rittich, and hidden gem Andrew Mangiapane, yet Cap Friendly estimates that Calgary only has about $7.4M in cap space remaining.

Now, with 22 roster spots covered in that estimate — including an additional goalie in Jon Gillies — the Flames can make some tweaks to earn some room. Even so, it feels like it’s going to be a tight squeeze, to the point that something has to give. While I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames used some mix of loyalty pitches and RFA leverage to keep Tkachuk’s price down — especially being that Timo Meier gave the Sharks such a sweet deal at $6M a pop — I really don’t think it would be that outrageous to see Tkachuk pester his way to the $7M range by himself.

The good news is that, all things considered, Bennett’s deal doesn’t put the Flames in too big of a bind. It’s not desirable to the level of the Sharks somehow convincing Kevin Labanc to take just $1M for a year, but … hey, perhaps the Sharks are truly unmatched in this regard.

It’s key to judge Bennett as a $2.55M man, not as the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

This has been a pretty strange ride for Bennett, really. He came into the league drawing some mockery for failing to do a pull-up at the 2014 combine, yet some of Bennett’s greatest moments have come when he’s been a hoss:

And, judging by his mustache, Bennett’s also add some Hostetler to his brand. The hits, workout questions, and fights can be more fun to ponder than his iffy production, although sometimes the hits also go too far.

The 2018-19 season more or less tells you what you need to know about Bennett’s production so far. While he did miss time this year (limited to 71 games played), he scored 27 points, one more than the 26 Bennett generated in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

His draft pedigree makes you hope for at least a little bit more, and there are certain metrics that indicate that Bennett has been a little unlucky, such as this RAPM chart from Evolving Wild, which shows a mild disparity between his actual offense, and what his expected production could have been in 2018-19:

At $2.55M, the Flames aren’t paying a particularly big fee for Bennett’s pedigree, which is good because money is tight, and expecting too much more from Bennett would likely come down to building up false hopes.

The price is fine, and now the Flames can redirect their attention to the more important (and more challenging) tasks of locking up their remaining RFAs to team-friendly deals, particularly Tkachuk.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.