The Future of Kipper
For the past eight years, the starting goaltender role in Calgary has never wavered.
Fans have become familiar with his carefree attitude and his nonchalant posture during anthems over the years. He’s played over 70 games every year since joining the Flames. Despite being ridden like a mule by Flames’ coaches, he has maintained a career .913 save percentage. You know who else has a career .913 save percentage? Marty Brodeur. Hall of Famer.
Kipper's sensational highlights and cool-under-pressure demeanor has earned him a solid reputation around the league – especially during the Flames’ 2004 cup run. He was also recently featured in the top ten goaltender saves ever on TSN.
For a team that has a history of dumb trades (Phaneuf, Gilmour), giving up a second-round-pick for Kiprusoff in 2003 was a total win for the Flames. Well done Sutter. No, not you Brent.
Flames fans have taken for granted having such a reliable presence in net. I can say this without a doubt. Simply bringing up the name “Roman Turek” makes me not want to acknowledge the future of Kipper. But unfortunately it must be done.
In a time where the Flames are re-developing their identity, an aging and expensive goaltender may not fit in to Feaster’s ultimate plan. Kipper is a proven big-game player and is of decent trade value.
Kipper is 35 years old. He sports a .919 save percentage this season showing that age hasn’t affected his play and that adds to his trade value. While the focus of trade rumours this year may have been on Iginla, Kipper finds himself in that same situation. Instead of letting him walk away or retire at the end of the 2013-14 season, we can trade him while he is worth something.
It’s not like the Flames are short on goalies. Replacing Kipper would likely fall to rookie and former first-round-pick Leland Irving. Irving hasn’t been mind-blowing, nor does he have a cool red beard, but he has proved that he can compete at the NHL level.
If Irving turns out to be a bust, then the Flames can offer newly acquired Finnish goaltender Karri Ramo a shot at the starting role. Ramo was part of the Cammalleri deal with Montreal. In 44 games in the KHL last year, he put up a .925 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average. If he becomes the starter and T&T Honda can convince him to do commercials, it will feel like Kipper never left.
These two younger goalies are skilled and, more importantly, they're cheap. This is crucial because the Flames just inherited Cammalleri’s $7 million contract until the 2013-14 season – yikes.
But…. Yes, there’s always a but…
With all that being said, there are some things that might prevent kipper from being dealt.
The no-trade clause on his contract doesn’t expire until July this year. That means he will have to clear any trade offers presented at the deadline. Not unfathomable, but it definitely makes him more difficult to deal – like using tarot-sized cards in a big game of poker.
Also, while the Flames have eaten most of his salary this year, he is set to make $5 million next season. That’s a big commitment for another GM to undertake, especially given the age of the netminder.
Lastly, if the Flames can make a resurgence in the second half of the season and fight their way into the playoffs, then they will have nothing to gain by trading Kipper. Even a low seeded team in the playoffs can make a cup-run on the back of stellar goaltending. Just look at Roberto Lu… wait never mind. I meant Tim Thomas.
If that happens, then the Flames might just ride out Kipper’s contract. After his $5 million in 2012-13, he is only set to make $1.5 million in 2013-14. Sure he might not be the same skilled Kipper of 2004 by that time, but he will be an affordable back-up. Picture a veteran Finnish keeper like Kipper showing the ropes to a rookie Finnish keeper like Ramo. That has potential to be a deadly tandem.
Regardless of how or when Kipper goes, he will be greatly missed. He’s been a staple in net for the Flames and has had a highlight-filled career. My hope is that before he parts from his saddle-shaped home arena, he can deliver one more spectacular playoff performance. Then we, as fans, can reward him by chanting a phrase - a phrase that will be missed more than Kipper himself.
“Shirts off for Kiprusoff.”