Opportunity knocks in Flames' crease for Vladar and Wolf

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It’s entirely possible that the Calgary Flames will try to acquire a veteran goaltender between now and the beginning of training camp.

For now, though, a betting man would put his money on the Flames starting their season with a tandem of Dan Vladar and Dustin Wolf between the pipes.

Dealing Jacob Markstrom to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday means the Flames are looking to the future. In most people’s eyes, Wolf is that future and getting him playing time will be a priority next season.

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But Vladar should not be treated as some forgotten man.

After serving as Markstrom’s backup for the last few years, the 26-year-old shot-stopper is set to take on more responsibility next season. If everything remains as is in the Flames’ crease, it’s  reasonable to expect Vladar to blow past his previous career high in games played, which was 27 back in 2022-23.

“Vladar, he’s coming off the hip surgery and he’s looking to bounce back,” said Flames general manager Craig Conroy. “He’s had some great games, but he was injured and now he’s going to be healthy and ready to go. I see this as a great opportunity for him.”

Neither Vladar nor Wolf should be expected to give the Flames the same best-in-class consistency as Markstrom did last season, but there’s reason to believe that as a tandem they should still give the Flames a chance to win games.

Vladar was dealing with a hip injury last year that ultimately ended his season early, but the Flames were 8-9-2 in games that he started and he posted a .882 save percentage and 3.62 goals-against average. Those numbers were a regression from his 2022-23 campaign, and it should be remembered that when Markstrom was struggling that early year Vladar stepped in and helped stabilize the Flames’ crease throughout December and January.

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Vladar has shown that he can win games in the NHL, and the hope is that with his hip fixed he can raise his game next year.

Dustin Wolf
Dustin Wolf’s transition to a full-time NHL goalie is already well under way. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

The same can be said about Wolf. The 23-year-old is a two-time AHL goalie of the year with the Calgary Wranglers and was MVP of that league in 2022-23.

And his transition to being an NHL shot-stopper is already well under way. There were growing pains last year as he won seven of the 17 games he played in and posted a 3.16 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. But Wolf showed noticeable growth throughout the final month of the season as he filled in for Vladar following his surgery.

Nobody should be expecting him to contend for the Vezina Trophy in his first full year in the NHL next season, but his readiness is certainly a major storyline coming out of Wednesday’s big trade.

Wolf returned to the Wranglers for their playoffs following the conclusion of the Flames’ season, and was clear on his goal for 2024-25. He wanted to be in the NHL full-time. That’s happening now, and it’s incumbent on him to prove he belongs.

“The last month and a half was very critical for myself in terms of (having) the belief that I do deserve to play there and showing management and people that I should be there, and I do believe that,” Wolf explained in March.

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“Being in the American League, you have a feel of what you need to do and how you need to play to have success, but you’ve just got to modify a few things up there. I think (Flames goaltending coach Jason LaBarbera) and I worked on quite a few things where I’ve gotta be out a little bit further in certain scenarios or just read plays a bit differently and I think as my stint up there kept rolling on. I think I really saw those details continue to be implemented.”

The Flames are going to be young next year. Development is a priority, both in net and around the rest of the ice.

Moving Markstrom may not help the Flames win more games, but the opportunity it creates for both Vladar and Wolf means the team’s crease will be worth watching closely.

“I think Dustin’s taken steps. He’s a young goalie and we want to be careful,” Conroy said. “I’m not a goalie, never played goal, so I don’t know what’s the best thing, but that’s where (senior goaltending coach) Jordan Sigalet really helps guide us along.

“We believe in both Vladar and Wolf, we really like both goalies and we just want to be careful not to do anything to set, especially Dustin, back. But it gives both guys a real good opportunity moving forward.”

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