Goalie hopefuls better pipe up

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:22 PM ET

Barring some surprise signing this summer, what you see is what you get when it comes to the Flames organization's goaltending.

There are still a few household names on the open market. Former starters Marty Turco, Jose Theodore, Vesa Toskala and Ray Emery all are looking for new homes.

The Flames, though, announced they re-signed one of their own Thursday morning. Matt Keetley is back for another season after signing a one-year, two-way deal worth $500,000 at the NHL level and $62,500 if he continues his career in the minors.

Expect the latter to play out.

Henrik Karlsson, the big Swede Darryl Sutter acquired in a draft-day trade and quickly signed to a one-way contract, will have to play horrific hockey to find his half-million-dollar salary buried in the American Hockey League with the Abbotsford Heat.

While both Karlsson and Keetley inked single-season deals this summer, the Flames have their eyes on the future.

That future, for now, appears to remain in the hands of Leland Irving.

Drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, the 22-year-old is entering the most important year yet in his pro career.

That's who the 24-year-old Keetley will battle for the right to start with the Heat this fall now that surprise darkhorse David Shantz has committed to the Manitoba Moose after taking over the top role in Abbotsford last season.

And you have to believe the organization is crossing its collective fingers hoping Irving will step up and snatch that responsibility in the final year of his entry-level contract.

He's younger, was drafted higher and, at times, displays the kind of technique and athleticism necessary for any netminder capable of carving out a career on NHL ice.

His inconsistency since turning pro two years ago has concerned some.

Others insist goalies take more time to mature in the minors and that Irving's potential won't be determined for another few years.

Keetley, though, has been a pleasant surprise who is constantly pushing the envelope.

He's not flashy or brilliant technically. But he is full of heart.

Not bad for a kid tormented as a teenager by the moniker Fat Matt.

Keetley appeared in 23 games for the Heat last year -- his third in the pro ranks -- earning a 10-7-1 record and posting a 2.59 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

Irving played in 34 AHL games a year ago and went 14-17-2 with a 2.76 GAA and .905 save percentage.

If Shantz was top dog, Keetley was probably second ... and Irving was trailing way behind.

Interestingly enough, all three goaltenders behind Miikka Kiprusoff will see their deals expire next summer.

If nothing else, that ought to motivate them all. Kiprusoff has four more years on his long-term deal. By then, if none of the pipe-guarding prospects emerge as the real deal, the Flames may be forced to make a big deal to land a proven commodity to take over for their fabulous Finn.

Irving was drafted 26th overall -- the highest spot the team has taken a goaltender since Brent Krahn went ninth overall in 2000 -- which doesn't automatically make him the best option.

It does, however, make him the most popular candidate.


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