|The Flames inked Henrik Karlsson to a two-year contract on Monday. (QMI Agency/Al Charest)
CALGARY - ‘Big Hank’ is back.
And he isn’t just a backup.
While the Calgary Flames have re-signed Henrik Karlsson as insurance and relief for star netminder Miikka Kiprusoff the next couple of seasons, the NHL club’s GM, Jay Feaster, said the 6-foot-6 Swede has the potential to someday steal the starter’s role between the pipes.
“(Flames head coach) Brent (Sutter) feels that he is close to being able to be a No. 1 goaltender,” Feaster said during a news conference outside the locker-room in the depths of the Saddledome to announce the deal to re-up Karlsson for two years at a total of US$1.725 million
Sutter has also already discussed that thought with new goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk, as well as the GM.
“He still has some things he has to work on in his game, but we believe that he does have that potential to be the No. 1,” Feaster said. “I know Brent has already talked with Clint about getting that out of him this season.”
Kiprusoff is under contract for three more seasons at a cap-hit of $5.833 million, but his actual pay in the final year is a meagre $1.5 million. Some speculated when he signed that long-term deal before the 2008-09 campaign that the now-34-year-old Finn may just retire before the last season of the six-year deal.
That would mean Karlsson — with a couple of seasons in support of the starter, barring a bigger role due to injury or inconsistent play from Kiprusoff — would be in prime position to claim that spot as a pending unrestricted free agent if he improves upon a pretty decent first year in Flames silks last season.
Feaster and the coaching staff were impressed with Karlsson’s 4-5-6 record as an NHL rookie after picking up the former San Jose Sharks prospect at last year’s draft in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
He showed poise and earned points in difficult situations.
His positivity and energy, along with his work ethic, made him a popular guy to coach and helped earn him a new deal this week.
Karlsson will make $850,000 next season and $875,000 in 2012-13.
Negotiations went smoothly, with both camps eager to work out his return.
“It wasn’t bad — back and forth a couple of times,” Feaster said. “We talked about a one-year deal. We talked about a two-year deal. At the end, we decided the two-year deal made sense.
“So big Hank will be back with us, and we’re excited about that.”
But the contract is no guarantee the 27-year-old Karlsson will find himself in the same position he was a year ago when training camp ended.
Prospect goalie Leland Irving was tendered a qualifying offer Monday, and the Flames hope they will come to terms with the 23-year-old on a new deal this summer.
“Leland is still very much in our plans,” said Feaster, who’s also got young Finnish goalie prospect Joni Ortio set to play a full season in North America this year. “Certainly, there’ll be an opportunity for Leland in camp. It’s not a case of saying that the job is being given to Hank.
“It doesn’t preclude anything with Leland. It’s just a recognition that based on what he did last year — and where we feel Karlsson is — that we wanted to get Karlsson wrapped up.”
twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteveow forwards Brendan Morrison — who is coming off a serious knee injury — and defencemen Steve Staios, Anton Babchuk and Adam Pardy.