CALGARY - Lost in the shuffle that brought Mike Cammalleri back to Calgary is the fact Calgary may just have landed Miikka Kiprusoff’s replacement as part of the six-man deal.
And if indeed Karri Ramo is as good as advertised, how soon will the Flames look to make the move many fans in the Sea of Red have long dreaded: The trading of No. 34?
After all, his no-movement clause expires this July.
While Cammalleri was certainly the primary player in the six-player swap with Montreal Thursday, Flames GM Jay Feaster wasted no time letting people know his European scouts were convinced the star goaltender of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Avangard Omsk is “the best goalie in Europe.”
Few in the hockey world disagree.
“Ramo is one of the best goaltenders in the KHL considering that his club frequently changes coaches,” confirmed Russian scribe Dmitry Chesnokov.
“He would probably be able to be a starter in the NHL and battle with (Flames backup Henrik) Karlsson to take Kiprusoff’s spot at one point.”
News of the deal didn’t go unnoticed by Ramo himself, who was in immediate contact with his agent, Todd Diamond, to share his excitement all the way from Russia.
“His desire is entirely to return to the NHL,” said Diamond. “He’s very excited about the trade. We never had any dialogue with Montreal because he knew the situation with Carey Price and that he wouldn’t get a shot there. It made his decision to sign a two-year deal with Omsk easy last summer.”
The former sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning blossomed into a Russian superstar last year when he posted a stunning 33-6-4 record with a 1.97 goals against average.
Such play garnered him – by far - the most fan votes for the all-star team captained by his Omsk teammate Jaromir Jagr. His 55,000 votes dwarfed totals of other starters like former NHLers Dominik Hasek (32,000 votes), Sandis Ozilinsh (29,000), Martin Skoua (38,000) and Alex Radulov (33,000).
And the fan favourite is only 25 – several years younger than when most goalies approach their prime. Ramo has another year left on a contract that pays him an estimated US$2-million annually. Karlsson has another year left on his one-way deal.
“Whatever the role (in Calgary) is, he’s ready to challenge for it,” said Diamond, whose client is familiar with Feaster as he played parts of three seasons in Tampa’s organization.
“Jay indicated to us he was by no means a throw-in. He’s really developed and worked hard with (Finnish goalie coach and former NHLer) Jari Kaarela and is a top goalie.”
Indeed, this changes everything.
Not just for Ramo but for the Flames.
The six-goal slaughter in Boston aside, Leland Irving’s showings have been impressive enough to make many start to wonder if perhaps the Flames’ former first-round pick is capable of playing in the NHL or supplanting Karlsson as the backup. Now, Ramo is in the picture
It’s a marked change for a club that has previously struggled to give Kiprusoff a capable backup. This now gives management a glimpse of what might follow when Kiprusoff is finished here.
At age 35, Kiprusoff is still a workhorse and one of the league’s money goaltenders – a man who has been, without question, the Flames’ MVP this season. He has two-and-a-half more years left on his contract with the fifth-highest cap hit in the league at $5.8 million.
That said, his salary drops to $5 million next year and $1.5 million for the final year, making him an attractive acquisition for any team in need of a big-game goalie.
He is one of the Flames’ biggest bargaining chips.
Or maybe, at that price, he’ll simply retire.
Either way, thanks to the “Cammy deal,” the Flames may just have themselves yet another option when it comes to contemplating life after Kiprusoff.
Maybe then, it will be known as the “Karri deal.”