Leland Irving’s future in Calgary looks bleak
Agent selling his player as a future NHL starter, but the Flames, mum on the situation, don’t appear to be buying
To see a 25-year-old sitting out April’s final four dates had been truly odd.
Especially considering the netminding alternatives — a 33-year-old (who was sick) and a 36-year-old (who was emotionally checked out).
The healthy youngster stood out as the common sense option.
Yet Leland Irving did not play — nor dress — once down the stretch.
Then came Jay Feaster’s post-season address. Discussing in-system goaltenders, the Calgary Flames general manager name-checked Joey MacDonald, Miikka Kiprusoff, Laurent Brossoit, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Joni Ortio.
Tellingly, not a peep about Irving.
“We do have a plan (for the goalies),” Feaster noted that day, “but it’s not something we want to share in a lot of detail right now.”
The Flames, this week, declined to comment on Irving’s past, present or future. Less tight-lipped was Irving’s agent, Ritch Winter.
“I’m convinced that he’s going to be a very good No. 1 goaltender in the National Hockey League — when he’s given the opportunity,” Winter says from his Edmonton office. “I’ve represented Tommy Salo, Dominik Hasek, Tomas Vokoun and many other goaltenders that have struggled before they found their way . . . and I think I’ve come to understand the position very well. In my opinion, Leland is the best goalie the Flames have under contract, not including Kiprusoff. As far as goalies under the age of 30, they don’t have a better goalie in their system.
“Leland would be thrilled to be given the opportunity to come back to Calgary because he believes that he can compete for the No. 1 job — and win it. I don’t think there’s any doubt he can do that.”
However, Irving — drafted 26th overall in 2006 and soon to become an unrestricted free agent — appears to be on his way out.
No worries, according Winter.
“One thing I don’t think we’ll have? Trouble finding Leland employment,” he says. “He would like that to be in Calgary . . . but that would require them to want him back.
“You and I will have this conversation in five or six years, and he’ll either be a key part to leading Calgary back to the Stanley Cup playoffs — or he’ll be (like former Flames properties) Craig Anderson and J.S. Giguere and doing it somewhere else.”
Irving did enjoy some nice moments this winter.
In January’s training-camp battle with Henrik Karlsson, he landed the backup gig. Then, in relief, he’d saved a game in Detroit. Also, he beat Columbus and Dallas.
Irving finished in Calgary with a record of 2-1-1, including a 3.33 goals-against average. With Abbotsford, his starting assignments had been sporadic and his numbers had been mediocre — 3-7-2, with a 3.40 GAA.
“Definitely some highs and lows,” Irving says from his off-season home in Vernon, B.C. “But I felt good when I was in there. There’s still lots of work to do with my game, just in becoming more efficient. But I think I’m very competitive with the goalies that we have in Calgary. I felt I was able to elevate my game when brought up to that next level.”
But in a home start against St. Louis, Irving surrendered two goals on four shots and was pulled. If the Feb. 15 yanking stands as Irving’s last gasp as a member of the Flames, it serves as the latest in a long line of first-round fizzles.
Question is — did Irving get a fair shake?
Even the good-natured chap himself had been surprised when he was relegated to the press box during the season-ending road trip.
“I thought, coming up as a black ace, that we’d all get in there,” says Irving. “I was excited to be there, to practise with the guys. I thought I would be playing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
Irving had been especially eager because it would have marked his first NHL work since having an eye imbalance surgically repaired in March.
“You would expect that he’d be given the opportunity,” says Winter. “Why he wasn’t, is not understandable. That said, Leland is among the most mentally tough athletes I have ever met in my life. No matter what seems to come his way, in terms of adversity, he seems to fight through it — on his own, with a smile.
“There aren’t many young men who have weathered the storms that he’s gone through.”
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