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Rittich’s Cinderella story begins new chapter after trade to Maple Leafs

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No one should be surprised the Flames gave the wave to Big Save Dave.

There was never much of a chance David Rittich was going to re-sign with the Calgary Flames after the club signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million pact last fall.

There was also very little possibility the 28-year-old Czech-born character was going to see much action the rest of the season given Darryl Sutter’s penchant for riding his marquee goalie.

So, once Brad Treliving established a surprisingly healthy market for the former all-star it only made sense to cash in, as the Flames did late Sunday by trading Rittich to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a third-round pick in 2022.

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The Flames agreed to pay half of Rittich’s remaining $2.75 million salary to make the deal work.

The next time the Flames see the popular backup he might be facing his old mates as early as Tuesday night in Toronto.

Rittich’s last start with the Flames came last Sunday in a 4-2 loss to Toronto, a team that likely had keen interest in him given how well he’s played against the Leafs throughout his 130-game career.

This year alone he shut out the Leafs in Toronto and played brilliantly in two close losses in which the Flames scored just two goals.

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Asked last Sunday if he wondered about the possibility it might have been his last game with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, the typically jovial fellow bristled.

“Don’t try to make a story here,” snapped the backup netminder, whose record is 4-7-1 on the season. “This is my team and I want to stay with this team as long as I can. I’m not even looking at the trade deadline.”

With the team losing eight of nine before Saturday’s win Treliving was duty-bound to see if he could get anything better than mid-round picks for spare parts like his underperforming backup goalie or depth forwards like Derek Ryan and Sam Bennett.

So far so good, as the GM tries to salvage something — anything — from this disastrous season before Monday’s 1 p.m. MT trade deadline.

Rittich became a bit of a folk hero in Calgary shortly after being signed to a two-way deal out of the Czech Extraliga in 2016.

After half a season in Stockton the undrafted European revelation was the Flames’ best netminder the first half of his next three campaigns, earning him a trip to the all-star game last season.

Alas, each year he faded in the second half, opening the door for Treliving to go all-in for Markstrom this fall.

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As a pending unrestricted free agent the die was cast on Rittich’s future, as it was clear he’d have to move elsewhere this summer to chase his dreams of being a starter.

Unsurprisingly, the dressing room favourite still arrived with a great attitude, remaining a good soldier despite a muted role from the one that had him battling for top spot a year earlier with Cam Talbot.

Asked last week if he felt he’d settled into his new role, he shrugged.

“I don’t know, I hope it’s not bad, but I don’t have enough wins and that’s all that matters,” said the emotional goalkeeper, known around the league for his animated celebrations and kissing his posts. “Probably not good enough.”

He was right — it wasn’t.

If the Flames were to have made a push for the playoffs this year it would have required him to post a winning record and a GAA better than the 2.90 he sported this season with a .904 save percentage.

He finishes his five-year run in Calgary with a 63-39-15 record, with a .908 save percentage and 2.83 goals-against average. It’s an amazing success story for a late-blooming player and for a team rewarded for seeking alternative solutions to filling the game’s most demanding position.

However, once the team went the more traditional route, by opening up its wallet for a proven star like Markstrom, Rittich’s Cinderella story would clearly have to continue elsewhere.

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That place is Toronto, where fans are particularly hard on any goalie not named Jack Campbell or David Ayres.

Turning him into a third-rounder was made possible by the age-old questions surrounding Frederik Andersen and his recent lower-body injury.

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