The Flames needed new goaltending for the 2016-17 season. This wasn’t a secret by any means: not only did they have the league’s worst goaltending the previous season, but they also had no goalies under contract. Calgary was coming in with the chance for a completely clean slate, and they were taking advantage of it.
A lot of names were thrown around before the Flames acquired Brian Elliott for the 35th overall pick. One of them was Ben Bishop, a 29-year-old, 6’7 goalie coming off of three consecutive years of 60+ start seasons, and his best save percentage yet at .926.
In other words: an incredibly appealing target. And the Lightning, with Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings, could have had incentive to move him (and his $5.95 million contract, which would need re-upping the next year).
Apparently, the trade was pretty close to happening – to the point where the Flames were actually talking contract extension with Bishop’s camp – before they veered off to Elliott.
But what if they had sealed the deal?
Elliott cost a second round pick. A high second round pick, but a second round pick.
It’s difficult to see Bishop coming cheaper than that. He hasn’t reached quite the save percentages Elliott has, but he’s younger, and has had much higher workloads over the course of full seasons. In other words: he’s more proven, in a way, and yet still has more longevity for the future. One could go into the season fully trusting Bishop to be a starter, while there still remain some questions surrounding Elliott.
That’s not entirely fair to Elliott, and he’ll have this season to silence his critics. But the point does remain: he still has to do that this season. Bishop doesn’t.
Elliott didn’t start every playoff game for the Blues because they stopped trusting him and turned to Jake Allen. Bishop didn’t start every playoff game for the Lightning because he got injured. The rationale behind trading both players is the same – younger backups knocking on the door – but the Blues had lost more faith in Elliott than the Lightning ever did with Bishop.
I don’t know what else it would have taken to get Bishop out of Tampa Bay. The Flames’ first rounder was no doubt off the table, as were, in all likelihood, all of their core pieces, and probably most of their higher end prospects, too. Calgary moved on for a reason, after all – and really, would more years of Bishop have been worth the additional cost it would have taken to get him than what Elliott brings?
Elliott has a cap hit of $2.5 million – $3.45 million cheaper than Bishop. I was questioning the Flames’ ability to sign Troy Brouwer even as they were in the midst of bringing on his $4.5 million cap hit, but if they had acquired Bishop instead of Elliott, there’s no way Brouwer becomes a Flame.
The Flames currently have roughly $8.6 million in cap space, and that’s with Johnny Gaudreau still needing an extension. Add in the additional money Bishop takes up, and that drops down to roughly $5.1 million – and Gaudreau is definitely going to cost more than that.
Bishop may have been a more proven get who would have more service to give the Flames than Elliott will, but that would have come at the cost of the rest of the lineup. And as badly as the Flames needed to fix their situation in net, the rest of their lineup needs to grow, too.
Elliott’s contract comes in to play here perfectly. Both he and Bishop are likely primed for raises when their contracts expire after this season – but for now, in the midst of the Flames’ cap crunch year, Elliott’s deal is significantly cheaper.
Bishop may be the better goalie – or he might not be, for that matter – but Elliott in net allows the rest of the lineup to be taken care of, too.
And this is all to say nothing of Jon Gillies. Elliott doesn’t have a contract extension yet; depending on how quickly Gillies develops, re-signing him to a shorter term deal than what Bishop’s camp would likely have been seeking probably works out more in his favour than anyone else’s.
This is one we’ll have to revisit in a year’s time. While we have three years’ worth of evidence to say Bishop can handle a starting role – and handle it very well, at that – Elliott has never had a 60+ game season.
Bishop also has a career save percentage of .920, while Elliott struggled earlier on, and he’s further down at .914 – though I should note that through five years with the Blues, Elliott has a .925 save percentage; after four years with the Lightning, Bishop is at .922.
There’s no guarantee Elliott nor even Bishop would be able to maintain those numbers on the Flames – notably, at least in recent history, a worse team than the Blues and Lightning – but one guy has the better recent performance, was probably much cheaper to acquire, has less of an effect on the cap, and leaves a better opening for the organization’s top prospect.
And if he falters, Chad Johnson had a .920 save percentage through 40 games just last season, too.
Bishop would have been the sexy pickup. And it would have been very, very exciting to watch him behind a Flames team that was, in all likelihood, just marginally better goaltending away from seriously competing for a playoff spot. But Elliott is the conservative pickup – and a pickup that will probably fare just as well.
The Flames made the right call on this one.