Musings on the alternate universe in which the Flames traded for Ben Bishop

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?

Acquisition cost

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?

Contractual cost

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.

  • OKG

    SV% may suggest Bishop is an elite goalie but analytics (adj.FSV%) suggest he is a good goalie behind a great team. Ironically that is the popular knock on Elliott, but his analytics suggest he is a great goalie behind a good team.

    I prefer the Elliott trade.

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      Straight up goalie for goalie , contracts not withstanding, 90% of the people here would have picked Bishop as their goalie .
      Elliot has never been accused of being a top 5 goalie. Bishop has. However, given the contracts and if Calgary’s defense holds up , Calgary shouldn’t need a top 5 goalie to correct what happened last year. All things considered ,Elliot should be the right move for the Flames.

      • OKG

        90% of people here would have been.. objectively wrong.

        Since 2012, among 5000+ 5v5 minute goaltenders Brian Elliott the 8th highest 5v5 High-Danger SV% in the league, the third-highest 5v5 Medium-Danger SV% in the league, the third-highest 5v5 Fenwick Save Percentage in the league, and the second-highest 5v5 Adj.FSV% in the league. He has led the NHL in raw SV% twice over that span which is more times than any other goaltender. He has the 3rd best all-situations Adj.FSV% in the league (behind Lundqvist and Schneider, and just ahead of Price who was still in a few developmental years) which is probably the single best statistic for goaltender performance. He has the sixth-best aggregate GSAA over that span despite playing 3000+ less minutes than any other guy in the top ten.

        Even accounting for the fact that he’s had the luxury of playing in high-end tandems with Halak, Miller, and Allen where he’s rarely fatigued like some 60+ game goaltenders, you simply can’t deny that his ability to stop pucks is top five in the NHL. He has outperformed every other goaltender on his own team too.

        Elliott is right there with TJ Brodie as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. He may very well be the most impactful individual player on our roster next season.

        • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

          You do see who plays in front of him right? That makes a difference. I’m not arguing he was t a good pick up just not thought of as a top goalie in the league.

          • OKG

            I see who plays in front of him. I also see who plays in front of Bishop, Quick, Rask, Price, Schneider, Luongo. Johnson, Hedman, Stralman, Garrison, Kopitar, Doughty, Muzzin, Bergeron, Krejci, Chara, Subban, Markov, Pacioretty, Zajac, Larsson, Greene,, Barkov, Ekblad, Campbell. What makes the Blues all that special? Bouwmeester is notorious for soft plays in the corners, Shattenkirk is undersized, Pietrangelo is not exactly Keith or Doughty or even Brodie, and their centre depth is average at best. There is no evidence thst the Blues are an especially elite defensive team.

            I also see that he’s elite at stats that are as independant of who plays in front him as is possible given the data available.

            Do you know what adj.FSV℅ is? It is a measure of SV℅ adjusted to the quality of the shots faced.

            Do you know what High Danger and Medium Danger SV℅ are? They are measures of saves on shots taken in dangerous scoring areas. They are independant of proportional weighting to perimeter shots.

            As for what he is thought of as? It is an appeal to biased perception rather than objective fact.

          • Baalzamon

            further, read the stat breakdown chart. Elliott outperforms Bishop in every rate category except, oddly enough, low danger save rate.

            Granted, Elliott is unlikely to repeat last year’s performance simply because it’s basically a career year. But expecting a significant drop from the mean he managed with St. Louis is a bit disingenuous, at least for the next few years.

  • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

    Been reading about a few “trades” that were close lately. This one and the supposed three way trade with the oil and columbus. I wonder if this is just a by product of BT being so active, I wonder if these were not as close as they are being reported? I mean “they were talking extension with Bishop’s camp”, isn’t that just due diligence on a guy who will be a UFA after this season? Anyway, am glad this didn’t happen, also glad the 3 way trade never happened. Love our off season.

  • Pizanno

    Right now, with their current economical structure, they did the right thing. I really like Elliott. But, hot dang! it would have been fun to snag Bishop! Until we saw what they had to give up to get him…any word on the “deal in principle”?

  • supra steve

    If you can use the Cory Schneider trade from draft day 2013 as a starting template…that deal was a 27 year old Schneider for the 9th overall pick in a deep draft (Bo Horvat). Reportedly, EDM would have paid a higher price for Schneider (7th overall?), VAN chose to ship him out of the division.

    That makes me think Yzerman’s starting ask was probably something like 6th overall (or Hamilton) for Bishop. Perhaps his first fall back was 6th overall (or Hamilton) for Bishop plus 58th overall. A lot of other factors to consider (age, contract status, expansion draft, etc.), but I think Treliving definitely made a wiser deal for Elliott and the free agent signing of Johnson.

    • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

      Okay, so here is another thought that includes trading Hamilton. That is apparently what was going to Edmonton in that 3 way trade that never happened at the draft. Do people feel like BT would actually move Hamilton? I honestly feel he is as untouchable as anyone on this team…

    • Greg

      What was Schneider’s contract at the time though? Contract’s make a huge difference in trade value, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bishop with his contract could have been had for the same or less than Elliot with his extremely desirable contract. There’s no way Bishop would fetch Hamilton, or a top 10 pick, with the contract, and only 1 year left, that he had.

      • supra steve

        Wasn’t my intent to predict what Treliving may have been willing to give up for Bishop…it was obviously less than Yzerman was asking for. CGY had preliminary talks with the Bishop camp on what kind of contract extension he might be willing to sign, and I’m sure that the extension would have needed to be finalized before any significant price was paid for Bishop’s services. In the end, Bishop was going to cost more than Tre was willing to give up, so he went another way. He kicked the tires but he made what appears, at this time, to be a smarter move. Same thing I do every time I buy a car.

  • Greg

    I’m not a fan of the Brouwer contract, but I’d still take him and Elliot over Bishop.

    But it wouldn’t have surprised me if there was a contract going back in the deal.

  • MonsterPod

    Yeah, who knows? Yzerman’s ask may not have been the problem. It may have been that Bishop’s agent wanted 8M in an extension.

    Either way, Bishop will be available at the end of next season anyway as a UFA. If Elliot is a bust this year, Bishop is still an option for us. But he will be $$$

    Most dudes the age of Hamilton are just entering the league after years of development in the A. This guy is money and we don’t know his ceiling. I agree that he should be untouchable for now, until and unless he proves to be JBow 2.0

  • Toofun

    The deals for Elliot and Johnson really couldn’t have worked out any better for Calgary. They are affordable in our cap-crunch year, they look like they should both work on paper given their stats but since goalies are voodoo it increases the probability that at least one of the two of them will work out for us and finally, the contracts don’t limit Calgary’s options for next year when the goalie world gets turned upside down with the expansion draft and new equipment rules. Oh, and it buys our prospects another year of development.

    All together it takes our biggest liability from last year and turns it into an opportunity.

    Calgary still needs someone to step up and become our long-term guy in net but because of these deals, it could be Elliot, Johnson, one of our prospects or a proven goalie from another team who is exposed to expansion so is available via trade at a reasonable cost.

    The competition for the most important position on the team is still wide open but at least this year we look like we have a really good chance to find our guy and get it locked down.

    I’m really looking forward to this year and seeing the whole team take a nice step forward.

  • Kevin R

    I gotta admit, I was really hoping for Bishop. But had we acquired that contract & I doubt Yzerman was taking money back, the whole reason he needed to move Bishop (although expansion was looming but he still had a year to evaluate), then no way we could have signed Johnson. Chances were we would resign Ortio to a 1-2 year deal at min wage. If Bishop got hurt, we would be so screwed. Bishop does have a knack for getting injured. So again, I agree with the majority, this was the best way to go. Bishop still may be in the cards next year, depending on how this goes, but Elliott & Johnson deserve the chance.

  • Slowmo

    So a month before the season starts and were beating a dead horse Eliot is here and Bishop is not. Who to say Mr B will fail miserably this yr and we win the Stanley or visa versa who knows all I know is JH is going to Philly for a bag of pucks. Our young talented player wants to go home to mommy because she pulls the strings.She misses her baby and wants him home with the family I only hope BT has enough sense to to get a kings ransom for him. LOL. Ok before everyone starts throwing stones at me Im kidding but wouldn’t it be sad if it were true