WWYD: Re-sign Chad Johnson or Brian Elliott?

Brad Treliving entered the season with a pretty clear plan in goal. Brian Elliott as the starter, Chad Johnson was the battle tested backup and David Rittich on the farm to support top prospect Jon Gillies. 

Unfortunately, reality hasn’t played along. Johnson has been the better of the two veterans in aggregate while Rittich has outplayed Gillies on the farm. To make things ever more complicated, Elliott has arguably been the better goalie recently, but he’s also older and therefore closer to his expiration date.

Elliott, Johnson and Rittich are all free agents next year. Who do you re-sign?

First of all, you might be wondering about the need to sign a puckstopper for the purposes of exposing someone in the expansion draft. The Flames have taken care of that by inking well-travelled AHL veteran Tom McCollum to a two-year contract. So that won’t be an issue. 

The complicating factor here is both Elliott and Johnson will likely be looking for more of a commitment from whomever they sign with after this season. Both guys have endured careers marked by short contracts and hesitant commitments from their previous clubs. 

For Johnson, it would be his first opportunity at 30 years old to be a inked as a legitimate starter in the NHL. He’s lived life as a perpetual backup thus far, so he’ll be eager to leverage his good showing from this season in negotiations with the Flames (or whoever else he talks to).

On the other hand, Brian Elliott put up elite numbers in the NHL for five seasons leading up to this one. A new father and a player desperate for his first long-term, starter-type contract, Elliott won’t be too interested in a deal that doesn’t give him some long-term stability. 

Finally, Rittich is in the conversation because the Flames may need a backup next season (if they walk away from one of Johnson or Elliott) and he’s been the better of the two hopefuls in the AHL to date. 

So what are the options? We’ll leave the minor league goalie out of the equation for now:

1.) Sign Elliott for 3+ years.

2.) Sign Johnson for 3+ years.

3.) Find a way to keep both Johnson and Elliott.

There are risks and challenges in all of these situations. 

1.) If Elliott had arrived in Calgary and been as effective as he had been in St. Louis, option #1 is probably a no-brainer. Except that hasn’t happened. He’s putting up the worst results of his NHL career so far, casting serious doubt on whether he can be the club’s starter moving forward. 

In addition, Elliott turns 32 this April. A three-year contract would take him into his “probable declining” years (assuming we haven’t reached those already).

2.) As for Johnson, he’s putting up some of the best results of his NHL career, but there’s always risk associated with “buying high” since guys tend to regress back to career norms eventually. He has also never played more than 45 games in an NHL season and therefore is something of an unknown commodity when it comes to being a regular starter in the NHL. 

Johnson is also just a year younger than Elliott. So, like Elliott, a long-term commitment comes with the strong possibility that his performance will erode as the contract matures. 

3.) From a Flames perspective, option three is probably the best, assuming they could get both guys on reasonable deals. As mentioned, however, neither guy is likely to be enamoured with a platoon situation or a contract that indicates he isn’t the team’s putative starter moving forward. Meaning, for this option to happen, Treliving likely has to overpay both guys. 

So there are no easy answers. 

The good news is, the need for this decision isn’t imminent, meaning Treliving and company have some time to gather more information and weigh their options. Remember guys like MA Fleury and Ben Bishop are likely to be available via trade before the expansion draft as well.

So what do you do Flames fans? Re-sign Johnson? Elliott? Both? Or do you play the trade market… 

  • everton fc

    Johnson’s younger, and his lifetime save percentage is better than Elliot’s (albeit due to Elliot’s poor performance thus far). So, if given the option of these two, Johnson’s the easy answer for me.

    As for next years backup, if Elliot can be retained, so be it. If one of Rittich or Gillies is ready, I’m okay w/this as well. Rittich certainly looks impressive, and may turn out to be quite a nice surprise for us next season, as a backup. I personally don’t think Gillies is ready.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I’d be trying hard to acquire Fleury from the Penguins and if I was able to acquire him I’d let both walk and have Gillies as my back up. Or plan B would be to try and acquire Bishop right now and resign to a 2 year extension and have Gillies back up. Not a big fan of either Johnson or Elliot moving forward..neither are #1 NHL goalies

  • DangleSnipeCelly

    Don’t do anything for as long as possible. I don’t think the Flames know what they have in Elliott at all, he hasn’t played enough. Wait 5/6 weeks til closer to the trade deadline then re-evaluate. Maybe both guys are playing great and one can be flipped to a team with question marks in goal.

    I definitely wouldn’t do three more years with Elliott based on what we’ve seen so far.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I agree. Really happy the team has more time on this decison. Until last night Johnson has been better on balance, but last night . . . Not so much.

  • DestroDertell

    It’s extremely difficult to predict how goaltenders will perform on yr-by-yr basis. Height, previous sv%, GAA, you name it.. they all suck. For example, ahl save% have a low correlation (~0.2 auto-r2) with future nhl stats. I’ll take a wild guess and say we should try to trade Elliott back to St-Louis because they miss him dearly and we keep the 2018 3rd for what it’s worth. I don’t know if Johnson can sustain his good numbers for three consecutive years and he’ll rightfully be asking for a raise. What if we look somewhere else instead?

    Oddly enough, when a team trades valuable assets for a young backup (or 1B), it usually works out pretty well for them.

    Schneider for a #9 overall

    Lehner for a 1st + taking a cap dump

    Jones for a 1st

    Varlamov for 1st + 2nd

    Not a very large sample size, but still. Half of them were acquired after a down year (Jones, Lehner). All of them ended up being pretty reliable starters, although Varlamov is sucking pretty bad right now along with the rest of his team.

    So I’m thinking, why not try to trade for Mzarek? Holland has shown time and time again he’s a pretty reactionary GM so he’s probably available. Before this season, Mzarek had some way-above-average stats at every levels he played. He also fits the age/height gap of the four players at the time they were traded.

    • JoelOttosJock

      Didn’t think Mrazek was available..but I’d like that move better than the 2 I had suggested. Just how young he is and he is more proven than either of the 2 we have now with a lot more up side.

    • EhPierre

      There is no way Mrazek is available. If he was you do what you can to acquire him but Holland isn’t going to let his bonafide future starter be traded

    • jakethesnail

      “I’ll take a wild guess and say we should try to trade Elliott back to St-Louis because they miss him dearly and we keep the 2018 3rd for what it’s worth.”

      A comment I heard yesterday or today on one of the TV sports talk shows is that St Louis doesn’t want
      Elliott back…

      Does any of our FN bloggers have a list of potential goalies available at the TDL or at the last year of their contract and a possible UFA?

      • Stu Cazz

        Funny about media reports…today HN is reporting that St Louis are trying to work on a trade with the Flames for Elliott. They are unhappy with Allen’s performance and are reluctant to give up significant assets for Bishop or Fleury….all rumours at this point.

  • deantheraven

    Trading for Fleury or Bishop would be foolish. Their ages plus size of their contracts just don’t make sense here when we have cheaper and at least comparable- level talent (Elliott and Johnson). I wouldn’t touch Bishop’s contract, let alone trade for it and give up something of value. Signing Johnson for 3 years at a decent hometown value isn’t going to hurt. Look at the way the team plays in front of him now, and look at the way he carries himself.If Rittich (or Gillies) proves to be ready by camp next September, Chad would be a great choice for platooning, mentoring and pushing the next one. Sentimentality aside, it would be a great signing to have another local boy, who quietly leads by example, to continue the development of the Flames young roster.

    • JoelOttosJock

      You’re not really comparing the flames goaltenders to bishop and fleury are you? And both their contracts are up at the end of the year..open to reasonable negotiations. But give your head a shake on comparing the the four..just because they play the same position in the same league does not make them comparable..next you’ll tell me that Giordano is comparable to Shea Weber..

      • deantheraven

        Look at their stats this season. Chad’s in the top 10 in GAA & Sv%. Bishop is 25th. Fleury is 44th.
        Bishop’s salary is 5.95 mil. Fleury is 5.75 mil.
        Do you think “reasonable negotiations” will drop them to the 3-4.5 mil range? Because that’s the range where I imagine our current pair (certainly Johnson) will be at in July.If we wait that long.

    • everton fc

      Agreed. Sign Johnson, see how Elliott finishes the season… We have Rittich waiting, Gillies can get one more year of “pro” under his belt.

      Then Parsons comes into the organization…

      I like the way we look in net, down the road. If Johnson signs and becomes # 2 behind Rittich, Gillies or Parsons down the road, so be it. Could be worse.

  • PrairieStew

    I would wait another month before even talking about it. Elliott’s numbers have been steadily improving. 6 of his last 8 starts over .923 and a 2.03 GAA in that stretch. He is both of more value to the Flames and in a potential deadline move if that continues. You might actually recoup more than you gave up for him this summer in a deadline deal.

    Waiting also helps evaluate exactly what Johnson is. He’s had 11 good starts in that same period since American Thanksgiving, but 5 poor ones , with a GAA of 2.43 over that time. Was he better than Elliott in Oct/Nov – yes; has he been since – not so sure.

    • supra steve

      At this point in time, I’m on board with this plan. Sign Johnson to no more than a 2 year extension, if his demands are reasonable. See if Elliott is a marketable commodity at the TDL. But, with the Pens looking to move Fleury and the Bolts Bishop, the demand for Elliott may be limited.

  • Newbietwo

    The penguins apparently are willing to buy out fluery before exposing Murray and I think some team are hitching their wagons to the last minute opportunity that forces their hand in order to get reduced salary and a second rounder instead of purely buying him out..

    If that is the scenario as a flame you would have to be in on it but other then that you don’t sign any of the goalies on the market and part yourself in a cap crunch again..

    You want to deal with reality and around the league that is that no one will pay more than $2.5 million for either of our goalies.. so if we really wanted we can have both therefore stand pat and review at the end of the season..

  • Lucky 13

    This is not worth making decisions until end of February.
    From my personal perspective, I see a more comfortable goalie in Johnson.
    I’m not concerned when he’s in net, can’t say the same with Elliott (even though I like him as well)

    I’m always worried about Elliot’s next save. Even if Johnson has a less than stellar game, I feel more confident when he’s playing.
    My observation is that the Flames players seem to rally around Johnson.

    To me, that says a lot.
    I’m sure if he’s given the net as the starter, he would do everything in his power to rise to the occasion. Plus it would be a great way to show faith in his abilities.
    He strikes me as an consummate professional, the way he carries himself and his preparation for games.
    Also, he would probably be more affordable as a local who wants to be here and something to prove.

    If Rittich or Gillies takes the next leap next year our goalie scenario keeps our cap space open for other potential additions, should that be needed.

    No need for free agent over priced tenders!

    • deantheraven

      Ezzackly! Johnson will never be overpriced and the NextGen will be cheap for a least 2-3 years.
      It does look very good for the next few years, doesn’t it?

  • Rockmorton65

    Unless Elliott lights it up in the second half, I’d sign Johnson to a 2-3 year deal. Then I’d roll with something like…

    Next year:

    2017/18
    NHL – Johnson/Gillies
    AHL – Ridditch/Parsons

    2018/19
    NHL – Gillies/Johnson
    AHL – Parsons/Ridditch

    2019/20
    NHL – Gillies/Parsons

    This is of course dependent on Johnsons play staying consistent. If neither he nor Elliot are putting up average starter numbers, that’s when you look at plan B, acquire a starter through trade/fa (ie Fleury w/2yrs left)

    • Stu Cazz

      With Gillies losing a year of development due to hip surgery and his inconsistent performance this year he is far from ready perhaps 2-3 years away. A Johnson/Ridditch combination is a possibility based on Ridditch’s impressive play this year or perhaps Johnson and another veteran back-up.

      In my view Elliott should be traded at the deadline to secure drafts/prospects….

  • OKG

    Keep all the goalies until UFA but no extensions. Never know what happens. Maybe they do an 06 Hurricanes and tandem to the end. Maybe there is an injury. There is no urgency right now to make a decision. Maybe both get injured and Rittich pulls a Matt Murray.

  • freethe flames

    Huge game tonight against another bubble team chasing us; whoever gets the net tonight needs to play well. A win and we move up 6 points up on the Pred’s negating in some way the 3 games in hand they have. We need to see the same effort from the squad as we saw the last 2 games,

  • BobB

    Trade the goalie of the two that provides the best return at the deadline. Sign the other two.

    Then Gillies, Rittich and X compete for the 1 and 2 positions next camp.Although my feeling is Gillies needs another year at least.

  • #97TRAIN

    I think they have played pretty well other than the start of the season. There’s no reason the Flames shouldn’t sign both. It’s too early for Calgary to rely on a different backup with no NHL experience.

    If you go with a rookie backup you could be in trouble if the starter goes down with injury.

  • oilersuck

    This is tough because its so hard to guess when a goalie is going to be ready to make the jump. Best thing to do is to keep options open. This is my ideal scenario.

    First thing is to sign Elliot/Johnson/other NHL starter that you would be comfortable for 2-3 years. I’d go with Johnson but I’d be interested in other free agents too.

    Sign backup for 1 year, it would be great to keep Rittich but I don’t see a spot for him unless they think he is ready for a NHL backup role. I’d prefer going with someone who has proven themselves as a capable NHL backup next year.

    If Gillies isn’t ready to take the jump in 18/19 you can always find another backup to fill the spot, but if he is ready to make the jump I wouldn’t want both Elliot and Johnson on 3+ year deals in his way.

    2017/18
    NHL – Johnson/NHL backup
    AHL – Gillies/Parsons
    ECHL – McDonald/Schneider

    2018/19
    NHL – Johnson/Gillies
    AHL – Parsons/McDonald
    ECHL – Schneider

    2019/20
    NHL – Gillies/Parsons
    AHL – McDonald/Schneider

      • oilersuck

        What exactly would you change in my proposed timeline then? I have Gillies as a injury call up in 17/18 and the full time back up in 18/19. Are you saying they should keep Rittich in the AHL again next year to be the injury call up?

        I don’t think Parsons should do an overage year on the OHL, he seems ready to make the jump to me. If that is the case then then I don’t see a spot for Rittich.

          • oilersuck

            Parsons will be 20 in September so I think that makes him eligible for pro or a overage player if he were to stay in the OHL next year. Mason McDonald is 20 and he could have stayed in the QMJHL for a overage season but they thought his development would be better in the ECHL. I would guess Parsons turns pro next year.