The excitement level was high when the Calgary Flames acquired Brian Elliott in June, and for good reason. Elliott was fresh off a Western Conference Final appearance with the St. Louis Blues and only cost the team a second round pick. After a miserable start to his first season in Calgary, Elliott has put together a ridiculous run (including a franchise record-tying win streak) and looks like a bona fide number one goaltender heading into the postseason. I don’t know if we saw this coming in October and November, but this is the Brian Elliott everyone has been hoping for.
This last stretch that has Elliott looking like a high end number one goalie is perhaps the most significant thing to happen for the Flames all season long. For Calgary to make real noise in the postseason, they’re going to need one of their goalies to be playing at a high level. Right now, that goalie is Elliott.
Elliott was one of the goalies targeted by Flames fans when thinking of potential offseason upgrades on Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller. While never shouldering a true number one workload, Elliott’s numbers were some of the NHL’s strongest during his stint with the Blues. Below is an aggregate of Elliott’s five years in St. Louis, which illustrates just how strong he was across the board.
Elliott’s numbers above are extremely impressive even if he didn’t see the same type of workload as others did during that span. In his five years in St. Louis, Elliott averaged just over 35 starts per season and peaked at 45 during the 2014-15 campaign. In comparison to established starters like Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, and Henrik Lundqvist, those starting numbers for Elliott are low. But they also don’t diminish the good work he did.
Elliott’s past workload is a big reason why his contract is so affordable right now. With a $2.5 million cap hit on an expiring contract, Elliott isn’t breaking the bank right now. A higher number of starts and comparable to numbers to those above would almost certainly see him on a much heftier contract.
For a variety of reasons, though, the Blues never saw Elliott as their unquestioned number one. During his time in St. Louis, Elliott was paired up with Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, and Jake Allen at different times and, as such, was never handed a true number one workload. In turn, Elliott’s contract was kept very reasonable and it’s something Calgary jumped on when they had the chance in June.
Now that Elliott has tied Mike Vernon’s franchise mark with an 11th consecutive victory, it’s a little bit harder to recollect just how bad his time with the Flames started. In reality, though, Elliott’s season has been a tale of two halves with a little bit still to be written.
Elliott’s season started with two really rough outings against the Edmonton Oilers and he looked like a shadow of the guy who led the Blues to a Western Conference Final a few months prior. In fact, Elliott’s struggles carried well into December and he looked shaky even as the wins started to accumulate. Then something happened.
I don’t know if a switch went off or if Elliott just finished adjusting, but Elliott has looked like a totally different goaltender since the beginning of February. Take a look at the splits in Elliott’s first four months in comparison to what he’s accomplished over the last eight weeks or so.
Those numbers really are staggering. Statistically, Elliott wasn’t even an NHL-caliber goalie for the first half of the season and now he’s playing some of the best hockey at the position in the world. In fact, by save percentage, only Jake Allen, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jonathan Bernier have better totals with similar games played since Feb. 1.
Since Feb. 21, Elliott has rattled off 11 straight wins and his numbers are even more impressive. During this record-tying run, Elliott has a 0.942 save percentage, which ranks fourth among comparable goalies; plain and simple, whether we look at a smaller sample size or the entire picture since the beginning of last month, Elliott has been elite.
As I said earlier, I think Elliott’s emergence as a high end number one goalie is the most significant thing to happen to the Flames this season. While the formation of the 3M line, the resurgence of Johnny Gaudreau, and Dougie Hamilton’s coming out party are all massively important, it’s Elliott’s stunning turnaround leading the way.
Heading into the playoffs, Calgary is a pretty good team, but I don’t think they’re good enough to make any noise with average goaltending. Elliott doesn’t need to keep his save percentage in the 0.940 range as the postseason approaches, but with him in the 0.930 ballpark, the Flames could absolutely win some playoff rounds.
Elliott was acquired to be this team’s number one goaltender and he certainly looks the part right now. On an expiring contract, Elliott’s future with the team is up in the air and is fodder for a great article later this spring. For now, though, Calgary can feel extremely confident about what they’re getting from their number one. I’m not sure I saw this coming a few months ago.