Brian Elliott did not come as advertised.
This was a goalie coming off of a .930 (!) save percentage over the course of 42 games, and maintaining that level of play into the third round of the playoffs. Elliott had put up decent to outstanding numbers in the five years he spent with St. Louis, and though he’d never been a true starter – the most he hit with the Blues in one season was 46 games – a trade to the Flames was supposed to be his chance to prove he could be.
After all, he was already posting some of the NHL’s best numbers, and had been an All-Star a couple of times. It was as good a bet as any to make – and ultimately, it kind of did pay off.
2016-17 season summary
Alright! The three-headed goalie monster from the season before was all out of the NHL, and the Flames had brought in two guys with a history of posting pretty good numbers to take over instead. Goaltending was one of the Flames’ biggest woes in 2015-16, but considering Elliott’s pedigree, it was sure to no longer be a problem– aaaaand he has a .778 SV% to start the season.
It was rough for a bit, but in Elliott’s fourth game of the season – the Flames’ seventh – he earned his first win, with a .939 SV% to boot. After being denied the chance to face off against his former team, he was the Flames’ starter for their first game in St. Louis, and showed off with a .958 SV% and a near shutout. October had been rough for the Flames, Elliott included, but they were finally turning the corner– aaaand a series of sub-.900 SV% games saw him lose his starting job by mid-November.
Elliott spent much of the season with a save percentage under .900, a far cry from pretty much anything he’d done in St. Louis. It took all the way until February for him to reclaim the starter’s net, and that wasn’t necessarily entirely through his own merit: Chad Johnson had finally hit a really rough patch of his own, the entire team was floundering (again) and something needed to be done, and Elliott had the first start of the brief “win and you’re in” campaign. (It was brief because eventually, when he did lose, his overall play was going so well it wouldn’t have made sense to not give him the next start.)
Suddenly, in late February, Elliott looked like the guy the Flames thought they were getting. He conquered a personal best with 11 wins in a row, and dragged his save percentage up above .900, something that had seemed to be impossible only a few weeks before. The Flames rode Elliott to the playoffs, during which he was outstanding in the first game– aaaaaaaaand then they were swept in part thanks to his netminding, his season ending upon being pulled just 5:38 into Game 4 when he gave up a goal while already on a short leash.
Compared to last season
Let’s be up front: there’s no way in which Elliott’s season looks good. He went from a .930 SV% to .910, and that included a Herculean effort filled with tons of great performances to end up with that ultimately mediocre save percentage. He went from playing 18 playoff games – although the St. Louis team in front of him certainly had their part in that – to getting swept. It was a downgrade in every possible way.
Via Corsica’s rolling average feature:
Elliott did recover a bit towards the end, but he couldn’t quite match what he posted towards the end of his time with the Blues, even when he was playing much better.
Then again, an earlier look at this – and looking further back in his season – continues to suggest that goalies might be, well, voodoo. He’s fluctuated throughout his career; it’s just that this year happened to be a down one.
Where did the goals come from?
Among goalies with at least 1,500 5v5 minutes played, Elliott was 23rd out of 36 in 5v5 SV% with 92.12%. That’s almost a full percentage point above the worst goalie (Cam Ward, 91.28%), and almost two back of the best (Craig Anderson, 94.04%). It’s not that he had the worst save percentage ever, but he just barely avoided staying out of the bottom third of this group.
Switch to just low-danger SV%, and Elliott’s 97.82% was 25th. His medium-danger SV% was 93.25% – 10th. And his high-danger SV% of 79.13% was 29th. Via Corsica, we can look at where he faced shots, and where he gave up goals, throughout the season:
It’s no surprise to see most of the goals that went against him appear to have come from the slot, but there are a handful of oddities there, including some point shots and that weird centre ice goal I’m pretty sure was from that 2-1 Canucks overtime loss right before the 10-game win streak. The major downside to this is a lot of these goals come from seemingly anywhere and everywhere – even if they weren’t that frequent, there’s enough of them grouped together in those little outer locations to raise some concerns, especially when it comes to Elliott’s low-danger SV%.
It seemed to be something of an issue in 2015-16, too, though not as bad:
Those types of goals will happen – but for the Flames this season, the slot seems to have been a more concentrated area to score on Elliott. That’s partially on him, but may be on his defence, as well (his high-danger SV% in 2015-16 was 86.22% – an over 7% increase. His low-danger SV% was about the same between seasons).
Elliott, who carried a $2.5 million cap hit this past season, is approaching free agency.
Maybe the Flames will re-sign him.
Then again, maybe they’ll target somebody else.
As things currently stand, the Flames have no NHL-ready goaltenders under contract for 2017-18. Thanks to both the expansion draft and free agency, they should have quite the number to choose from, and Elliott is included among that group.
Those final three playoff games – well, two and change – may have cost him his chance at the big money contract he was working his way towards earning over March. That’s unfortunate for him, but fortunate for whatever team he ends up signing with, as he likely won’t carry that big of a cap hit – and may go back to providing extremely valuable goaltending yet.
It was a down year for Elliott, there’s no questioning that. The question is, is that who Elliott will be for the rest of his career? Or will the goalie who put up those elite numbers in the seasons beforehand make a comeback?
… And will it be with the Flames?
Welcome to this offseason’s Flames player evaluations!
Over the next month we’ll be breaking down these guys’ 2016-17 seasons. As long as he finished the season as a Flame and played at least a quarter of the season for them, he’ll be included in these.
We’ll be going in order by player number, so Elliott got the first draw; tomorrow will be Mark Giordano, and so on and so forth. Enjoy!