NHL free agency: Could Brian Elliott bounce back with the Flyers?

Elliott, whose recent history is pretty similar to that of Steve Mason, may make sense as a replacement for him on the Flyers.

[UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman’s “early predictions” regarding the free agent goalie market have Elliott going to Philadelphia. Timely! Original post below.]


This morning, we took a look at a potential Flyers goalie target in free agency, current Anaheim Duck and former L.A. King/Toronto Maple Leaf Jonathan Bernier. Here, we’ll look at another guy the Flyers may be interested in: departing Calgary Flames netminder Brian Elliott.

Brian Elliott

  • Age at start of 2017-18 season: 32
  • 2016-17 Team: Calgary Flames/

Statistical Overview: Brian Elliott

All-Situations Save %90.98% (35/47)91.87% (13/46)
5-on-5 Save %92.17% (29/47)92.83% (15/46)
Quality Start %57.8% (14/47)61.7% (3/46)

(Rankings above are out of all goalies that played in at least 25 games per season during the timeframe in question. “Quality Start %” is the percentage of a goalie’s starts in which he allows 2 or fewer goals, or has a save percentage above the league average.)

Why is he available?

Because he picked a bad time to have his worst season in years. Elliott’s story isn’t that unlike Steve Mason’s, in some ways. After struggling his way through three seasons in Ottawa, Elliott revived his career in St. Louis beginning in 2011, consistently posting outstanding numbers with the Blues. Still, St. Louis never seemed totally comfortable handing him an unquestioned No. 1 role, and with Jake Allen ready to take over the reins there, they dealt Elliott to Calgary last summer for a second-round pick.

But given a chance to take the starter’s job with the Flames and run with it this past season, Elliott fell flat, recording a very pedestrian .910 save percentage and essentially being matched in performance by journeyman Chad Johnson. The Flames have since moved to trade for Arizona netminder Mike Smith, which essentially guaranteed that Elliott won’t be returning to Calgary unless he’s content being a clear backup to Smith (and maybe not even then).

Does he meet the Flyers’ needs?

Using the checklist we established earlier today in Bernier’s post, let’s see how Elliott may fit with what the Flyers are looking for.

  1. Can the Flyers sign him to a short-term deal? You’d think so. Elliott’s last contract was a three-year deal, and that was signed at a time when he was coming off of a .922 season and had some leverage in St. Louis. Right now he doesn’t have nearly as much leverage with anyone. Also, he’s 32. No one’s giving him a lengthy deal.
  2. Is he good? Probably? Elliott’s late-blooming career arc is an interesting one, but this past season was his worst non-shortened NHL season (by save percentage) since 2010-11, and even this year he was just below-average rather than catastrophically bad. The track record since he got to St. Louis is fantastic — during his five seasons with the Blues, only Tuukka Rask and Carey Price had a higher save percentage among regular goalies. You can debate whether or not those extremely good numbers may have been, at least in part, a product of a solid defensive system in St. Louis, but there’s a point at which the player has to be given some credit for his play, and Elliott’s performance was well beyond that point. Even if it’s maybe unfair to expect him to get back to that level of performance at this point in his career, a bounce-back from last season would not at all be surprising, and the floor here is probably still pretty high.
  3. Can he handle a starter’s workload if necessary? Here’s the real wild card. Elliott was indeed fantastic in St. Louis before being unimpressive in Calgary. But he never played much more than half of the games in a given regular season with the Blues — his 49 games played with Calgary this past season were the most he’s had in a regular season since his Ottawa days of many years ago. He’s dealt with some minor injury problems in the past (chief among them, a lower-body injury in 2015-16 that took him out of play for a month) but for the most part he’s just never been given a starter’s kind of workload. He may be able to do it, but it’s a risk to assume that he can at 32 after years of not doing so.
  4. Can he be signed to a reasonable cap hit? Among potential Flyers targets, Elliott may be one of the more expensive ones. Hockey-Graphs’ Matt Cane’s Puck++ Salary Prediction free agent model has Elliott’s likely price point around $3.6 million per year on a new contract. I think that’d be worth it on a short-term deal, but it would make things a bit tighter against the cap than we may have been expecting. But that figure seems more like a ceiling than a middle ground, and it could be an overshoot — Elliott’s last deal paid him $2.5 million per year, and he may not be able to ask for much more than that after a mediocre contract year that couldn’t have come at a worse time for him.
  5. Can he succeed in a platoon/tandem? Yep! The flip side of our concern at point No. 3 is that we know he can play very well while splitting time with another goalie.

Would the Flyers want him?

I don’t know. As we mentioned earlier, Elliott’s recent history isn’t that unlike Steve Mason’s. Both of them had a rocky (read: bad) tenure with the team that drafted them, went to another team and flourished for a while, only to fall off in 2016-17 in a contract year and (likely) head elsewhere. It’s possible that whatever came up during Mason’s time here that has led the Flyers away from him could also be the case for Elliott.

But at this point in his career, Elliott may be more willing to accept a tandem role than others out there, and as mentioned, it’s very unlikely that he’d demand a long-term deal. The likelihood of him blocking any young guys that may be ready in the near future also seems low. Also, and this part’s important: he’s been consistently very good for the past half-decade and is coming off of one of his only bad years during that time. The fit is there, and there’s a buy-low potential here. You have to think Hextall will at least consider it.

Final thoughts

If the team’s looking for a true tandem guy and a short-term stopgap to work with Neuvirth, Elliott may be the best fit of anyone on the market. He’s succeeded in that role multiple times over the past few years, and while it’s possible that his mediocre 2016-17 season was a sign of things to come as he reaches the twilight of his career, it’s also possible that that was a blip on the radar and he’s still got a couple of good years left in him.

Now, we should point out: there were rumors earlier this week that Elliott was looking at places to live in Winnipeg, which at the time made a possible signing with the Flyers seem unlikely (the Jets are one of the only teams left that is really looking for a goalie in the way that the Flyers are). However, we heard yesterday from TSN’s Bob McKenzie that Winnipeg also has “significant” interest in none other than our old friend Steve Mason, and the odds of both of them signing in Winnipeg would be very slim. We’ll have to keep an eye on that situation, but until any sort of agreement is reached there, the Flyers should absolutely at least give Elliott a call.

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