The idiom goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but time and time again it is proven false. It remains unclear if goaltender Curtis McElhinney has really changed his stripes and became a completely different player. It looks like he does have new tricks up his sleeve though.
His past year compared to others was absolutely outstanding. Over a large sample of games, McElhinney stood out and was a goaltender that could be relied upon. His career has always been up and down, he was even almost out of the league at one point. After serving as a reliable backup for the Toronto Maple Leafs, what comes next for the journeyman backup?
McElhinney like many other veterans relies on intangibles to explain his game. If you ask around you’ll hear how he is a “natural born leader” and is “great to have in the room.” The phrases at this point are cliche but with the amount he has stuck around, there has to be some truth to the phrases.
When McElhinney is truly “on” as a player, you’ll notice that he plays within himself. He isn’t the most athletic goaltender and when he keeps the puck in front of him, he is fundamentally sound enough to get in position to make the save. It comes in handy that he has experience being the starter in times of injury. During the 2014-15 campaign, McElhinney played in 32 games and posted a .914 save percentage. The season not only bought him goodwill with the Blue Jackets but around the league as well.
His save percentage has never been a particular strength but it doesn’t seem to matter. He recently has been posting more quality starts and because of it, he has been able to extend his career.
Being a grizzled veteran is supposed to illicit solid play from a night to night basis. McElhinney as a backup though is an adventure. Not getting consistent playing time can do that to you.
In prior years it was commonplace to see McElhinney out of his net trying to cut down the angle. The problem with cutting down the angle is putting yourself out of position on the backside if you’re wrong. He isn’t athletic enough to recover and it limits the team. Being aggressive in most team’s DNA at this point. He found most of his success this past season sitting back and allowing the play to come to him.
Whether or not he reverts to his old play should let the team know if they found their backup for next season.
Having a glut of overpriced veterans on your roster can be the downfall of teams. In the case of the Maple Leafs, they won’t have to overpay McElhinney to keep him around.
As an unrestricted free agent, McElhinney can go anywhere in the league. If he does go anywhere else he would be passing up a great gig in Toronto. Garrett Sparks is waiting in the wings but a veteran option that won’t cost much isn’t a bad player to have in your system.
It could go either way neither would surprise very much. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll repeat his .917 total save percentage last season between two teams. Then again, McElhinney is full of surprises. He has posted sub .900 save percentages after good years. Depending on who you talk to he will be labeled as consistent or inconsistent.
Avoiding a potential headache may be the way to go.