Waived: Blue Jackets’ McElhinney, Oilers’ Gustavsson
Monday was a tough day to be a seldom-used backup goaltender in the NHL.
The Columbus Blue Jackets placed Curtis McElhinney on waivers and the Edmonton Oilers did the same with Jonas Gustavsson after each had a rough start over the weekend.
Each goalie was among the least used in the NHL this season, with Gustavsson getting into seven games behind workhorse Cam Talbot, who leads the League with 37 starts, and McElhinney making seven appearances behind Sergei Bobrovsky, who trails only Talbot and San Jose’s Martin Jones with 34 starts this season. McElhinney and Gustavsson each started five times, but the similarities end there.
McElhinney was handling sporadic starts pretty well up until a third period Columbus meltdown against the New York Rangers on Saturday. Despite blowing a 4-1 lead in that game, McElhinney was 2-1-2 with a .924 save percentage this season and above expected save percentage for the shots he faced, with a positive 1.39 adjusted fenwick 5-on-5 save percentage (Bobrovsky is 1.84), per the CorsicaHockey website.
Gustavsson on the other hand was struggling by any measure.
In his first season with the Oilers, Gustavsson is 1-3-1 with an .878 save percentage after giving up four goals on 17 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. While Talbot has managed to maintain a positive adjusted fenwick 5-on-5 save percentage of 1.17, Gustavsson is on the other side of the ledger at -1.69, meaning he is performing below expected for the types of shots he is facing, and a negative goals save above average of -1.70 also indicates he’s playing below the NHL average.
Not that the job is an easy one for either goalie. Sitting for prolonged stretches between starts as a seldom-used backup is one of the tougher jobs in hockey, but it may be one that McElhinney is better suited for at this point in his career. While there is little to choose from statistically over the past three seasons combined, McElhinney’s neutral style should be less reliant on reads and rhythm compared to an aggressive positional approach that always made Gustavsson an odd fit in Edmonton.
Even thought General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Colubus Dispatch it wasn’t about one game, it’s interesting that McElhinney lost the job after blowing the lead Saturday, a performance that included one bad goal through a screen from the side boards, a 2-on-1, a breakaway, a partial breakaway and screened power play goal just under the cross bar. During the Blue Jackets’ 16-game win streak McElhinney stopped 32 of 34 against the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 3 and 42 of 44 in a shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 20, after which coach John Tortorella praised his backup for enduring a tough job:
“It sucks. And Mac knows. Mac knows we have two young kids down in the minors, and one of the kids played really well when he came up here,” Tortorella said. “Mac just goes out to practice, does his thing. No one really talks to him. There’s no special warmup for Mac. And the coach just doesn’t play him that much. It sucks. He has to go to the morning skate with the extras when we’re at the hotel in our morning meetings. So, he’s a bit of a speed bag in terms of all the crap that comes at him. But you know what? Look at what he has done here in terms of finding ways to get points. So, I’m thrilled for him. Obviously, I hope it continues. It’s not going to change. I’m still going to go about my business with Bob and I think he understands that. I guess what I’m defining is, he gets that. He has been a tremendous pro since I’ve been here. So, it’s special for me to see him do well because he does – he gets kicked around.”
So what do the moves mean for both teams, and maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs, who continue to alternate between Jhonas Enroth and Antoine Bibeau while riding No.1 Frederik Andersen hard?
The Blue Jackets are but equipped to lose a goalie – and likely to lose another to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this summer – with top prospects Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo waiting in the American Hockey Legaue. Columbus called up Forsberg, who is fourth in the AHL with a .930 save percentage this season after backstopping Cleveland to a Calder Cup championship with a .949 save percentage in last year’s playoffs. Korpisalo has a .900 save percentage this season but posted a .942 save percentage in six starts in December and has a higher ceiling than the steady Forsberg.
Some believe Edmonton might elect to put in a claim on McElhinney rather than recall current No.3 Laurent Brossoit, who has had an up-and-down season with Bakersfield of the AHL:
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) January 9, 2017
Others figured Brossoit was the most likely option:
Expect Laurent Brossoit to be called by up by #Oilers tmw or Wednesday, once Gustavsson clears.
McElhinney claim unlikely, I am told.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) January 9, 2017
As for the Maple Leafs, as much as Gustavsson’s struggles in Edmonton shouldn’t have been a shock, there is some familiarity with Toronto coach Mike Babcock from their time together with the Detroit Red Wings, and more importantly the coach’s long standing preference for more aggressive positional goaltending.
The most likely outcome is both goalies clearing waivers and ending up in the AHL, but the need for a back up in a couple places could make for an interesting waiver period for all involved.