Grading the 2011-12 Blues
Earlier this week I evaluated Jaroslav Halak in the first edition of “Grading the 2011-12 Blues”. Today we shift to his partner in crime between the pipes, Brian Elliott. Will Elliott’s final grade surpass Halak’s? Read on to find out.
Previous Grading the Blues Articles
– Jaroslav Halak –
Prior to 2011-12
The St. Louis Blues signed Brian Elliott to a one-year, $600,000 contract prior to the 2011-12 season in the hopes that Elliott would compete with Peoria netminder Ben Bishop for the #2 job behind Jaroslav Halak. The 2011-12 preseason saw both Elliott and Bishop play well but ultimately Elliott won the role due to his previous NHL experience he had with Colorado and Ottawa.
For Elliott, this deal with the Blues was a chance to put his career back on track. He found some success in 2009-10 with Ottawa (29-18-4 with a 2.57 GAA) but saw his career spiral downward in 2010-11 when he struggled with the Senators (13-19-8 with a 3.19 GAA) before being dealt to Colorado where things only got worse (2-8-1 with a 3.83GAA).
Elliott was called on early in the year after the Blues came out of the gate sluggish and Jaroslav Halak turned in several unimpressive performances in net. Elliott rose to the challenge, giving the Blues some stability in what was ultimately a rocky October for the club as a whole.
When Ken Hitchcock was brought in Elliott and his teammates found a new gear (Warning – you’ll be hearing this a lot). For Elliott this meant playing some of the best hockey of his life which included a month of November where he won all six of the games he started.
The rest of the year played out with Halak and Elliott splitting time. When one went on a hot streak the other would try to best it. The end result was two goaltenders pushing the other forward, causing both men to have some of the best numbers in the NHL.
Elliott never sputtered out. His hot streak wasn’t just a streak as it lasted for the duration of the 2011-12 regular season. He had some rocky starts but for the most part, he came to play each and every time he took the ice. March even saw Elliott string together three consecutive shutouts.
Elliott’s season was truly remarkable. He was signed by the Blues merely to compete for the #2 job – a job that most thought would end up with Ben Bishop. Instead, he went on to be the team’s only All-Star. The icing on the cake? Elliott led the NHL in both goals against average as well as save percentage. Statistically, Elliott had some of the best, if not the best, numbers in the NHL all season long and gave the Blues a fearsome 1-2 punch in net. His hard work earned him a new two-year deal worth $3.6 million.
Final numbers: 23-10-4 with a 1.56 GAA and a save percentage of .940%.
Regular season grade: A+
Summarized: Elliott’s grade is pretty easy to calculate. Combine low expectations and an even lower salary with the NHL’s best GAA and save percentage and the result is an “A+”. Elliott will likely be the only “A+” on the St. Louis roster but it is rightfully deserved. He bests Halak’s grade of an “A” simply because of expectations. Elliott had almost no expectations. He came in with a deal that would allow him to play in Peoria if Bishop won the job in the preseason. To give you some perspective, Elliott’s $600,000 contract was the exact same as Chris Porter’s. Elliott put up numbers that bested goaltenders making 10 times as much as he was. He wasn’t only extremely valuable on the ice but he was also one of the best values the Blues have had financially in recent memory.
This section is tough to analyze. The knee-jerk reaction is to state Elliott’s postseason was a disaster based on his poor effort in Game 3 against Los Angeles. However, we must evaluate his play in the playoffs as a whole in an attempt to see what went wrong and to see just how much blame he is responsible for.
Elliott came in to relieve an injured Jaroslav Halak in the second period of Game 2 in the first round against San Jose. He played great in relief – a feat that is much tougher than you or I give credit for. It’s not easy to flip the switch mentally in order to go from casually observing on the bench to being the last line of defense.
The first round ended with Elliott only allowing five goals in 219 minutes. He stopped 93 of the 98 shots he faced.
The second round was ugly but it’s important not to place all the blame on Elliott’s shoulders. Game 3 was something we would all like to forget but let’s not forget how Elliott was hung out to dry in Game 1 and Game 2. At the very least we can say Elliott was trying his best in Game 1 and Game 2 – a sentiment that can not be used on the majority of other players on the roster. LA’s forwards went unchallenged, allowing numerous uncontested shots on Elliott’s net. Can we really blame Elliott for the 2-on-1 goals and short-handed goals?
Game 3 is a different story. That one we can pin on Elliott. He had a bad game at the most inopportune moment. The pressure was at its highest and Elliott couldn’t handle the added weight. It’s safe to say that the announcement of Halak being out for the rest of the second round prior to Game 3 didn’t relieve any of the stress that was mounting on Elliott. It was then that Elliott knew it was all on him and him alone. Unfortunately he couldn’t complete the storybook season, suddenly looking extremely vulnerable in Game 3.
Final numbers: 3-4 with a 2.38 GAA and a save percentage of .904%.
Playoff grade: B-
Summarized: Elliott’s playoff grade isn’t lower because his teammates were at fault for several of the goals in the second round. It’s unfair to blame Elliott for all the goals he allowed as the St. Louis defenseman were repeatedly in poor positions and repeatedly stood and watched the puck rather than jumping in and making a play. No power play unit should allow the opposition’s penalty kill to have several quality short-handed opportunities. The successes of the first round must also be recognized. Elliott made some big, timely saves that caused the series to look a bit more lopsided than it actually was.
Elliott’s grade isn’t higher because of Game 3. They say you can measure a man by how well he performs under pressure. For Elliot, the pressure was just too much and it resulted in a few soft goals in a critical game for the St. Louis Blues. This time he was at fault, allowing savable pucks to squeak by into the net. The Blues needed Elliott to be at his best and he simply failed to give the team a fighting chance.
Elliott will be back for 2012-13 and 2013-14 thanks to a two-year deal he signed during the regular season. He will again be paired with Jaroslav Halak as the two men both have contracts that run over the course of the next two seasons.
Realistically, we saw the best possible scenario out of Elliott in 2011-12. While it’s possible, it’s unlikely that he will once again lead the NHL in GAA and save percentage. Ideally, the Blues should hope they have a Brian Elliott that is focused and still striving to put the earlier struggles he had in his career behind him. They should hope that both Elliott and Halak can remain healthy as they clearly struggle when the partnership isn’t in place. They should hope that the unfathomable story that has been Brian Elliott’s run with the Blues still has some magic left in the years to come.