Fresh on the heels of two solid wins including Wednesday’s victory over a good Toronto Maple Leafs team, Curtis McElhinney is officially the Carolina Hurricanes starting goalie.
As a player who played preseason with another team and was only acquired via waivers to fill in for an injured Scott Darling, he is an improbable #1 but significantly has earned the role.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the past and also the future for Scott McElhinney.
A self-made man
As a sixth-round draft pick in the 2002 draft, Curtis McElhinney was not a player with a high probability of every making it to the NHL when he was drafted. But he made progress during four years of college hockey, spent two years in the AHL proving he was capable and then made the jump to the NHL fairly quickly. Since making his NHL debut with the Calgary Flames during the 2007-08 season, he has played for seven NHL teams and three AHL teams. As a journeyman backup nothing has ever been handed to him. Instead, McElhinney has had to earn his limited ice time and be ready when called upon to fill in for whoever was ahead of him on the depth chart. After years posting respectable but not great numbers, McElhinney seemed to find a higher gear over the past few years. In 2016-17 with Columbus, he posted a .924 Save Percentage and 2.39 Goals Against Average. Then in 2017-18 with Toronto, he upped that to a .934 Save Percentage and 2.14 Goals Against Average with an impressive 11-5-1 record. But even during his rise, he was always a backup.
So the short version is that the recent trajectory of Curtis McElhinney has been decidedly upward.
Entering the 2018-19 season
Entering the 2018-19 season, McElhinney had momentum as noted above. But he was also a 35-year old netminder who last started more than 15 games during the 2014-15 season. It made sense to project him as a capable or better backup with a good amount of NHL experience. But projecting him to be a starter figured to be a stretch given his age and the fact that he had yet to pin down such a role at this stage of his career.
During the 2017-18 season, McElhinney played more than one game in a week exactly once. Interestingly, he won all of those games during a short mid-March burst including a shutout in the last of the three games. The 2016-17 season saw him play more than one game in a week four times. That maybe makes it seem more possible that McElhinney could play a run of games and not be out of his element. But for a player whose start totals have peaked at 15 recently, one has to wonder what the limit is for McElhinney in terms of playing at an effective level.
The here and now
Put simply, right now Curtis McElhinney is the best goalie that the Carolina Hurricanes have. He won three straight games upon arrival before fading a bit. More recently, he currently owns a two-game winning streak. Very clearly, if Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers was a do or die for a playoff spot, McElhinney would be the starter. But the Hurricanes season right now is not solely about winning on Friday. Rather, it is about finding a way to win enough over the 82-game NHL grind. Therein lies the dilemma for Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour and the challenge for the team. No doubt, Brind’Amour will ride McElhinney as long as he keeps his current trajectory. But at some point, Brind’Amour likely will have to find another goalie who can either seize the reins or at least offer an effective way to split games.
Believing in Cinderella
Very clearly, McElhinney’s story would be an attractive one for the team and the NHL if at 35 years old, he is suddenly ready to excel as an NHL starter. Though the volume of games has not been there, the level of play actually has for a couple of years now.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of McElhinney seizing the Canes starting goalie slot? Do you think he can maintain that role all season, or do you think he will soon yield that slot to a team mate?
2) What is your best guess for how many games he can play and still be effective?
McElhinney is a professional athlete. Unless he breaks down physically or mentally he should be ready to go. Mentally, McElhinney seems to be the best goalie the Canes have. He’s an old pro. There is no real downside, professionally, for him with the Canes.
The Canes aren’t in a position where they actually have a #1 goaltender. Darling proves he isn’t every time he gets the opportunity. Mrazek was not good in October if you buy into regular or advanced statistics. The Canes are wishing and hoping they can find a decent goaltender. Why not McElhinney? Are there question marks? Sure. No more than with Darling, Mrazek, or whoever else they could grab off the scrap heap. Good luck, Curtis. We’re rooting for you!
I am very happy for Big Mac, he has certainly paid his dues. As long as he keeps living in the moment he will be fine.
I doubt the team will have a “starting” goaltender so much as we will have a primary one. Mac is playing his way into that role, and he should be given the opportunity to continue. With a back-to-back both Mac and Darling should see action. I would expect Mac tonight which will give him a 3-day rest before Tuesday. IN fact the schedule is favorable in the next two weeks with several two-day breaks for Mac to get more regular work.
Great write-up, Matt. This article really does Mac justice.
I agree with less, ash, and raltj. Darling does some great acrobatics. Mrazek is quick. But, Mac has poise. He exudes calm. He doesn’t wander out of the net. He doesn’t commit too soon. He cooly reads the situation and does his best to make the save. He doesn’t have a tantrum when he misses.
I get the impression that a lot of the team still walks (skates) on eggshells when Darling is in net. Darling may be hip on Instagram, but he’s not always cool in the net. For a team that sometimes has difficulty scoring, that can’t be helpful.
Mac held up to one of the best teams in the NHL on Wednesday. He’s earned the start tonight, if he gets it.
The word that jumps out to me is “calm”. I think that is contagious for the players in front of him right now.
All of the comments above are spot on and well stated. Couldn’t do better myself. Keep up the good work everyone.
I believe Mac gives us the best chance to win. Can he be a number one? Nobody knows if he can keep the energy up.
Darling let’s in too many soft goals. I believe the team cannot be aggressive with him in net. They worry about giving up any shots and that kills our offense.
Mrazek could still come around. I see no place to get any better goalie help. My guess is Mac taking as many games as he can with Mrazek picking up several as well. If we cannot keep 3 goalies then darling goes to the ahl. It’s unfortunate because the story is great but I just do not see darling rising to the level he needs to be. I was so excited when we got him. I never expected him to go backwards.
No reason to send Darling to the AHL. He has a one-way contract, so the pay is the same. Darling would only take development time away from Ned and Booth. He will just sit unless the Canes decide to buy him out.
I knew the pay would be the same. It was really a comment that if we could not keep 3 goalies on the roster, due to 23 limit, then I was picking the one to send down.
I would not want to mess up Ned’s or booths development. It was really find s place for him.
Agree with not sending Darling to Charlotte. Can we send him to the Everblades? Mrazek should go to Charlotte though, for one or two rehab starts with a planned return to Raleigh to jump right in the fray here. (Avoiding the way Darling’s rehab and return was mistimed.) While Mrazek is there let Ned or Booth come here to at least practice at the NHL level.
It’s a nice story and Mac is our best option today. Two games isn’t a hot streak yet, let’s hope this turns into one with another effort today. The schedule sets up nicely for a nice stretch after NYI tomorrow – he should be able to handle that load.
Realistically, our goaltending situation is still in flux. I read a few weeks ago that GMDW at that time was shopping for goaltending so the brain-trust doesn’t see the solution on the current roster. Unclear whether they are trying to resolve this year or multiple years. What about a bigger package with EDM that might include Darling+ for Talbot + RHN, etc.?
Next season Ned is going to get his real shot. Maybe everyone else is just a placeholder until then.