As the Ducks’ goaltending world turns, Curtis McElhinney is out and Dan Ellis is in.
The straight-up swap with the Tampa Bay Lightning was completed in the early hours Thursday. Ellis was scheduled to arrive tonight and be ready to play Friday against the Minnesota Wild.
The trade means a couple things for the Ducks. One, that the team thinks Ray Emery isn’t ready for NHL games and two, that McElhinney isn’t ready to be a starter indefinitely – at least, as long as Jonas Hiller is dealing with the brain issues that he’s been told are a result of vertigo.
“We just felt that we needed some more experience going down the stretch,” general manager Bob Murray said. “We gave Curtis a chance to pay last night, and we thought he played OK last night. Going forward with the uncertainty with Jonas at the moment, we felt we needed more experience. Dan has had experience being a number one, and playing in the playoffs.”
Ellis is signed through 2011-12 at $1.5 million per season; McElhinney makes $535,000 in the final year of his contract. According to CapGeek.com, that gives the Ducks a cap payroll of $55.7 million — slightly above where they have been most of the year, though Murray said the team’s trade front was “a little bit quiet right now.”
Of course, that’s what he said at the beginning of the week, when the Ducks’ goalie tandem of McElhinney and Timo Pielmeier was reeling from a 9-3 loss in St. Louis.
Even though he played fairly well Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, McElhinney wasn’t the same after the three straight losses, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
“Personally, I think he was too hard on himself,” Carlyle said. “I didn’t think he showed enough of an ability to let things go. He wore every opportunity that went negatively …it seemed his personality was down. And that’s not the type of person he is. We never really saw that before.”
In 21 games this season (16 starts), McElhinney is 6-9-1 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .890 save percentage this season. After winning three straight from Feb. 5-11, McElhinney lost the next four. In the three games prior to Wednesday, he had a 6.90 goals-against average and .765 save percentage.
Ellis’ season hasn’t gone perfectly, either. He is 13-7-6 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 31 games (26 starts). After starting the season in a platoon system with Mike Smith, Ellis and Smith were both relegated to the bench when Dwayne Roloson was acquired from the New York Islanders.
“(Roloson) came in and provided instant stability, being a character, veteran person,” Ellis said. “I had a chance to almost take a step back and just learn from him, which was to me one of the best things that could have happened to my career.”
Ellis hasn’t played much lately — just four starts and six appearances since Jan. 1. He allowed three goals in the Lightning’s 3-2 overtime loss at Honda Center on Nov. 3. In the starts immediately before and after that, against Phoenix and Toronto, respectively, Ellis recorded his only two shutouts of the season.
Murray and Carlyle remember Ellis better from his days with the Nashville Predators, for whom he averaged 37 games a season from 2007-08 to 2009-10.
In the best season of his career, 2007-08, Ellis went 23-10-3 for the Preds, posting six shutouts. He also appeared in six playoff games that season, going 2-4 with a 2.52 GAA and .938 save percentage. The transition from the defensive-oriented Predators to the offensive-oriented Lightning wasn’t an easy one, he said.
“With Tampa’s system, it’s a system where it can give you a lot of offense, and also be strong defensively. But it’s also a system that’s new to the NHL,” Ellis said. “It’s taken time for a team to learn that. The goalie is the one that has to pay for the learning process at times. it’s part of being with a new team, a new philosophy.
“We continuously, for almost half the season, kept adding to the system in small quantities. There were things at the beginning of the year that would have stopped scoring chances had we implemented them.”
Ultimately it was goaltending consultant Pete Peeters whose recommendation carried the day.
“This was the guy that Pete said, ‘he’s got experience, go for him.’ And so that’s why – he’s carried a team at times,” Murray said. “That’s the most important thing for me, he’s carried his team along. We felt we needed that right now.”
Murray said he’s planning for Emery to play some more games at the American Hockey League level. In the meantime, Emery can hone his skills in practice against NHL shooters, and work with Peeters, while Hiller recovers.
Hiller hasn’t been cleared to take part in full practices, but took a few shots prior to the Ducks’ practice Thursday.