Lightning free agency: 5 things to know about Curtis McElhinney

The 36-year-old goalie has been all over the league, but he’s coming off his biggest season.
Goalie Curtis McElhinney, shown during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Hurricanes and Bruins, is the newest Lightning goalie. [AP Photo | Gerry Broome]
Goalie Curtis McElhinney, shown during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Hurricanes and Bruins, is the newest Lightning goalie. [AP Photo | Gerry Broome]
Published July 2, 2019

The Lightning signed a new goalie and Curtis McElhinney expects to take the backup role from Louis Domingue. There are questions remaining, particularly around Domingue (if, when and who would take him in a trade). In the meantime, let’s get to know McElhinney.

McElhinney shined in 2018-19

McElhinney produced his best season last year. Not necessarily in terms of stats, but in overall play.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Recap Tampa Bay's free agency moves

He has put up better numbers than his .912 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average (the previous season, he was .934 and 2.14). But he’d never played more than 33 games and thus never won more than 20 games or had more than 17 quality starts.

In short, in his 11th season, McElhinney really got his chance. And the 36-year-old seized it. He and Petr Mrazek backstopped the Hurricanes on a run to their first playoff appearance in 10 years.

Oldest goalie to make his playoff debut

Twenty-two days short of his 36th birthday, McElhinney was the oldest goalie to start his first playoff game.

Two others made their first playoff start at 35 (Les Binkley, 1970 Penguins and Ross Brooks, 1973 Bruins) but they weren’t as close to 36.

McElhinney came in for Mrazek in Game 2 of their second-round series against the Islanders when the latter was hurt. He turned away all 17 shots for a personal “shutout” in his debut. He started Game 3 to earn the distinction.

McElhinney then went on to a 3-2 record in the playoffs with a .930 save percentage and 2.01 GAA before the Bruins eliminated Carolina.

He’s an everywhere man

In an 11-year career, McElhinney has played for seven organizations.

McElhinney started in the Calgary system at age 22 out of Colorado College. He played in the AHL for three years before sticking around in the NHL, though with very limited ice time.

After a total of five years with the Flames, McElhinney played for the Ducks, Senators and Coyotes. Finally, he spent five years in Columbus’ system, including a year in the AHL, in his next long-term stint.

That led to two years with Toronto before he was waived and claimed by Carolina.

Of all those stops, this is only the second time he has signed as a free agent. He signed with the Coyotes in 2011. McElhinney as been traded three times and claimed off waivers thrice.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: What did Tampa Bay really want with Joe Pavelski?

He has a sense of humor

McElhinney is realistic about all of those moves, all of those teams. He’s able to joke about it.

In October, after he was waived by Toronto and claimed by Carolina, a fan refered to the goalie as the NHL’s resident rent-a-goalie on Twitter. McElhinney quipped back that maybe he should get all-white gear “#justincase.”

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He told Sporting News he tries to keep things light but that he can feel like a rent-a-goalie at times.

This contract is another two-year deal, like he had in Toronto and his last contract in Columbus, but it’s also the biggest contract of McElhinney’s career at $2.6 million total. His previous high was the $850,000 he made the past two years.

McElhinney has been here before

This is technically the netminder’s second stint with the Lightning. Everyone involved hopes this one lasts longer, though.

Back in 2011, injuries forced McElhinney into a starter role he was unsuited for and the Lightning had an extra starter in Dan Ellis. A couple of days after the one-for-one trade at the deadline, Tampa Bay put McElhinney on waivers, intending to to play him in the AHL.

Ottawa claimed him before that became a reality and McElhinney never played a game in the Lightning organization. Presumably, until now.