Leafs’ Frederik Andersen eager to save season: ‘We owe it to the fans’

Elliotte Friedman discusses the prospect of the NHL returning to certain neutral locations, though the NHL does not want to announce anything official just yet.

Over the past four years, no man has stood in the path of more fired pucks than Frederik Andersen.

And no man sounds as eager to dive right back in and eat more rubber.

Empty arenas and isolated triple-headers in July? Quarantined in Raleigh, strapping on the pads in mid-August? An Olympic-style village on the moon?

The Toronto Maple Leafs goalie has heard all the brainstormed scenarios but hasn’t heard one he’d balk at.

Freddy is ready, whenever the world is.

“I’m pretty open to pretty much anything that could be done to salvage the season, finish the season and get a Stanley Cup champion,” says Andersen, conducting Thursday’s conference call from billet Auston Matthews’s home in Arizona.

“Everyone wants sports back on air. I think if there’s a chance we can go back to playing, I think we owe it to ourselves to go out and play the game we’re so passionate about. And I think we owe it to the to the fans that have been waiting, too. Give them something to watch. Keep them entertained.”

Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett host a podcast about how COVID-19 is impacting sports around the world. They talk to experts, athletes and personalities, offering a window into the lives of people we normally root for in entirely different ways.

It feels like six months ago since Tiger King. Some of us downed an entire season of Ozark in less than a week. Light work.

There is a reason the TV-owning public is entranced by The Last Dance and jacked up for the NFL Draft. There is a reason Andersen will walk out of the living room when Matthews plunges into the evening’s third hour of Love Island.

“Fans are starving for some sort of content that’s not a rerun of an old show,” Andersen says. “Live sports will be a big part of bringing the world back to normal.”

Of the dozens of NHLers we’ve heard chime in over cellphones and Zoom connections over the past five weeks, none has sounded as eager as Andersen to hit the ice by any means necessary.

At the abrupt pause of what Andersen tactfully describes as “an eventual season” in Toronto, fellow all-stars Matthews and Mitch Marner each volunteered to have the goalie come move in.

Andersen, 30, spends his winters alone in a downtown Toronto condo. His family is back in Herning, Denmark, which already had a jump over North America on the viral spread and economic shutdown. (Andersen notes that, thankfully, both his parents are still employed.)

Not exactly excited about the notion of limiting all human interaction to FaceTime and video-game headsets, Andersen jumped at the Arizona offer. (Backyard pool access is a nice bonus.)

In Matthews, he has a dear friend, a competitive ping-pong foe, and the kind of guy who’s able to install a sport court right on the property.

“We’re gonna test that out and shoot some pucks and maybe work on our stickhandling as well,” Andersen says. “Once we get some more pucks, I have a pretty good shooter here too.”

When time is frozen and athletic facilities are padlocked, Andersen figures the more creative and resourceful players could gain an advantage. To that end, ping-pong keeps his hand-eye sharp, visualization rituals keep his mind on crease movements, and regular dialogue with goalie coach Steve Briere and low-definition Dominik Hasek highlights keep him learning, yearning.

Andersen flew to the desert with full gear in tow. He may be having fun, taking valuable time to heal and refresh — those workload narratives feel kinda moot now, eh? — but this is not a full-blown vacation.

That’s the message coming from the top down.

“The circumstances are difficult for everybody in the world, but we have a responsibility here. Our season is not complete,” coach Sheldon Keefe says. “We have to take advantage of every day that we have to work towards being better versions of ourselves for whenever we do get back to playing.”

Since he was acquired by Toronto in 2016, Andersen has faced 7,748 shots. He’s stopped 7,142 of them. In both categories, that’s roughly 300 more than the busiest of his peers. Despite multiple injuries and recoveries, Andersen’s 244 starts over that span also tops the field.

Wonderful value at $5 million per season, Andersen is only signed to salary-cap-challenged Toronto through July 1, 2021. There are no guarantees he’ll be a Leaf after that, especially with the league bleeding revenue and reeling in cap projections.

So, it makes sense when he says he’s loath to “lose out on all the hard work and all the stuff that’s been put into this season.”

Andersen concedes that this hiatus may put goaltenders at a slight disadvantage. Yet, to be clear, he won’t lean on excuses.

“As a shooter, you don’t really need a goalie to work on your shot. I think, as a goalie, you definitely need someone shoot at you,” Andersen says. “Maybe the shooters have a little bit of an advantage, but I think it’s all about what you do in your time off.”

Like, I dunno, stay tuned up by bunking with arguably the sharpest shooter in hockey?

“Make the wait worthwhile,” Andersen says.

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