Maple Leafs couldn’t afford to wait for Hutchinson’s play to improve

Hockey Central reacts to the latest news that the Maple Leafs have waived goalie Michael Hutchinson, speculating on what the next move might be, via promotion within or possible trade.

It finally reached the point where it would have been insane for the Toronto Maple Leafs to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

Either the organization had to change how it deploys the backup goaltender in back-to-back situations. Or the Maple Leafs had to change the backup.

That explains why Michael Hutchinson found himself on waivers Monday, just hours after a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran only received junk-mail assignments this season — going 0-4-1 behind a tired team while closing out back-to-backs for Toronto — but he allowed 23 goals in those games and twice squandered multi-goal leads.

The Leafs were a leaky outfit when Hutchinson played, plain and simple, and will now give farmhand Kasimir Kaskisuo a chance to step into that role with another tough back-to-back set looming later in the week.

"We have [14] back-to-backs this year," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said in Chicago. "You’ve got to get going, you’ve got to get points."

Kaskisuo was enjoying a strong start to his American Hockey League season, but this promotion arrives entirely because of circumstance. Hutchinson has struggled in the No. 2 role and the Leafs don’t have the salary cap space available to add money for the remainder of the year by acquiring someone from outside the organization.

This was always going to be their next easiest option, with Kaskisuo ($675,000) and Hutchinson ($700,000) basically amounting to a cap neutral transaction.

If this doesn’t work out they’ll have to look for another goaltender in a similar price range, or ship out salary to make room for a more expensive option.

All the team is looking for at this stage is a couple wins on the nights where Frederik Andersen watches from the bench. That basically only occurs during the second half of a back-to-back because Babcock remains steadfast about using Andersen for the first game regardless of opponent, venue or any other circumstance — a strategy that has seen Toronto go 35-8-7 in those situations dating back to 2016-17 compared with 19-28-3 in the second game.

What Hutchinson failed to do in his five starts this season was come up with the one extra save needed to produce a result. He was hung out to dry early in Sunday’s game at the United Center, for example, but saw his teammates mount a feverish rally after going down 4-1 to Chicago.

Then Hutchinson allowed another goal with less than four minutes to play in regulation. They lost by one.

"Obviously, five goals is never great," he said afterwards. "The fifth goal, looking back on that, that one stings a bit. That’s one, a big save in the third period that you’d like to come up with.

"Knowing how well the guys are pushing in the third period, it’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to make that save to give us a chance to come away with at least a point."

The 29-year-old was a popular teammate who grew up nearby in Barrie, Ont., cheering for the Leafs. Everyone involved wanted this to work. It just didn’t.

Remember that Hutchinson was acquired in a trade last December to be the organization’s No. 3 option and may well have occupied that same spot to start this season if Michal Neuvirth’s training camp tryout had gone better.

Now Kaskisuo gets a turn in the Leafs backup role after a four-year apprenticeship in the AHL and ECHL. He led the Marlies to the conference final last season and has a .928 save percentage and 6-1-1 record so far this year.

There’s been a carousel of goalies behind Andersen since he came to Toronto more than three years ago.

Only veteran Curtis McElhinney thrived in the role over parts of two seasons. He was lost on waivers to Carolina last fall so that the Leafs could make room for Garret Sparks, who subsequently struggled and got traded to Vegas in the summer.

Here’s a look at how the Toronto goaltenders have fared behind Andersen:

Name Games Save % Record Shutouts
Curtis McElhinney 32 .925 17-12-1 4
Garret Sparks 20 .902 8-9-1 1
Michael Hutchinson 11 .895 2-7-1 1
Jhonas Enroth 6 .872 0-3-1 0
Antoine Bibeau 2 .927 1-1-0 0
Calvin Pickard 1 .857 0-0-1 0

Hutchinson’s tenure this season most closely resembled Enroth’s short stint in 2016-17 with one more important difference — he seemed to have the coach is in his corner. Babcock made no secret of the fact he wanted a change when Enroth struggled, but wasn’t nearly so hard on Hutchinson with his public comments.

Even after another five goals against in Chicago, he reserved judgment when asked where his confidence was at with the struggling goalie.

"I think the big thing to do always is after a game, instead of me commenting a whole bunch, I always try to watch the game and see where it’s at and go through every situation," said Babcock.

Ultimately, time ran out on Hutchinson. They couldn’t wait any longer for things to change and decided to see if the next man up is more capable.

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