With the Toronto Maple Leafs season over, my series of postmortem articles continues. Today’s topic: goalies.
Since the Leafs were eliminated, I saw a few people writing about the Leafs goalie situation next season and how it needs to be addressed. Not gonna lie, that made no sense to me at first.
Hockey is a complicated game but aren’t the Leafs pretty simple? The forwards know how to score, the defence isn’t so hot, and the goaltending is pretty good.
There was some talk of Frederik Andersen being in the Vezina conversation this season while Curtis McElhinney, at 34 years old, had what was easily the best season of his NHL career. With Andersen locked up for several more years and McElhinney signed for next year, the Leafs seem to have the opposite of a goaltending “situation” don’t they?
While it’s not exactly a bad thing, it is a little more complicated than that.
Andersen is Andersen. In both of his Leafs seasons so far, he’s posted a .918 save percentage in 66 games. He has his ups and downs along the way but by season’s end, Freddy is Freddy.
The issue isn’t necessarily with Andersen’s performance but rather with his workload. That seemed to be a hot topic on Leafs Twitter all year. Mike Babcock only seemed willing to give Andersen a night off when the Leafs were playing the tail end of a back-to-back. Can Andersen really stay afloat by playing around 66 games again next season? Don’t goalies who play that much usually crumble?
Funnily enough, there were 16 goalies who played in 55 games or more this season. Nine of them played for teams that made the playoffs.
Five goalies played 65 games or more: Connor Hellebuyck (Vezina finalist), Andrei Vasilevskiy (Vezina finalist), Sergei Bobrovsky (.921 SV%), Andersen, and Cam Talbot (played for the Oilers). Only Talbot struggled with a .908 save percentage but he looked like Superman on the same team last season and he played in an astonishing 73 games.
Maybe good goalies play a lot because they’re good goalies?
Beyond Andersen, the picture gets a little murkier. Here’s what it looks like:
- McElhinney, 35 to start next season, signed for one more year
- Sparks, 25 to start next season, signed for one more year
- Calvin Pickard, 26 to start next season, RFA
- Kasimir Kaskisuo, 25 to star next season, RFA
Now you have a few key questions.
When next season begins, McElhinney will be 35. Do you think he can post a .934 save percentage in 18 games again? That might be asking a bit much. How about .920? How about league average around .915?
Remember, McElhinney’s cap hit is $850,000. That’s nothing. There are currently 21 pending UFA and RFA goalies who had a higher cap hit this past season. How many of them posted a save percentage of .920 or higher?
Four: Philipp Grubauer, Hellebuyck, Carter Hutton, and Andrew Hammond who only played one game so he doesn’t really count. Really it’s three.
Basically, McElhinney has been incredible value for the Leafs, and even if he dips, he’ll probably still be more than worth it.
Garret Sparks is where things start to get interesting.
Sparks is signed through next season. That makes things pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well…
Sparks will have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the AHL next season. Sparks will also make $700,000 next season whether he plays in the NHL or not. After the season Sparks has had in the American Hockey League, posting a league-leading .936 save percentage in 43 games and being named the league’s most outstanding goaltender, it’s hard to imagine a team wouldn’t swipe him off of waivers.
The Leafs may need to move at least one of Sparks or McElhinney. In both cases, you could argue that the Leafs would be selling high. Both are on affordable deals, both are coming off of career years, and lots of teams could use a goalie.
It’s a great problem for the Leafs to have, but at the same time, they have a decision to make: Stick with the older, proven guy who got the job done last season or promote the younger, homegrown guy who is unproven at the NHL level?
Or there’s always door No. 3.
CALVIN AND JOBS
Calvin Pickard was the Leafs’ fourth-string goalie, which is pretty impressive considering he was basically Colorado’s emergency starting goalie last season. No, he didn’t fall off or anything, the Leafs were just really deep.
Is there a job on the Leafs for Pickard? That’s up to both parties.
Pickard made $1,075,000 to be the 1B goalie of an AHL team this season. That’s a pretty great way to make a living. He was good too, posting a .918 save percentage in 33 AHL games, which ranked 12th in the league.
Pickard is also a pending RFA with 87 games of NHL experience under his belt. Vegas liked him enough to claim him in the expansion draft, and even though nobody claimed him off waivers, the Leafs liked him enough to trade for him. Is there an NHL job for him out there? At very least, is there a third-stringer job available in Toronto, if not somewhere else?
It’s probably also worth mentioning that Pickard will require waivers, too.
The Leafs need to make a decision here but so does Pickard.
MAN IN THE IRON KASKISUO
Kasimir Kaskisuo often gets forgotten about because he didn’t play in Toronto this season. The Marlies loaned him to Vegas’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. As you might remember, all of Vegas’ goalies got hurt and/or called up, so Kaskisuo actually saw the most AHL action out of any Wolves goalie with 29 games, posting a .918 save percentage.
Does the team re-sign him? Does he play in Toronto at all? Probably not the most burning question for Leafs management but another question, nonetheless.
The Leafs know who their starter is and that’s the biggest battle. Beyond Freddy however, they have some decisions to make.