How Maple Leafs’ Michael Hutchinson plays as starter vs. coming in relief

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe discusses the latest updates on Frederik Andersen’s neck injury, and discusses the team’s confidence in Michael Hutchinson’s ability as starter while Andersen's out.

Michael Hutchinson has been an easy target for Leafs fans frustrated at how this season has played out so far. Now, sitting two points out of a wild-card spot and one point out of third place in the Atlantic Division, Toronto is having to rely on Hutchinson — at least for as long as Frederik Andersen is out.

This has, naturally, caused a bit of a panic as onlookers rush to CapFriendly to try and find an affordable upgrade the team could chase in a trade.

But there’s reason to believe Hutchinson may actually be better than his .886 save percentage would indicate.

He’s played in 14 games this season, 10 of which were starts and four were him coming on in relief. The difference in his performance when we compare his actual starts to when he has to step into the crease mid-game, is vast. And perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a goalie plays better when he’s had preparation time and isn’t joining in cold.

SA in STARTS GA in STARTS SV% in STARTS SA in RELIEF GA in RELIEF SV% in RELIEF
336 34 0.899 51 10 0.804

And look, an .899 save percentage isn’t fantastic, but season-long it would tie with Edmonton’s Mike Smith and be comparable to the likes of Craig Anderson (.901) and Jack Campbell (.900), who are popular trade targets to consider. Alexandar Georgiev (.909) and Ryan Miller (.912) are still much better performers, however.

But let’s take this one step further. Hutchinson has started five games under both Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe this season and the results are staggering in how different they are. And remember, Hutchinson got one start a few days after Keefe was hired, and then was sent to the AHL for a time. He returned about a month later and hasn’t lost a game he started since.

Even if we include the one bad start he had under Keefe, a 6-4 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 29, we can see a much different player over the past while. Again, these only take starts into consideration:

SA under BABCOCK GA under BABCOCK SV% under BABCOCK SA under KEEFE GA under KEEFE SV% under KEEFE
185 23 0.876 151 11 0.927

In the four starts Hutchinson has made since returning from the Marlies he’s 4-0 and has allowed more than one goal in just one of those games. So, perhaps, the Leafs don’t need to be in panic mode yet.

Should they explore making a deal for a backup goalie before the deadline? Of course. If Andersen went down in the playoffs you may feel better about your chances with a more established tandem keeper at least.

But these numbers show a netminder who, when given the start, has been improving as the year has gone on. It should at least give Leafs management time to explore their trade options, rather than rush to pay up for a name player.

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