Of all the ways the Toronto Maple Leafs added to their roster in the off-season, that they didn’t bolster their goaltending position seemed puzzling.
Sure, they re-signed Curtis McElhinney to a two-year deal before he hit free agency, but it’s clear the veteran’s role is mainly to spell Frederik Andersen on the second night of back-to-back games. Bringing back Garret Sparks was a depth move, too.
Well, after Friday’s trade, the Leafs now have someone with the upside to fill in for Andersen for a string of games if he’s unhealthy or not playing well.
The Leafs obtained Calvin Pickard, 25, from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday. While Pickard has been assigned to the Marlies in the AHL, he’s only a cab ride away if the big club ever needs a capable replacement.
Here’s what you need to know about the Leafs’ latest stopper.
He’s getting used to changing his address
When the Colorado Avalanche didn’t protect Pickard ahead of the expansion draft, it was thought by many to be a miscalculation on their part. The Golden Knights took advantage and chose him presumably to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. Their goaltending situation looked set. But Pickard was deemed expendable in Vegas after Malcolm Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston earlier this week.
Pickard was then placed on waivers, but cleared. The Leafs are at 48 contracts out of the allowable 50, according to CapFriendly.com, possibly the reason they wanted to ship out a player rather than simply make a claim to acquire Pickard. He’ll be a restricted free agent in July when his $1-million contract expires.
He’s been a recent NHL starter
There are a couple huge caveats here. One; Pickard got the starting job with the Avalanche last season because No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov sustained a season-ending groin injury. And two; Pickard’s numbers (15-31-2, 2.98 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 50 games) were less than sublime.
The thing to consider, however, was that Pickard played on the Avalanche, who were terrible to put it kindly – they finished in last place – and atrocious if you’re not sugar-coating things. Their 48 points were the fewest of any team in the salary cap era. The Avs used a patchwork defence and surrendered an NHL-worst 278 goals, so Pickard was far from the only person to blame. In fact, some even thought highly of his work.
He’s started in net for Team Canada
For the second consecutive spring, Hockey Canada came calling to ask if Pickard would be interested in a spot on the world championship team. After earning a gold medal as Cam Talbot’s backup in 2016, Pickard assumed the top job during the Paris-Cologne tournament in May.
He had his lowlights, most notably against Switzerland when he surrendered the tying goal on a shot from the sideboards that ricocheted off his stick and then blocker. It was a game Canada ended up losing in overtime. Overall, though, Pickard’s 1.49 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in seven games were spectacular. He also held his own against Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist in the gold-medal matchup, which Canada ultimately lost 2-1 in a shootout despite his 40 saves.
He comes from a goaltending family
Pickard was quite the goaltender in junior for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. His older brother was even more accomplished. Chet Pickard also suited up for a U.S. Division team, the Tri-City Americans, and won the league’s top netminder award in both 2008 and 2009. He claimed CHL honours in the first season.
The elder Pickard also made Canada’s world junior team in 2009, backing up Dustin Tokarski en route to a gold medal. He was drafted in the first round by Nashville, 18th overall, in 2008, but never appeared in an NHL game. The 27-year-old just started his third season in the German league, this year with the Mannheim Eagles.