“The onus will be on me to do everything within reason to improve the group.” —Kyle Dubas
When Kyle Dubas was asked directly about his comfort level with leaving his goaltending depth chart just the way it is heading into the post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM began his response with a qualifier.
“I think when healthy, when everyone is up and rolling, I think it's a great tandem. And Hutch [Michael Hutchinson] has come in and given us good minutes,” Dubas said, during his mid-season availability.
Eleven days have passed since Frederik Andersen (lower body) last slipped on a pair of skates. It’s been three for Campbell, who held the fort in Toronto’s overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. Since that win, Campbell sat out practice Sunday and was deemed unfit to back up in Monday’s loss, leaving the ballcap to newly acquired prospect Veini Vehviläinen.
Post-game Monday, Sheldon Keefe had no further clarity on Andersen’s timeline for return, and the coach’s voice sounded less than certain when he offered that Campbell “should be OK” to start Wednesday in an important game versus the hard-charging Winnipeg Jets.
We believe Dubas when he states that most of his trade deadline focus has revolved around the recruitment of a top-six forward. We also believe him when he says, “The onus will be on me to do everything within reason to improve the group.”
Outside of the 2020 champion Tampa Bay Lightning — blessed with Andrei Vasilevskiy, the world’s best netminder, in his prime — every team that made a deep run last summer relied on two or three goalies.
Right now, Toronto has two banged-up goalies and a third-stringer, in Hutchinson, who has done well to earn seven standings points in seven starts, posting a respectable .915 save percentage in the process.
“I've got a lot of belief in both Fred [Andersen] and Jack Campbell and Hutch when he's in. We'll look to continue to get everybody healthy and rolling, and we'll go from there,” Dubas said. “I have a lot of faith that Fred, over time, has continually shown us that he's able to find his way out of it and that he will.”
If Andersen and Campbell feel something close to 100 per cent healthy by the April 12 deadline, the Leafs likely stick to their guns and stand pat in net.
If one must move on to long-term injured reserve, however, Dubas must go shopping.
With that in mind, let’s survey the goalie market.
Linus Ullmark (5-5-3, .916, $2.6-million cap hit)
At 27, Ullmark is the youngest pure rental on the market — and, best of all, he’s healthy again. The Sabres have nothing to play for, but they also don’t have a starting goalie under contract for 2021-22. GM Kevyn Adams risks walking Ullmark out the door if he doesn’t trade or re-sign Ullmark by April 12. His numbers are incredible considering how poor the Sabres have played. What would Ullmark look behind a contender?
Scott Wedgewood (3-5-3, .914, $700,000)
The name won’t swivel heads, but the price is right. Wedgewood is a 28-year-old journeyman from Brampton, Ont., and his fine showing in a tough East Division makes him an intriguing target. Dubas and Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald — a smart and aggressive seller at the 2020 deadline — found common ground on the Andreas Johnsson deal in the off-season. Wedgewood could be worth a call. And he’s a better option at this point than Devils third-stringer Aaron Dell, whose hardly played any hockey since being scooped up from the Leafs off waivers in January.
James Reimer (13-4-1, .907, $3.4 million)
With pending RFA Alex Nedeljkovic coming up from the minors and building a case to be Carolina’s No. 1, and Petr Mrazek getting healthier by the minute, where does that leave 33-year-old James Reimer? There is not only irony in Reimer being on a Leafs trade options list, but imagine Carolina trading a goalie to Toronto after the Hurricanes inquired on Andersen?
Jonathan Bernier (8-6-0, .918, $3 million)
Let’s stay on the reunion theme. Bernier (leg) has returned to the ice but there is still no day set for a return to action. He’s quietly had an excellent season for a basement-dwelling franchise, and his career .913 save percentage is more than respectable.
Ryan Miller (3-8-1, .882, $1 million)
The 40-year-old backup has been loathe to move out of California as his career winds down, but the Ducks are rebuilding and he does bring nearly 800 games of experience. Three seasons of a stat line in decline raises a red flag.
Devan Dubnyk (3-9-1, .897, $4.33 million)
The affable 35-year-old would certainly be available. The trick is to determine how much of Dubnyk’s back-to-back seasons with a losing record and sub-.900 save percentage is a result of hitting the wall and how much can be attributed to playing behind mediocre teams.
David Rittich (4-6-1, .907, $2.7 million)
Jacob Markstrom’s long-term contract assured the 28-year-old Rittich wouldn’t become the No. 1 option in Calgary, even though his moments of brilliance are something to behold. We’re ready to call the Flames’ playoff hopes dead — their chances have dropped to 2.2 per cent, per SportsClubStats.com — but that doesn’t mean Brad Treliving will be keen to aid a (temporary) division rival.
Pekka Rinne (9-11-1, .900, $5 million)
Rinne wants to retire in Nashville, and the suddenly hot Predators are clawing back into the race. But if David Poile does decide to sell, he has pieces to entice Toronto at every position.
The issue with spending a significant asset on a goalie with term, like Kuemper or Korpisalo, this year is that each club is only permitted to protect one goaltender in the Seattle expansion draft. (Remember, Vegas selected three goalies in 2017.)
As things stand, Toronto plans to protect Campbell, but bringing in a more significant goaltender changes the landscape. Which is why Dubas has said that going the rental route might be the most prudent plan for 2021.
Darcy Kuemper ($4.5 million cap hit, UFA 2022)
Under normal circumstances, Kuemper (7-7-2, .914) may be most coveted target on this list. Arizona would love some draft picks. But the 30-year-old is hurt himself, ruled week-to-week with a lower-body injury himself, on March 10. That may throw a wrench into any plans.
Both 26 and both in line for raise by the summer of 2022, it’s unlikely the Blue Jackets — whose playoff chances have dropped to 2.5 per cent — will be able to keep both netminders happy, especially when Seth Jones is turning UFA that same season.
Alexandar Georgiev ($2.425 million, RFA 2022)
The Rangers are a longshot to make the post-season at this point, and they are carrying three goalies. Igor Shesterkin is the goalie of the future here, and with Keith Kinkaid and Georgiev (5-5-0, .897) splitting backup duties, we’re not certain if the Bulgarian is in the Blueshirts’ long-term plans.
Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million, UFA 2023)
Quick has two Cup rings, a competitive streak, and a sturdy relationship with Campbell. He also carries a cap-hindering AAV and a ton of term on his contract. Would the rebuilding Kings be interested in finding a new home for Quick and anointing Cal Petersen the man? Sure. But finding a team to take Quick’s hit — even at a discount — in this buyer’s market won’t be easy.