Red-hot Frederik Andersen could add to Maple Leafs' misery

Justin Bourne shares his thoughts on what is going wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs early in the new season.

RALEIGH, NC -- Zoom the microscope out from the Toronto Maple Leafslatest referendum on themselves, and the wider picture doesn’t do them any favours.

A couple of core guys who walked for nothing in the summer seemingly have it all in the fall.

There’s Zach Hyman, all tap-ins and hockey hugs in Edmonton, scoring more goals (five) than Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Nick Ritchie combined.

And there’s Frederik Andersen, assuming his traditional workload and thriving in a non-traditional market.

The Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes hold perfect records. Maybe Hyman and Andersen got out at the right time, panicky Leaf fans are thinking.

Overworked and banged up, Andersen’s five (mostly) solid years as Toronto’s steady last line of defence ended rather unceremoniously. The once-great Dane shuffled through a couple of middling games with the Marlies and one last meaningless loss in Ottawa.

There was a trade for David Rittich because the team felt it needed a 2B, and a baton passed to fan favourite Jack Campbell.

Scotiabank Arena’s “Fred-die!” chants faded, replaced by the deep bellowed “Soooooooup!”

Well, in a classic athlete-needs-change-of-scenery narrative, Fredzilla has risen.

Signed, ironically, by the club that first drafted him as a seventh-rounder back in 2010 and had tried to trade for him in the 2020 off-season, Andersen has been -- to borrow close friend Matthews’ phrase -- a brick wall in Raleigh.

Andersen has a pristine 4-0-0 record and 1.75 goals-against average. His .944 save percentage is the best in hockey. And the guy Andersen was essentially swapped for, Petr Mrazek, went down with a groin injury 40 minutes into his Leafs tenure.

There is no question which team holds the confidence card Monday, when Andersen stares down his old mates, fresh off their 7-1 shaming in Pittsburgh.

“He's been good there, so it's good for him,” says Marner, who’s been watching Andersen’s highlights and caught a couple of Canes games on TV.

“He was a big part of my journey here in Toronto. For the first five years there, he was a big part of helping me out, getting me involved and making me feel comfortable and part of this team -- him and Marty (Matt Martin). So, it's gonna be great seeing him. He’s meant a lot to my family and myself.

“It was tough seeing him leave, but he's done a great job over there.”

This early in the season, there would typically be plenty of time to fraternize with former teammates.

But sticks are vice-gripped and circumstances are strained in Leafland right now.

Neither Marner nor Matthews -- two of Andersen’s besties -- has scored a goal. And the urgency of these October games appears to have eluded too many men in Blue and White.

“Our job here is to make it tough on him Monday,” Marner says. “Try to get around him and try to make it uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable is a gentle way to describe the All or Nothing docuseries scenes that gave us a peek into coach Sheldon Keefe and GM Kyle Dubas’s frustration with the uncertainty surrounding Andersen’s health around the trade deadline.

But Andersen says, “Shows like that try to play up the drama,” and shoots down the notion of any hard feelings between himself and his former employer.

"Not at all," Andersen says. "At least not on my part."

Fair or not, the goalie has a reputation in hockey circles for not wanting to play unless he’s feeling 100 per cent. It’s a culture that has always romanticized athletes who play through pain.

"I think I did what I could," Andersen says of last spring’s knee recovery. "I did the best that I could to try to get as healthy as possible. It just wasn't enough time to feel at my best.

"That is obviously is in the past. I'm happy to have had the summer that I did, to feel healthy and play again."

The soft-spoken Andersen credits his Hurricanes teammates for welcoming him with open arms and his ability to stay in the moment for his early success.

Andersen, 32, has rebounded nicely from the career-worst .895 save percentage he posted in his Maple Leafs swan song.

"The guys have been really helpful and been really welcoming, so that's made the transition really easy,” he says. "I think last year I was too hard on myself. Just being in good position, being set early and allowing my athletic ability to kind of come out. I think that's been working so far.

"I really enjoyed living in Toronto. It's an amazing city with amazing people. There are a lot of friendships I made there, and I'm going to cherish them for a long time."

One of those friends is Campbell, who is vowing to respond strong from Saturday’s debacle in Pittsburgh.

“I talked to Freddie for a little bit, and it looks like he's doing well,” Campbell says. “A great buddy of a lot of guys in this locker room and great teammate and happy to see him do well. But we obviously need a big two points, and we're going to be ready to go.”

Win or lose, Andersen will be a major storyline Monday, as the Leafs either snuff the skid or get beat by the guy they let walk.

Yet with things sliding off the rails in Toronto, not every Leaf wants to participate in the Andersen revenge narrative.

“To be honest, I'm not too worried about that,” Jake Muzzin responds, polite but blunt. “We’ve got other things to worry about, I think, in our room.”

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