Depth is a wonderful luxury in this compacted sprint of an NHL season. But, oh boy, can it dry up fast.
Even a team as prepared for absentee goaltenders as the Toronto Maple Leafs — who made sure to load up on four netminders with a minimum of 17 NHL appearances in 2019-20 — can have their most critical position tested before their eighth game of 2021.
Last week, cap-tight Toronto lost stud third-string goalie Aaron Dell to a New Jersey Devils waiver claim.
On Tuesday, coach Sheldon Keefe announced that backup Jack Campbell (2-0-0, .923) would be sidelined “weeks, not days” with a leg injury suffered in Sunday’s victory over the Flames, interrupting the affable No. 2’s stellar start.
Re-enter Michael Hutchinson, who will don the ballcap on the Maple Leafs bench for the foreseeable future.
Ostensibly, Hutchinson was signed back to Toronto in the off-season for two years and $1.45 million to fulfill an expansion draft qualification, improve the farm club’s save percentage and provide a known commodity in an emergency situation.
It’s not a five-alarm blaze yet, but the pressure on starter Frederik Andersen to perform — and stay healthy — just ratcheted up a notch.
“That’s the game,” Keefe said. “That’s why you try to set yourself up with as much depth as possible, to deal with whatever might come our way. I do think the way the schedule sets up here now, it’s pretty favourable for us and for Fred Andersen’s workload.”
Knock on wood, Andersen (3-2-0, .898 save percentage) could well start all of Toronto’s next nine matches before the club’s next back-to-back, Feb. 17-18 versus Ottawa.
“We still have lots of confidence in both Fred and Hutch,” Keefe said. “He’s coming here with a different level of confidence than what he had last time around.”
Hutchinson — a 30-year-old journeyman — went 4-9-1 with a .889 save percentage for the 2019-20 Maple Leafs and was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche at the 2020 trade deadline.
When the Avs suffered multiple goaltending injuries in the playoff bubble, Hutchinson played admirably in relief, going 2-1 with a .910 save percentage in Colorado’s tight second-round series against the Dallas Stars.
“He had a tough go here. At the same time, I believe there was a point in time where he won [three] consecutive starts for us,” Keefe said. “He was finding his way, and then towards the end, it didn’t go well. But he went off to Colorado, got put in a really tough position in the playoffs and gave them an opportunity to compete and get to Game 7.”
Hutchinson’s forced promotion to the backup role is just one of a handful of lineup changes Keefe is making in advance of Tuesday’s rematch in Calgary.
“Mikheyev has played very well. Lots of speed,” Keefe said.
“Mickey has been really good here for the last few games. It hasn’t resulted in goals or points or anything like that here quite yet, but he’s been getting these opportunities. It’s just a matter of time.”
Joseph Woll, the club’s 22-year-old prospect, is en route to Alberta. He’ll join the Leafs road trip and fill the taxi squad’s goaltending spot.