TORONTO — Purposely vague.
That is the only way to describe the cloud of unknowns shrouding the status of Frederik Andersen five days away from the NHL’s trade deadline.
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said Wednesday he has “no concern” that the injured Andersen may be done for the season. That sentiment aligns with the message being sent privately by the organization.
And yet, Keefe said he had not received an update on Andersen’s condition from the latest in a series of follow-up medical appointments on the goaltender’s undisclosed lower-body injury.
And yet, Andersen is dealing with a nagging ailment originally described as day-to-day.
And yet, Andersen has not appeared on the ice with the club for 19 days and counting. Nor did he travel with the Leafs on their recent four-game western trip. Instead, he stayed in Toronto for further assessment.
Players placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) — a designation that provides salary cap relief for rosters hit with significantly harmed players — must miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days.
It is no secret that GM Kyle Dubas has made an effort to accrue cap space in order to add to his first-place group by Monday. The upside of losing depth forwards Travis Boyd and Jimmy Vesey on waivers to Vancouver mid-season is that the Leafs will now have a projected $2.16 million in cap space to spend at the deadline, per CapFreindly.com. Were Andersen to be shifted to LTIR, Toronto could theoretically have even more wiggle space to accommodate an impact player in the coming days.
That the Maple Leafs under Dubas have been more forthright and detailed with injury information than they were under the Lou Lamoriello regime (see: Auston Matthews’ wrist) makes the lack of details on Andersen’s situation all the more intriguing.
The fretting around a timeline for Andersen’s return has been reduced thanks to the stellar play of Jack Campbell (9-0-0, .944) and, to a lesser extent, third-stringer Michael Hutchinson (4-2-1, .919).
For the first time in nine seasons, the Maple Leafs have earned 13 wins from their depth goaltenders.
“I think when healthy, when everyone is up and rolling, I think it’s a great tandem. And Hutch has come in and given us good minutes,” Dubas said, during his mid-season availability. “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.”
Campbell, who has been battling a leg injury of his own, has busted out as a winking, stick-tapping star during Andersen’s prolonged absence, winning over fans and teammates alike.
He’ll go for a franchise-record 10th consecutive win Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena, against starter Jake Allen and the Montreal Canadiens (travelling without the injured Carey Price).
“The potential is great,” Keefe said of Campbell’s ceiling. “He’s gaining more confidence, gaining more experience. As we’ve talked about, we have to be smart about how we continue to manage his workload despite the fact we don’t have Frederik available. We still gotta be smart with Jack here.”
Thus, Toronto has resorted to dressing newly acquired fourth-string goalie Veini Vehviläinen as the backup on occasion.
Andersen carries a $5 million cap hit. The backbone of the Maple Leafs for four-and-a-half years, he is in the final season of his contract. He has posted a 13-8-2 record with a career-low .897 save percentage in 2021.
“I’m not really where I want to be, obviously,” Andersen said, addressing his health on March 18. “I think I’m working towards just getting to as good as possible. But I think everyone goes through a season where you’ll have something going on. And it’s just a matter of how well you can manage it and play through it.”
• Set to play his 10th game as a Maple Leaf Wednesday, Alex Galchenyuk will lose his waiver-exempt status. As a result, Dubas will no longer be able to accrue cap space by placing the winger’s $1.05-million cap hit on the taxi squad during off-days.
• Shutdown defenceman Justin Holl missed a practice in Calgary due to maintenance. “It wasn’t really anything serious. It was just four or five minor things that came up at the exact same time, so it made sense for me to stay off the ice,” Holl said Wednesday. “Health-wise, I feel great.”
• Projected lines vs. Montreal:
Hutchinson backs up