After reading Elliott Friendmans excellent 31 Thoughts article this week, I was a little shocked at what he had to say about the state of the Maple Leafs backup goalie position.
First, here’s what he had to say:
- I’m not convinced Toronto’s going to alter its backup situation. They just don’t seem enamoured with what’s out there. Tristan Jarry’s gone from potential trade target to Pittsburgh record-holder, with a shutout streak of 177:15 ended by the Canadiens. Until a long-term decision is made with Matt Murray, will the Penguins move either Jarry or Casey DeSmith? There’s a lot of love for Alexandar Georgiev — and deservedly so, he looks terrific — who is three games from becoming waiver-eligible. The Rangers have Igor Shesterkin lighting up AHL Hartford in his first North American season, but 37-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Henrik Lundqvist is signed for only one more year. Is Georgiev/Shesterkin the future?
For just a single paragraph this really leaves a lot to be discussed.
For starters, the Leafs should…. No, the Leafs NEED to be on the hunt for an upgrade at the backup position. Since Michael Hutchinson landed in Toronto he has amassed a record of 2-8-1, and has yet to record a single win this season. Simply put, that’s not good enough.
Another thing that I find strange is the goaltenders that Elliott chose to single out as being available. Both Tristan Jarry and Alexander Georgiev are fine goaltenders, and I’m sure a lot of teams would covet them, but if you ask me they are the wrong players to chase at this point in time. With another expansion draft quickly approaching, if GM Kyle Dubas decided to chase either one of Jarry or Georgiev, he would be left with the decision to protect the one he acquired, or Leafs MVP (Yup!!) Frederik Andersen. If, for the next year and a half, Jarry or Georgiev played terrific hockey, and the Leafs protect Andersen, then it’s very likely they’d be giving up assets to do nothing more than further develop a future goalie for the Seattle Shithawks (it’s my guess at their name). If they chose to protect Jarry or Georgiev above Andersen…. Well, you better hope that’s the right decision because we’re all fully aware of what this team is able to accomplish without great goaltending, and it isn’t a whole lot.
Then there’s the issue of cost. Jarry (24) and Georgiev (23) are young, and both have bright futures ahead of them in the NHL. Players like that don’t come cheap. Think along the lines of decent prospects and/or 2nd round picks and/or roster players as the cost to land one.
No, for me these aren’t the players you’re looking for. **waves hand in front of your face**
Instead, I’d be on the lookout for aging backups that know their role and embrace it. One to hold down the fort with Andersen until we see exactly what it is that they have in young goalies Ian Scott and Joseph Woll. With any luck one, or both, will work out.
The Leafs have already been linked to Anaheim Ducks backup, Ryan Miller (at least in the make believe rumour mill), and he fits the bill. However, I don’t like the idea of Miller as the Leafs backup because, simply put, I don’t like Ryan Miller. This is the opinion of this fan and nothing more. He hated the Leafs when he was part of the Sabres organization and I hated him for it. I see no reason for either of our opinions to have changed, and he has a no trade clause that allows him to pick just 6 teams he’d be willing to move to, so I’m just going to go ahead and write this one down as “thank God it’ll never happen” for now, because I don’t see him waiving his NTC for Toronto.
There are a slew of former starters that are pending UFAs that they could consider for the gig such as Jimmy Howard, Corey Crawford or Craig Anderson, but then you run into cap problems. Even if their current teams are willing to move them, and retain 50% of their salary, you’d still look at a minimum 2M cap hit (Howard). This could deter Dubas, as the team is already up against the cap, as they would be forced to move valuable players in order to make it fit.
The fact is there is really only a few players I can find that fit everything the Leafs might want.
The most ideal of them might be Alex Stalock.
Stalock has a caphit of 785K and is signed through to the end of the 2021-22 season. He’s 32 years old and has never played more than 28 games in an NHL season. He has never had a GAA above 3.00 over a full year either, and his career NHL SV% (0.908) is a respectable one in terms of what you’d expect from a backup. It’s possible that he could be made available upon the return of Devan Dubnyk from injury as well, as the solid play of Kaapo Kahkonen could make him expendable.
It’s not as if they need to make a move here, but it is worth keeping an eye. Considering he would be cheaper to obtain than the other goalies we spoke about, and it would allow the Leafs to protect Frederik Andersen from the Shithawks, while it would also be very unlikely that they would take Stalock with their pick, it makes a lot of sense from the Leafs perspective.
With all of this said the Leafs shouldn’t be in as much of a rush to fix this problem as some might have you believe. Yes, it needs to be fixed, but they do have time.
There are six back-to-backs left this season, with two of those taking place this month. After that they won’t have another one until February.
That’s the key to all of this.
On the 20th and 21st of December, the Leafs play the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, respectively. The Wings are dead last in the NHL and look like they’re set to stay there for the season.
It's been one month since the Red Wings last won a game. Nov 12 in OT at ANA. 0-10-2 since, 10 straight losses in regulation. The Lions have lost 6 straight, last won Oct 27. Pistons have won 4 of their past 5GP.
— Kevin Gibson (@GibShow) December 12, 2019
**They finally won a game last night**
Playing Hutchinson against the Wings would be a great opportunity to get him a win, and I expect that’s exactly their plan.
The weekend after that, on the 27th and 28th, the Leafs play the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. At the moment the only thing keeping the Devils from being the worst team in the NHL is the aforementioned Detroit Red Wings. This is another start that he should get.
So, two back-to-backs are on the way in the next couple of weeks, and both involve teams that are in the basement of the NHL. If you ask me this is a prime opportunity to get your goalie a couple of wins.
The Trade Chips
Another point in Friendmans 31 Thoughts also got me thinking.
- Not that they want to, but when things were going poorly for the Maple Leafs, another GM said Toronto learned it could trade Kasperi Kapanen very easily. “But they don’t want to,” he added.
I understand wanting to keep Kasperi Kapanen. He gets criticized because his hands don’t always keep up with his feet (as in he overskates the puck), but if that weren’t the case he’d compare closer to Connor McDavid than Michael Grabner and we’d be having a different discussion.
The long and short of it is that he is a valuable player. He can play up and down your lineup and in all situations. He’ll kill penalties or help your powerplay, and there’s nothing to hate about that.
The question it does bring up for me is if he isn’t available, then who is?
The Leafs’ blueline is ……. well, lets just say it’s a work in progress. A work in progress that needs assets spent on it. If that asset isn’t Kasperi Kapanen then who or what is it?
Andreas Johnsson is the only player that makes above 3M and isn’t a “core piece” or one that plays a position of value, while also holding good trade value. And we need to talk about players that make 3M+ because if they don’t then trading them won’t open enough cap space to add any player of significance.
It would seem that Dubas isn’t willing to move any of the Big 4 forwards, so John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are all here to stay. Kasperi Kapanen is, as stated, not moving along. Alex Kerfoot is too valuable as a center, and, for my money, you need to keep Zach Hyman as he is the teams best penalty killer and hardest worker.
Meanwhile, on defense, Morgan Rielly is here to stay. Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie could be part of a team they imagine winning this season, and Cody Ceci holds little to no value on the trade market.
That just leaves Andreas Johnsson.
How good of a defender does a 25 year old that has never amassed 50pts in a season get you? I like Johnsson, but unless he’s packaged with high picks and/or prospects, I’m not sure he alone gets the job done.
Time To Sell?
It’s all good and well to talk about a team that imagines keeping their pending UFAs to make a cup run, the real question is if Dubas does (and should) see this team as being one to do that with.
At the moment they aren’t looking poised to make the playoffs, so talking about a lengthy run is putting the carriage before the horse.
How far outside of the playoffs would they have to be before they decide to be sellers, and not buyers?
They’ve looked better under new head coach Sheldon Keefe, but they’re still 5pts out of the 2nd wild card spot, currently held by the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Flyers have 2 games in hand, so that gap could widen.
They’re closer to the 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division, currently held by the Montreal Canadians. Being just 2 points back from them sounds terrific until you realize the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers are also vying for the same spot, are both 1pt up on the Buds, and have 2 (Florida) and 3 (Tampa) games in hand.
They’re not out of the show just yet, and this isn’t the time to give up, but the question is, on trade deadline day, if you were in this same spot, would you sell?
Personally, I would. Under the NHLs current 3pt system it’s too difficult to gain ground.
Maybe selling the likes of Jake Muzzin, Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci, while replacing them with Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, and the depth defender of you, the readers, choice, is exactly what this team needs to recoup some assets and make this next offseason one to remember. If that meant boosting the minutes of Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, and furthering their development for next season as well, then what do they have to lose?