The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that they have signed backup goaltender Garret Sparks to a 1 year contract extension worth $750,000.
Sparks was given the backup role this season after winning the “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award last season (AHL version of the Vezina), and leading the Toronto Marlies to their first ever Calder Trophy.
He did all of that at just 24 years of age, and it must have given the organization confidence that he was a future regular in the NHL. After a less than stellar training camp he remained with the team while goaltenders Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard were waived and claimed by other teams. The battle, based on play, was won by Curtis McElhinney, so the decision to keep Sparks didn’t exactly sit well with all of Leafs Nation. Based on age and potential there are some that did agree that he was the right choice, but to date it’s been tough to defend the young goalie.
With a 3.09 GAA and 0.902SV% through 14 games this season, Sparks hasn’t exactly given head coach Mike Babcock a guy he can feel confident in giving extra starts to in order to rest starter Frederik Andersen. He has had some terrific games where he looked as good as any goalie can, but he has had some very poor starts as well. Winner of just 1 game over his last 5 starts, his record (7-5-1) is starting to mirror his poor numbers as well.
Sparks is still just 25 years old, which is young for a goalie, so he does have some potential still, but this isn’t the way he wanted this season to go. He has only started 30 games in his career, so it’s still early, but unless he starts to give his head coach and team more confidence he may find himself on another team next year, whether that’s in the AHL or NHL.
There is also the possibility that Toronto is keeping their eye out for a veteran backup to hit waivers and that this extension is simply a deterrent to keep other teams from picking Sparks up on waivers. His extension is a 1-way deal, which means it won’t matter is he plays in the NHL or AHL next season, he’ll be paid his full $750,000. For the Leafs this isn’t a problem, but for a lot of teams that may be hard to swallow. This extension may be the best way for the Leafs to get him back to the Marlies to further develop this season.
A follow up to that thought:
Carter Hart is closing in on a return to the lineup in Philadelphia. Brian Elliott has been terrific lately but he’s making 3M salary this season, do they want to continue to pay him that while Cam Talbot is also making 4.2M this year and Carter Hart has been so good? They’re just 5pts out of the final wild card spot so keeping as many options as possible isn’t a bad idea. It’s an interesting situation that will likely see Elliott remain in Philadelphia, but it’s worth looking at all the same.
When Chad Johnson returns from injury in Anaheim they will have a crowded crease as well.
In the meantime I will continue to cheer for Sparks, and hope that he can string together some good games. With his play this year it’s tough to wonder about the training camp decisions that were made though.
GO LEAFS GO!!