If you’ve read Blues News you know I’ve been a supporter of the idea of Reto Berra as the next backup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That doesn’t mean he is the only option out there. For various reasons teams may find themselves with more than two goalies that need to pass through waivers. So I took a look and compiled what I would consider to be a reasonable list of possible backups. Players that have NHL experience or ones that look like they are well on their way to making the show.
I didn’t just throw out the names of teams who have three or more waiver eligible goalies though. I’ve also included some teams that have waiver exempt goalies that are expected to push some waiver eligible goalies onto the waiver wire. John Gibson & Jonathan Bernier as a tandem, for example, will likely push Dustin Tokarski into the AHL.
The reason I have chosen to write about waiver options for a backup is simple, the Leafs are first on the waiver priority list. Meanwhile, they have a full stable of NHL forwards and find themselves in a situation where, although their defense isn’t stellar, they have enough players there that either deserve their first shot at an NHL job, or deserve another chance to prove they can do it. In short, I don’t think the calibre of player you would need on forward or defense, to justify pushing out what you have, will actually hit the waiver wire.
With all of that said, here is a short rundown of NHL teams that could find themselves with too many goalies this fall.
NJ: Schneider, Kinkaid and Wedgewood
Wedgewood had insane numbers last year. He only played 4 games for the Devils but posted a 1.24GAA and 0.957SV%. He also played 22 AHL games and posted a 1.55GAA and 0.933SV%. Meanwhile, Kinkaid took a step back, he played 23 games for the Devils last season and notched a 2.81GAA and 0.904SV%. Unless Kinkaid plays stellar at camp he’ll likely hit waivers but that isn’t to say he’s an altogether bad option. Behind a legit starter (we have that right?) he’s a good backup.
ARI: Smith, Domingue, Peters
Peters is probably the odd man out there. He didn’t have great AHL numbers last season but has proven a capable backup in the past. He did well in Carolina and may find that level of play again.
ANA: Bernier, Gibson (waiver exempt), Hackett and Tokarski
Hackett and Tokarski are likely going to the AHL. Tokarski showed flashes of NHL capability at one point but seems to have regressed. Like Peters, he may be able to find his way back to the NHL. If he has a good camp he could peak the interest of Leafs management.
FLA: Luongo, Reimer, Berra
Again, if you’ve read Blues News you know about this one. Also, if you haven’t read Blues News you should, I’ve been told it’s pretty good.
Berra played 14 games for the Avs last season and posted a 0.922SV% and 2.41GAA. He did it on a bad team as well. He has consistently improved since leaving Calgary. Whether you believe the Leafs need a veteran presence to support Andersen, or would be better suited with a guy with potential, you should like this option.
NYI: Halak, Greiss, Berube
Odd situation. Some think Halak is the odd man out. If he isn’t, and Greiss or Berube hits waivers, I’d be interested. Berube seems like the obvious guy on the outside to me and also seems a little overrated. With that said, he’s only 25 years old and has potential. Let’s not kid ourselves here, for backup purposes these are 3 great options. Especially if you ignore things like salary.
NYR: Lundqvist, Raanta, Hellberg
Hellberg could be that “who is he and why did management choose him?” waiver pickup that comes in and shines. He’s big and has had solid (but not great) AHL numbers. He’s 25, which isn’t too old for a goalie, and is 6’5″ 210lbs. Big guy and the title of backup goalie is likely in his future somewhere.
LA: Quick, Zatkoff, Budaj
Budaj is a strange case. Most predicted his stay in the AHL would be short lived. He has only managed to play 1 NHL game over the past 2 seasons, so those predictions were definitely off. At 33 years old Budaj seems to be trying to prove, through his play, that he isn’t done yet. He played 60 games last year for the AHLs Ontario Reign and posted an extremely stingy 1.75GAA and 0.932SV%. If you want a veteran backup he could be your man.
MTL: Price, Montoya, Condon
The Habs just signed Montoya, so it seems likely he’ll backup Carey Price this year. Condon didn’t play an NHL game before last season and ended up in 55 (a career high in any league). Maybe as a backup he’d be better? In my opinion you shouldn’t judge a player that failed under the expectations Condon faced last season. If anything, he should be commended for his efforts.
DET: Mrazek, Howard, Coreau
Coreau is waiver eligible (according to capfriendly.com). Is it too late to change my answer from Berra to Coreau as favourite option for backup? A 6’6″ 220lb Ontario native, and just 24 years old, he fits the Leafs age group and has the size that teams want in a goalie. He hasn’t played an NHL game before but the past two seasons he has posted a 2.20GAA + 0.927SV% and 2.42GAA + 0.922SV% respectively. The slight drop in numbers is because he started double the games from one season to the next. He’d be a solid option for a team in the Leafs situation in my opinion. This is a player that could turn into a capable NHL starter if you listen to Detroit fans and management. If they acquire him for nothing, and flip him when/if his value rises, they would be able to provide another example of good asset management.
WPG: Pavelec, Hutchinson, Hellebuyck (waiver exempt)
Hellebuyck was the best of the 3 last season so there could be options in Winnipeg. If he forces Cheveldayoff to keep him in the NHL then Hutchinson or Pavelec are on their way out. Both would be solid backup options.
For my money I think I’d still look towards Reto Berra as the next backup for the Leafs. He has the experience you want in the NHL. He can bring a “been there, done that” attitude because he has been there and done that. He played in a Canadian market before in Calgary. He knows what the pressure is like there. He has experienced the numbers game and being pushed out by youth. He also knows what it’s like to sit on the bench while a guy plays based on contract, rather than recent performance. I don’t expect him to experience that again, but, if Andersen stumbles out of the gate, at least we’d have a backup that would understand why the Leafs would give him ample opportunity to right the ship. Above all of that, he’s capable, and that’s what matters.
With that said, the Leafs aren’t lacking in top notch backup options if they want to go the waiver route. Jared Coreau, Mike Condon, Magnus Hellberg and Peter Budaj would all come to the Leafs with drive and the skill to play. They’d also come to the Leafs with completely different expectations than our backups in recent years. For a long time now our backups were expected to push the starter, to challenge him. Now, with all eyes on Frederik Andersen as the bonafide starter, they would be expected to support him, to help him, and to be a good teammate and locker room guy.
So what do you think Leafs Nation? Would you choose a veteran like Budaj? An unproven player, but one that is expected to be a future NHLer, like Coreau or Hellberg? Or a player that could use another kick at the can like Condon or Tokarski? All have their pros and cons in my opinion.