The heartbreak of that game 7 loss is going to stay with me for a long time, I know that for sure. As a fan I can’t imagine what the players must feel, especially one Jake Gardiner, who has taken the brunt of the blame for the loss. Feel free to point fingers if you’d like, I know I have shared my displeasure with some of the performances from their 1st round series. I will direct this to the people that decided to message Jake directly and spew your internal trash his way though. He is a person, as well as a hockey player, that expressed how upset he was with himself after the game was done. He doesn’t need to read that gutter trash that you call a thought. We love to be able to attract players to the city and team but that isn’t a way to do it.
I felt it necessary to say something because of how disgusted I was with what I saw, which I won’t dare to repeat here, and I hope has been removed by the appropriate websites for his sake.
Onto the point of this article. Where do they go from here!?!?
Almost as soon as the final horn sounded we started to see suggestions about how to make this team/organization better for next season. So, for the sake of furthering those discussions I thought I’d run down a few roster options for next year.
We’ll start with the position of least interest, because it should be of interest.
Most wouldn’t think there is much to be discussed here but there are a few things to consider. While Frederik Andersen will no doubt be the starter, the question to ask here is who will be the backup.
Curtis McElhinney had a terrific season. There is zero doubt about that. With a record of 11-5-1, a 2.15 GAA, 0.934 SV% and 3 shutouts, his stats were easily among the best among backups league wide. With stats like that you would think he would be a lock to go into the season as the Leafs backup.
The problem next season has to do with the fact that Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard also had terrific seasons. Sparks was particularly impressive, having played 43 regular season games and going 31-9-2, while sporting a paltry 1.79 GAA (best in the AHL) and sublime 0.936 SV% (also 1st in the AHL). He won the Baz Bastien award, which is voted on by players, coaches and media members (so literally everybody!!) and awarded to the leagues most outstanding goaltender. Basically, it’s the AHLs version of the Vezina trophy. He did all of this at the age of 24, which, when you consider so many goaltenders take a long time to develop, is even more impressive.
Next we have Calvin Pickard. The guy that managed to push Sparks for starts for portions of the regular season. Obviously no small feat. With a 21-9-1 record, 2.31 GAA and 0.918 SV%, he did more than just a commendable job as an AHL backup. The story here lies further in the past than just this regular season though. The story here has more to do with the way Pickard played while he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche. A season ending injury to starter Semyon Varlamov left Pickard as their starting goalie in 2016/17. The stats themselves weren’t terrific, but he played behind a poor team in general, and, from the games I saw, played well considering the team would eventually place last in the NHL. Left exposed to the expansion draft, he was the first pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, but ended up on waivers after they picked Marc-Andre Fleury to start, and later Malcolm Subban was claimed on waivers to be their backup. Through all of this it is still widely accepted that Calvin Pickard is an NHL calibre goaltender and I tend to agree.
Lastly we have Kasimir Kaskisuo, basically an afterthought in the grand scheme of the 2017/18 season. This has more to do with “out of sight, out of mind” than his performance. Kaskisuo was loaned to the Chicago Wolves, and appeared in 28 games for them. With a 13-13 record, 2.38 GAA, and 0.914 SV%, the numbers aren’t terrible. My viewing of him is non-existent, so I’m not able to give much in terms of a scouting report outside of quoting numbers. At 24 he still has value to the organization.
The big problem here is the lack of waiver exempt goaltenders. No goalie currently under contract will be waiver exempt next year, so if you want to send them to the AHL the other 30 NHL teams will get a chance to take them from you for nothing. Garret Sparks will be 25 by the time the puck drops on the 2018/19 season, and with the season he just had it would be a surprise to me if he passed through waivers. He’s likely an NHL backup already and has the potential to be more, I have to believe that there’s a team out there that would take a flyer on him. Calvin Pickard is a little older, and while he might be an NHL backup, he isn’t likely held in as high regard as this seasons Baz Bastian award winner. Curtis McElhinney is exactly what he is, and that’s a solid veteran backup, it’s possible he could pass through waivers as well but these are all question marks to me. I think Kaskisuo would go unclaimed, but he’s the only guy I would be confident saying that about.
So, the question is who will be the backup when the season begins? Do you continue with your veteran backup? Or do you hand the reigns over to your up and coming, home grown talent? If you decide to run with McElhinney do you risk waiving Sparks and Pickard and losing them for nothing? Or do you shop them around to see if there is anything of interest? Could either one be a valuable piece to include in a deal for a player that plays a position the big club is more desperate for? Tough questions to answer but what I think I would do is this:
I’d plan to have Kaskisuo as the AHL backup, possibly even loan him to another club once again if you managed to retain all 5 goaltenders. I’d also pencil in Sparks to backup Frederik Andersen. I would skip on the mid/late round pick you could possibly get for Pickard or McElhinney and waive both of them. If one gets claimed then whoever remains would start for the AHL Toronto Marlies with Kaskisuo backing him up. If neither one gets claimed you let them split starts. If both get claimed then Kaskisuo holds down the fort while you search for an AHL starter. It’s risky but necessary to keep Sparks in the system in my opinion, because you shouldn’t let a goalie that simply keeps getting better, at his age, leave the organization for nothing.
One thing I know for sure is this, the organization has solid depth and potential at this position right now.
Am I missing something? Let me know if I am.