Just five months ago, Calvin Pickard donned the red and white maple leaf for Team Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championships, serving as the Canadian starting netminder for seven games, including the gold medal final.
Fast forward to today, and Pickard finds himself in the blue and white of the Toronto Marlies. In the span of a year, Pickard was thrust into the starting job with the worst NHL team in recent memory, started for the silver medal-winning Team Canada, was selected by Vegas, only to be put on waivers one day into the season, and finally, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Talk about a whirlwind of a season. Although it hasn’t been fun for Pickard, his erratic year has turned into the Maple Leafs’ gain. A team with minimal goaltending depth behind Frederik Andersen, adding a more than capable netminder in Calvin Pickard is a huge depth addition for Toronto.
Toronto Maple Leafs Add Valuable Goaltending Depth in Acquisition of Calvin Pickard
Just look at the 2016-17 Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation if you want an example a lack of depth. Of course, Frederik Andersen was the starter, but the gig behind the Danish netminder was up in the air. The signing of Jhonas Enroth turned into a disaster for both player and team, resulting in multiple losses and a trade to Anaheim. Then came the Antoine Bibeau experiment, which lasted only a couple of appearances. Although he looked solid, it was clear he was nowhere near NHL ready, finding himself out of the Leafs’ organization by July 1.
Desperate to find a backup, Toronto turned to the waiver wire, claiming veteran Curtis McElhinney from the Columbus Blue Jackets. McElhinney was able to provide steady goaltending in the backup role, something the Leafs didn’t have most of the season. His play gave Toronto’s brass enough faith in him to give him a two-year extension at a very cheap cap hit, enough to completely bury in the minors, in fact.
Now entrenched in playoff contention, Toronto cannot afford lacklustre backup play to cost them games in 2017-18 if they truly want to challenge for the Atlantic Division title. With McElhinney and Marlies’ starter Garret Sparks returning as options, it was obvious the depth in goal was an area of concern.
The Faith (or lack thereof) in Curtis McElhinney
Although Curtis McElhinney played well in limited action with Toronto in 2016-17, his career numbers paint a far uglier picture. McElhinney’s .905 save percentage over his 10-year career are comparable to the likes of Jonas Gustavsson, Ray Emery, Johan Hedberg, Mathieu Garon, Marty Turco, Chris Mason, and Peter Budaj. Ouch.
If you look at McElhinney’s goals against average, it only gets worse. Over the last 10 years, his 2.95 GAA is second worst for netminders with at least 160 games played. Only Dwayne Roloson‘s 2.96 GAA is worse. Yikes.
McElhinney’s performance in 2016-17 warranted another contract, however. His .917 SV% and 2.70 GAA in 21 appearances with Columbus and Toronto were, although not great, decent enough for a backup. The Leafs reportedly targeted Ottawa’s Mike Condon in free agency but settled on bringing back the native of London, Ontario instead.
Trading for, not Claiming, Calvin Pickard
That brings us to October 2017. After a shaky start the preseason, Curtis McElhinney still retained the backup job after Garret Sparks did not do enough to usurp the veteran. Even though Sparks was unable to move McElhinney from his position with the Leafs, Toronto’s management was still uneasy as to the goaltending position behind Andersen. If the Leafs’ starter were to go down due to injury at any point, Toronto would be in serious trouble.
On October 4, the Vegas Golden Knights claimed Boston Bruin netminder Malcolm Subban off of waivers. Once a top prospect, drafted in the first round, Subban has yet to become a regular NHL player. After the claim by Vegas, some speculated a trade would be coming to move out Calvin Pickard, as starter Marc-Andre Fleury seems entrenched in Nevada.
Surprisingly, the following day, it was announced Pickard had been placed on waivers. Just months after helping Canada to a silver medal at the World Championships, Pickard was on waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League. If it was shocking to see him on waivers, it was astonishing to see Pickard clear waivers at noon on October 6. As a young goaltender making $1,000,000 against the cap with starting experience, it was a common thought that a team looking for a backup upgrade such as Los Angeles or Boston would take a shot at Pickard.
Instead, he cleared, making him arguably more valuable to a potentially interested team, as he would be free to go down to the minors for the time being. And that’s the exact situation that resulted in Calvin Pickard becoming a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Rather than claim Pickard and force a player down to the minors or on waivers, the Leafs chose to trade for Pickard after clearing waivers. That way he could get starts while Toronto allows McElhinney to prove himself in the NHL. If he were to falter, Pickard would be a call away from dressing for the Maple Leafs.
Additionally, the Leafs did not have to gain another contract. Already tight against the 50 SPC limit at 48, Toronto was able to deal a plateauing prospect in Tobias Lindberg, as well as a sixth-round pick, to acquire extraordinarily valuable goaltending depth.
The Future for Pickard
The acquisition of Calvin Pickard was a brilliant move by Leafs’ management. They add a netminder with starting experience in the NHL who is on a very cheap contract. Pickard is only 25 year of age as well, making him a restricted free agent at the end of the year. If Frederik Andersen were to get hurt
If Frederik Andersen were to get hurt, as he did late in the 2016-17 season, Pickard is a much better Plan B than the likes of Curtis McElhinney or even Garret Sparks. McElhinney and Sparks top out as average backups, whereas Calvin Pickard has shown he can put up impressive numbers with a good team in front of him.
In Pickard’s first two seasons with the Avalanche, he posted a .927 SV% and a 2.46 GAA in 36 games, very intriguing numbers at age 23 and 24. Of course, there are the ugly numbers that come with playing significant minutes for one of the most abysmal hockey teams in recent memory a year ago, the .904 SV% and 2.98 GAA in 50 appearances.
However, Calvin Pickard still made his way to Team Canada. he posted a 1.49 GAA and a .938 SV%, once again showing that on a good team, Pickard could put up good numbers. The Leafs will be hoping for a performance much closer to his first two in the NHL than his most recent.
Prove It… Again
Pickard will have to prove his worth with the Marlies first, however. A combination of a couple bad starts from McElhinney and stellar play from Pickard in the minors could result in a quick switch from Mike Babcock, who has had a short leash with backups in the past.
The likely scenario is that Curtis McElhinney is replaced by Calvin Pickard at some point this season. McElhinney would be put on waivers and likely play with the Marlies. Unless the turbulent off-season has taken a toll on Pickard, it’s hard to not see him with the Leafs this season. It would take an unexpected impressive season from McElhinney to prevent Pickard appearing in a Maple Leafs jersey.
Regardless of the outcome directly behind Andersen, Leafs’ management made a very smart move in bolstering their goaltending depth. Just as they have done with the forward and defensive depth, the Leafs are now prepared to face the injuries that come from an 82 game campaign, plus a deep playoff run.
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