The Toronto Maple Leafs goalie situation got scary on Monday night. Corey Perry‘s skate caught Frederik Andersen in the jaw, taking him out of the game. The Buds held on to win the game 7-4, but the main concern was the health of the Leafs MVP.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie Depth Chart Doesn’t Suck
Andersen has had trouble with concussions before. This time around, it appears that he did not sustain any damage that will keep him out long term. However, the effects of concussions have a way of sneaking up on you. With a history of concussions, Andersen’s health is a real concern for the Maple Leafs. The good news is, the Leafs have seemingly stockpiled a small group of potential goalies of the future.
Goaltenders Of Old
It was less than two years ago the Leafs had a goalie combo of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. That doesn’t seem like a terrible combination at all now. Bernier is having a resurgence and Reimer, although currently injured, is having another average season.
Neither goalie was embraced by Toronto as a player that could backstop the Leafs to a Stanley Cup. Bernier even spent some time in the AHL during the 2015-2016 season. Both goaltenders are better than they were made out to be in Toronto, although Andersen is better than both. Andersen was also quickly acknowledged as a goalie that has what it takes to help the Leafs make it to a Stanley Cup final one day.
In 2015-2016, Garret Sparks did not look like a player that could be expected to make an impact at the NHL level. He did begin his career with a shutout, but after that, his numbers were less than desirable. Beyond Sparks, the list dropped off sharply before it hits Ray Emery at the bottom.
A Quick Turnaround
The Leafs didn’t have Auston Matthews yet in that 2015-2016 season. The team was looking for forwards and defensemen, but mostly draft picks. Goaltending was something that could wait, despite the appearance of having next to nothing in the long-term goalie depth chart.
That offseason saw a surprise trade for Andersen. Perhaps the trade was a little premature. The team was not expected to make the playoffs the following season even with Matthews. Many expected the team to spend another season in the basement. Another season for stockpiling picks and building for the future. But you have to open the door when opportunity knocks.
The Andersen trade was bookended by Reimer being traded to the San Jose Sharks and Bernier being traded to the Anaheim Ducks. That left Andersen as the defacto number one goalie, with little to no competition.
The Fear Of Losing Andersen
Andersen quickly became an integral part of the Leafs franchise. Expectations rose for the Leafs heading into this season after an unexpected playoff appearance. Along with lofty expectations came a fear that should the Leafs lose Andersen, the team’s chances would be lost as well.
Have No Fear
Today, those fears are mitigated by a goaltending depth chart that was built with little fanfare.
Sparks had a rough go of it personally last season. He was suspended mid-season. He also had an injury keep him out of all but two games in a long Toronto Marlies playoff run. However, this season, he leads the AHL in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage.
Right behind him in GAA and third in Sv% is Calvin Pickard, whom the Leafs picked up from the Vegas Golden Knights for a song. They are easily the best tandem in the AHL, possibly ever. Both have the potential to prove themselves as quality NHL starters if given the chance.
Curtis McElhinney has also put up some very impressive numbers for an aging back up with a .932 sv% and two shutouts this year.
The Maple Leafs Have Options
The fear of losing Andersen is lessened considerably with this mix of old and young goalies ready to take the load. It also opens up some interesting doors for the Maple Leafs. If Sparks and Pickard are NHL talents, there are simply too many goalies to go around. One of them could replace “McBackup” McEhinney next year, who is in his first year of a two-year contract. That still leaves one of them on the outside looking in.
The Leafs are at the maximum 50 contracts already and have other young pieces that could be moved including Josh Lievo, who recently asked for a trade. A package of players who aren’t getting ice time at an NHL level could be used at this year’s trade deadline to make a splash. Or they could be converted into draft picks to continue a cycle of young, good players in the system.
An Impressive Turnaround
That the Leafs were able to turn a weak goaltender depth chart into a strength in less than two years is impressive. They have not only prepared for a potential injury to Andersen, they even have goaltenders to spare, if they really need it.
Andersen is still the best chance the team has this year of going deep into the playoffs. He is also signed three more years after this one. He may continue to be the team’s best chance for the duration of his contract. But the Leafs may have options next year. They may also have something that hasn’t been seen in Toronto in a dog’s age. An actual goaltender controversy that includes two good and capable goalies. Please leave the Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask jokes unsaid.