The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a tough go with goaltending and goaltender depth in recent memory, but the days of Paul Maurice having to choose between Andrew Raycroft or Vesa Toskala are no more. The Leafs backup goaltender could be a number of options as this is a position of strength for the team.
The Future For The Leafs Backup Goaltender
With Frederik Andersen slated to be the clear-cut starting goalie, the 2018-19 season will prove interesting for the backup job. With Curtis McElhinney playing the best hockey of his career and signed through the end of next season, he is the obvious choice. He has played only 13 games but posted a .931 save percentage in that time. For a goaltender typically playing back-to-backs or in relief, this is impressive. Sustainability of these numbers is the question.
Prior to joining the Leafs organization, McElhinney had a career .905 SV%. He will also be 35 years old at the start of next season. With the limited games played, the absurdly high save percentage and as an aging player, all signs will point to a regression of play. Should these predictions come to fruition, there are still many options the Leafs have.
The Dream AHL Tandem
In the AHL, the Marlies have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league. Amongst AHL goaltenders, the Marlies have the second and sixth best in save percentage in the league. Calvin Pickard, who was acquired earlier this season from the Vegas Golden Knights, has performed very well for the team with 17 wins and a .924 SV% in 26 games. These numbers are impressive for the Marlies backup.
The starter for the team, Garret Sparks, has won 22 of 33 games. The Marlies goaltending is leading the team to the playoffs and is the reason they are the top team in the AHL. If McElhinney begins to falter, the Leafs have two of the best in the minors to call up. Garret Sparks will be on the second year of a two year contract next year as well, and his deal becomes one way so this could be the Leafs plan from the start.
The Marlies start one of the league's top two goalies in net this afternoon.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) February 3, 2018
The Leafs Backup Goaltender Plan Going Forward
The Leafs have many different options going into next season. One thing is for sure, though. The Leafs need to have a backup goalie they can trust for next season. The rate that Andersen has been playing cannot continue. The backup goalie will need to start playing more than just back to backs, with Andersen having played the second most games in the league, and one back of Henrik Lundqvist.
The Leafs should ride the hot hand with Curtis McElhinney as long as they can, but come the time that they need a new goalie, Calvin Pickard could be the answer. Despite Sparks having the better AHL results, Pickard has proven himself to be able to play a large volume of games. Last season he played 50 games for the Colorado Avalanche, albeit with only a .904 SV%, but it was on a historically bad team that had the worst season in the NHL since the 1999-00 Thrashers. Pickard can take on more games and give Andersen more days rest than McElhinney has. Thus, he could be the Maple Leafs backup goaltender of the future.
Embed from Getty Images