The Toronto Maple Leafs backup goaltending is not the only reason the Maple Leafs find themselves out of a playoff spot, but they sure aren’t helping. Michael Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo are a combined 0-6-1 this season. Winning half of those games would put them in a playoff spot. Winning two of the games lost in regulation would have them tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kyle Dubas doesn’t have a lot of extra cash laying around these days, but something needs to be done.
Toronto Maple Leafs Backup Goaltending Issues
When Dubas gave over $40 million to four forwards, everyone knew there would have to be bargain-basement deals in other places of the line-up. The gamble was that those cheap players wouldn’t hurt the team. If shrewd enough, maybe those players would excel. In many areas that gamble has paid off. Tyler Ennis last year was a good example. Jason Spezza has been a good signing this season. He signed for near the league minimum and has 11 points in 19 games. He’s also got a 55.2 Corsi For percentage. Dubas however, so far, has lost that gamble when it comes to backup goaltending.
How Did They Get Here
None of the decisions Toronto has made have been terrible. It was probably always part of the plan that one of the positions the team would have to be frugal with is the backup goaltender position. It made sense to give Hutchinson a try, but it’s not worked out. They also tried out Michal Neuvirth at camp, but injuries prevented him from making the team.
Some may point out that losing Curtis McElhinney two seasons ago was a bad decision, but it’s not a fair assessment. Dubas had three goalies to choose from, one was in his mid-thirties and the two others were young and coming off great AHL seasons. Garret Sparks won the 2018 Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for AHL goaltender with the lowest GAA, and the Baz Bastien Memorial Award for the AHL’s best goaltender. How could he not go with Sparks over McElhinney? As lucky as the Maple Leafs have been finding quality skaters on value contracts, they’ve had the opposite kind of luck with back-up goaltenders recently. Now they’re going to have to spend both money and whatever they give up in a trade to shore up the position.
Finding Cap Space
The first obstacle Dubas has to overcome to find a better backup goaltender is to free up cap space. They have a little room right now with Andreas Johnsson going on LTIR. His $3.4 million is available until after Christmas at least. The team didn’t give many details on Johnsson’s injury. They did say his injury will be re-evaluated after Christmas, so it’s possible he’s out even longer. Eventually, he will return though, so Dubas will need to find a long term solution. Johnsson’s injury does allow the Leafs to find another goaltender now and worry about how they can afford him later.
The obvious solution to free up cap space is to move Cody Ceci. It’s not quite clear what the team sees in him. Prior to the start of the season, it was easy to argue they were taking a risk, expecting him to play better on a better team. No offence to the Ottawa Senators. Playing into December, it’s become clear that he’s not worth his $4.5 million price tag. His relative Corsi For is -5.4. That’s third-worst on the team behind Nick Shore, recently claimed by the Winnipeg Jets, and Frederik Gauthier.
The trouble with Ceci may not be that the Maple Leafs don’t want to trade him. It may be that they can’t. That’s a lot of money for a third-pairing defenseman. If they do manage to shed that contract, it will allow the Maple Leafs to afford a quality backup goaltender and maybe even add some grit to the bottom six. That’s another story though.
Who Is Available?
Sportsnet released an article with the top ten goaltenders the Maple Leafs could target. Some of the goalies on this list don’t seem like upgrades or would be very risky at least. Sparks for example. Some of them would probably cost an arm and a leg, Tristan Jarry for example. His stock is high at the moment, coming off back-to-back shutouts. When he comes back down to earth he may be an option. The Pittsburgh Penguins do have both Jarry and Casey DeSmith behind Matt Murray. They probably don’t want to keep all three so one of the backups should be on the block. That could present an opportunity for the Maple Leafs, but either goalie may end up being expensive.
The other interesting option from this list is Alexandar Georgiev. Elliotte Freedman had this to say about Georgiev in the same Sportsnet article, “I’ve wondered about Georgiev because they’ve got a prospect in the American Hockey League (Igor) Shesterkin who looks dynamite and he’s going to play a bit.” We’ll see if the New York Rangers get to a place where they’re looking to move Georgiev. He may also be expensive though.
The Last Word
Something has to be done about the Toronto Maple Leafs backup goaltending. It obvious the team isn’t interested in playing Hutchinson anymore. Not after Frederik Andersen played back-to-back games this week against the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. They surely aren’t planning on playing Andersen in all the remaining 62 games. They may end up giving Kaskisuo more games, but that’s risky given that he has only one NHL game under his belt.
The NHL standings are tight every year. Losing points by not having adequate goaltending can be the difference between home-ice advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely. As expensive, relatively, as a quality backup may be, Dubas has little choice. If the Toronto Maple Leafs backup woes continue it may be the GM that finds himself on the hot seat next season.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins plays the puck between his legs to score a goal against Michael Hutchinson #30 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at TD Garden on October 22, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)