The crease has been an area of concern in Toronto for a while. In fact, the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending pool remains a contentious topic amongst the club’s fanbase even after the departure of Frederik Andersen.
Although the Dane’s time with the Maple Leafs started brightly, the 31-year-old’s stint in the Six ended in disappointing fashion. As noted by JFreshHockey, Andersen’s shot-stopping prowess took a turn for the worse during his spell in Toronto, with his decline paving the way for Jack Campbell’s emergence as a prospective NHL netminder.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 13, 2021
In Andersen’s case, the numbers don’t lie. After a rocky start to life with the Leafs, he played a key role in backstopping Auston Matthews, then in his rookie year, to the postseason in 2016-17. Two strong seasons followed… and then Andersen’s form fell off a proverbial cliff.
However, it is during the playoffs that the Leafs’ goaltending has let them down most damagingly. Since returning to the promised land five years ago (by which I refer to the first round), Toronto’s netminders have been routinely outperformed by their counterparts. Remarkably, Campbell’s tête-à-tête with Carey Price might be the exception to the rule.
Which brings us along to the current day.
With general manager Kyle Dubas offering this version of the Maple Leafs one last chance to make amends in the playoffs, the pressure is on Campbell and new arrival Petr Mrazek ($4 million AAV) to lift Toronto’s postseason curse. Plainly, a massive season awaits both goalies; are they ready?
Assessing Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltending Depth Chart
Before assessing Toronto’s actual tandem for the 2021-22 campaign, it’s worth considering whether the Leafs were right to make the moves they did earlier this summer.
Dubas had to pick between three methods of rebranding the Leafs’ goaltending pool.
- Don’t change anything, bring back Freddie Andersen in the hope/expectation that he rebounds
- Spend Andersen-like cap space on a replacement number-one goalie
- Recruit a tandem guy to play alongside fan favourite Campbell
Well, the Carolina Hurricanes have bet on Andersen having an Indian summer, handing him a two-year deal worth $4.5 million against the cap. Based on the trajectory of the Dane’s age curve, the Leafs won’t regret letting him walk.
Flower, Grubi, or Darcy
Let’s start with the Chicago Blackhawks’ newly-recruited Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, 36-year-old Fleury. The Canadian left Nevada on sour terms as part of a salary dumping trade that saw prospect Mikael Hakkarainen (who has since been unconditionally waived) move in the opposite direction. Could the Leafs have offered Vegas a similar package for Fleury? Yes. Would Toronto have been able to afford Fleury’s $7 million AAV? No, so we’ll move on.
Grubauer, meanwhile, swapped Colorado for Seattle via free agency. The German will earn $35.4 million over the course of his six-year deal, which will cost the Kraken $5.9 million against the cap. Like Fleury, Grubauer has outperformed Andersen over recent years. However, he also proved to be too expensive for the Leafs, who opted to reallocate goalie funds in an attempt to cover the loss of forward Zach Hyman.
Which leaves Darcy Kuemper, who was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Conor Timmins, a 2022 first-round pick, and a conditional third-rounder to come in 2024. As part of the deal, Arizona agreed to retain $1 million of the 6’-5” Canadian’s salary, meaning he will cost the Avs $3.5 million in cap space.
On Kuemper, there are two questions to ask. First, were the Leafs in a position to trade another first-round pick? No, especially after their ill-fated move for Nick Foligno at last year’s deadline. Second, is Kuemper enough of an upgrade on Mrazek to justify making an expensive trade? Possibly not.
The Leafs, then, don’t appear to have dropped the ball in opting for Mrazek over a flashier alternative. But where does that leave Toronto heading into 2021-22?
Jack and Petr: a Match Made in Heaven
It’s no secret that Leafs nation is infatuated with Campbell (who comes in at $1.65 million against the cap). Understandably so.
Through 2020-21, the former 11th overall pick won 17 games in regular-season, several of them while standing on his head, and improved during the playoffs. Although Campbell’s .934 post-season save percentage wasn’t enough to get Toronto over the hump versus the Habs, it does suggest that his earlier form could be sustainable.
In other words, the Michigan native’s positive reputation is deserved.
What about Mrazek? Well, he, like his partner in the crease, enters the season aged 29. And the Mrazek-Campbell parallels don’t end there, the Czech goalie also appeared in fewer than 30 regular-season contests last term and was hampered by injuries.
That Mrazek is an inch shorter and seven pounds lighter than Campbell is fitting. He’s expected to start the season as the junior member of the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending tandem.
Speaking of which, Toronto will play four games in six days to open the new campaign. In October, the furthest Sheldon Keefe and Company will travel is to North Carolina to face the Hurricanes. The Leafs’ first game on the West Coast is against the Los Angeles Kings on November 24th.
Put another way, Campbell and Mrazek have been handed a relatively kind start to the season. It’s time to make hay when the sun shines.
We won’t know until we know (which means waiting until the playoffs) – but it looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs have got their reshuffle between the pipes right. Campbell-Mrazek might just work.