Part of the problem with such limited goaltender blood on the open market is that the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the best goaltenders in the minor leagues who, if he were in any other organization, may be anticipating his entrance to the NHL next season in a backup capacity.
But that isn’t the case for Ben Scrivens, the 25-year old (26 in September) out of Spruce Grove, Alberta. Scrivens, who is a restricted free agent, faces an odd situation.
The Leafs need a goaltender. They need a starting goaltender who can provide them above average production, preferably young, and preferably cheap. Paying for goaltending is just a big no-no in my eyes, and the most popular man on the trade block, Roberto Luongo, and on free agency, Josh Harding, will probably cost the team a pretty penny, far more than they should.
Last offseason, the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche looked for a change in goal. Philly went the expensive route, opening their wallets for Ilya Bryzgalov, whose rough first year in Philly became somewhat of a running joke. The Avalanche, too, traded a pair of picks, including a first rounder, for Semyon Varlamov while the Coyotes, Panthers and Capitals all found success with cheap alternatives.
Unfortunately, Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun aren’t on the market this year.
(As an aside, the Vokoun situation is delicate. He wanted to play for a winner and took a pay cut last offseason. This year, Brian Burke was criticized for not giving Vokoun a second season on a contract, but he’s 36 in July. You can’t guarantee one productive season out of any goalie, and your odds are significantly reduced trying to get two productive years out of a goalie on the wrong side of 35.)
The UFA goalie pool among goalies under 35 is quite slim: Antero Niittymaki, Michael Leighton, Dan Ellis, Alex Auld, you get the idea.
What’s wrong with the idea of the Leafs re-signing Scrivens and platooning him with James Reimer to patrol the Leafs’ net, giving each around 40 starts? I don’t buy into the notion that you need a clear-cut number one, particularly when you’d have to pay through the nose to get one, either in salary or via trade.
There’s some concern with James Reimer’s ability post-concussion, but I think that the slip Reimer had last season was due to a poor penalty kill and simple regression to the mean. Here:
James Reimer rolling 10-game save percentage, pre-and-post concussion –
Reimer still ran into a save percentage high a few weeks after coming back from concussion, so I still think there’s some legitimate talent there. His even strength save percentages, .933 and .918, show that maybe that Reimer’s true value lies in the .920 range, which would be acceptable for the Leafs, who just need an average season out of their goaltending.
Back to Scrivens, part of the reason you can’t go to the AHL to find a different goalie is because you can’t guarantee any of them are better than Scrivens. Here are the combined stats of goalies who have faced 1500 shots in the AHL over the last two seasons:
I’m afraid a familiar face makes an appearance here…
Anyway, Scrivens is tied for the second best AHL save percentage over the last two seasons with fellow restricted free agents Iiro Tarkki and Eddie Lack, behind Dallas Stars’ backup Richard Bachman.
Pros to platooning:
- It’s cheap. Scrivens, by all indications, loves Toronto, and would re-sign for a fair price that wouldn’t cost the Leafs, who have a tight salary situation, in either the short-term or the long-term.
- It’s easy. As an opening night starter, you have a goalie who is a .926 EV SV% in the NHL, and your backup would be one of the minor league’s best over the last two years.
- It’s a long-term solution. Scrivens will be 26 and Reimer 24 on opening night. If either show an ability to maintain a good NHL performance over 40 or so games, you’ve found your guy for the future.
- Why not them? Mike Smith and Brian Elliott, two guys who had little going for them in their career, turned in amazing seasons and were big parts in their NHL teams’ success. We know how random goaltending is from year-to-year, so one of these two catching fire like Reimer did in the second half of 2011 isn’t out of the question.
Cons to platooning:
- It’s easy. There’s no quick fix to this problem, but you’d hope that an NHL general manager is a little more creative than pulling a “wait-and-see” approach to goaltending when fans are anxious for a playoff spot.
- You aren’t really solving a problem. If the Leafs’ have a serious issue in goal, going with a similar cast of players the next year isn’t a solution.
- No backup plan. No goaltender moved teams last season and it’s becoming less of a thing to move goalies mid-season. If you can’t find a guy in the offseason, what’s the betting that teams will make you pay a premium to trade for a guy after the regular season starts and you have no goaltenders?
- Who will tend for the Marlies? It’s probably worth having a guy who will fill in at Ricoh.
So, in the eternal question of “who will tend goal for the Leafs?” is the correct answer ‘they already have the guy?’ Reimer and Scrivens are both too good for the AHL but are hardly proven at the NHL level.
Also worth noting that Ben Scrivens apparently wouldn’t be exempt from waivers, but since he will be an RFA this summer, I’m sure these details will be sorted out.