As the Leafs see another season wind down without being in the playoff picture, there’s a finger that nobody sane could point at; goaltending. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have won this team games they’ve had no business winning, which is probably the reason it took until Game 80 for the last wheel to fall off. But enough about that. Let’s talk about a previous Leafs starting goaltender who retired today, Andrew Raycroft.
While not the worst trade in Leafs history (last week’s WBW touched on this), the move to acquire Raycroft was certainly up there. The Leafs gave up blue chip prospect Tuukka Rask for the 25 year old, who just saw his save percentage crash from 0.926 in his rookie year to 0.879. The Leafs felt it was worth the risk. The Bruins were probably en route to the waiver wire. As it turns out, the Bruins were very right and now have arguably the best goaltender in hockey as a result. But you all know the story.
What get’s asked often, however, is what exactly could the Leafs have done otherwise? Well, here’s the trade market from that time:
- “The Luongo Trade” happened a day before, sending Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld, and Bryan Allen to Florida for Lukas Krajicek, Roberto Luongo, and a 6th round pick. I don’t know if the Leafs would have been able to jump on this one; Luongo thought he was close to a long term deal with the Panthers hours before the trade, and I don’t think the Leafs had the right assets to top Bertuzzi. Sundin was several years older and at that time wasn’t on the market. Darcy Tucker had a breakout year, but was a step down. Bryan McCabe or Tomas Kaberle could have been strong trade chips, but with them both looking like they could be top-10 defencemen in the post lockout NHL and not much ready behind them, I’m sure there would be hesitance.
- Two weeks later, Dan Cloutier was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2nd and 3rd round pick. A much lower cost, but an even worse goalie; Cloutier played just 33 games in two seasons with the Kings had had save percentage numbers that would be bad for the Early 80’s.
So, not a lot of goaltending being moved, and neither situation was likely to be the right one for Toronto. But how about free agents? It’s not like the Leafs were strangers to the market, signing Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill as the first two transactons in the league on July 1st. Looking at guys who had a reasonable chance at being a starter:
- Martin Gerber signed with Ottawa on July 1st. Gerber earned his deal (3Y @ 3.7) with the Senators after a couple of years of playing power-backup; sitting behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim’s 2003 run, performing well while filling in during the 03/04 season, dominating in Sweden and at the World Championship during the lockout, and having a respectable year with the Carolina Hurricanes before losing his job to eventual Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward. Oh, and shutting out Canada at the Olympics. Gerber’s deal didn’t fare super well for the Sens; Ray Emery stole his spot in 2006/07, and he was average in 2007/08. Gerber actually ended his contract with the Leafs, where his below average 0.905 was the best goaltending the Leafs had seen in years once they claimed him off re-entry waivers. Overall, a disappointment to the Sens, but would’ve been an improvement here.
- Ty Conklin followed a few days later, jumping from Edmonton to Columbus. After flaming out his sophomore year in Edmonton, the Oilers walked away from him, leaving the Blue Jackets to sign him to a league minimum deal. He didn’t play solid hockey until 2007/08, bailing out the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury injured, and obviously wouldn’t have been in the solution in Toronto. But, at 500k, you can waive that mistake and not stress it.
- At the end of the month, Dominik Hasek returned to the Detroit Red Wings after a year in Ottawa. If there was a reason that Toronto passed on this option, I have to imagine it was injury concern. After all, Hasek had just posted a 0.925 with the Sens, but hadn’t made 50 starts in a season since 2002. As it turns out, Hasek managed to start 56 that year while posting a 0.913 save percentage at the low price of $750,000. With that said, I have to think that he had Detroit specifically in mind – many teams would have taken him at that price to split minutes with someone.
- Last, and probably most importantly, it took Manny Legace until early August to find a team, signing with St. Louis for 1 year at 1.4 million dollars; a “prove your worth” year. Legace had had some solid partial seasons with the Red Wings for about half a decade prior, but there was scepticism that he could succeed on another team. Legace wasn’t particularly mindblowing, posting a 0.907 save percentage over 45 games, but you know what? That’s decent enough. Particularly when you factor in the difference that would have made for the Leafs that year (25 goals fewer with the same amount of Shots against as Raycroft). He actually went up in the first year of his following deal (2 years at 2.15M per) to a 0.911, before falling off the radar. At that point, however, you have Rask just about ready to come into his place, as he did in 2009/10 for the Bruins.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the decision to go with Raycroft single handedly cost the Leafs at least one playoff spot. Here’s a comparison of the goals against the Leafs would have under Raycroft of each year, league average, and Toronto’s current goalies.
|SA||SV||GA||SV%||Leafs GF||Leafs GA||Leafs GD||Rank|
The difference between having 2006/07 Andrew Raycroft and 2013/14 Jonathan Bernier is fifty three goals against. The difference between Raycroft and an average goalie that year was still twenty. Put in this year’s Bernier and Reimer in place of Raycroft and Aubin and they’re +54. That’s ahead of the cup winning Ducks! The Leafs missed the playoffs on a shootout loss between two other teams in the last game of the season instead.
Obviously, finding 0.920 goaltending wouldn’t have come cheap, but it’s not unreasonable to think that an average goalie gets them into the playoffs and gives them a chance.
The next year is harder to blame on him, because he lost his spot to an slightly less but still awful Vesa Toskala. But even still, an average goalie could have pulled sixteeen goals out of those backup minutes. Could you imagine that team with the current duo? Bump Toskala to Bernier and Raycroft to Reimer, and they shoot from -29 to +19, also 6th in the NHL.
This is the argument I’ve been making a lot lately, when people ask me how this team has stayed out of contention for so long. You can’t look at the Leafs the same way today as you did five years ago. In hindsight, the Maurice-era teams were a goaltender away from being a dominant NHL team. Quinn’s 2005/06 team too; they’re probably going places if they don’t have Belfour/Tellqvist. But that’s a roster for another day.
After leaving the the Leafs, Raycroft managed to improve a little bit, but that’s not saying much. He had brief stints in Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas before being sent to the AHL to finish off the 2011/12 season. During the lockout, he headed to Milan of the Italian Serie A, and never came back. Joining him as an opponent in the same league? The prospect the Leafs decided to keep in his trade, Justin Pogge. The two also would take the Tour of Broken Leafs dreams to Sweden this year, playing in their AHL equivalent. Raycroft posted a 0.896 save percentage this season, and just played his last game.
He had a shutout.