The Leafs’ goaltending situation for roughly the last half decade – bordering on a little longer than that – has been nothing short of a comedy of errors.
It may have started with Andrew Raycroft. It may have started with Jonas Gustavsson or Vesa Toskala; at this point, it almost doesn’t even matter. The bottom line, where it stands now, is that the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t get a win out of Jonathan Bernier to save their lives and James Reimer is a pending unrestricted free agent.
That leaves the team right where they’ve been for the last few years – failing to put up successful numbers in net while also icing an impressive product. As a result, the rumors are starting to fly – and Malcolm Subban, the former first round draft selection for the Boston Bruins, is the name that’s been brought up more often than not.
The Likelihood of Getting Subban
It doesn’t escape my notice that the Bruins giving Toronto Malcolm Subban during Tuukka Rask’s worst season statistically in nearly his entire career in net would be the most satisfying kind of revenge, but this trade is actually a potential reality anyway.
Subban and his fellow AHL prospect, former sixth round draft selection Zane McIntyre, have both been struggling this year – and Subban has been struggling a bit more than McIntyre on the whole. They’re both splitting starts for the AHL’s Providence Bruins, but neither can break a .900 raw save percentage – and they both play a reactive style in net, which means that when they look bad, they really look disastrous. Subban was one of the best prospects coming into his draft year (and looked like one of the best prospects coming into his last year in the AHL), but something is off this fall.
That makes the likelihood that Boston deals either him or McIntyre fairly high. The team has another strong goaltending prospect in the system with the Chicago Steel of the USHL (Daniel Vladar, a lanky netminder from the Czech Republic) and if Subban continues to slump, the team may want to move him while his value is still somewhat high. Call it the Anders Lindback effect, if you will.
For Toronto, though, it’s curious to see the team involved in a rumor. Generally, there’s a rule of thumb – is Lou Lamoriello your team’s general manager? Have you heard a rumor about the team? Chances are, the rumor’s false.
In this case, though, it’s a rumor that could potentially make sense. For the Leafs, giving Subban a second chance – especially when he’s still a prospect with a higher likely ceiling than either Antoine Bibeau or Garret Sparks – could be the final revenge they deserve for the Rask trade just a few years ago.
If Not Subban, Then Who?
There’s always the chance that the Lamoriello Rule should play into effect here, though – at which point the Leafs are simply being tied to goaltender rumors, and for somewhat good reason.
If they aren’t actually tied to Subban, that’s almost beside the point. The Leafs could see Sparks continue his modified development into a bona fide 1B, but his current ceiling doesn’t look like franchise starter material – and Bibeau, where he stands now, still looks like a project to get an NHL starter. Leafs goaltending coach Steve Briere has worked with some pretty impressive young names in the past, but the franchise probably still needs to reinforce their situation in time for Nylander, Marner, Kapanen, Brown, and their other highly-touted prospects to hit the big leagues running.
So who should the club look at, should Subban not be the answer Lamoriello and Shanahan are looking for?
1. Laurent Brossoit. The Oilers desperately need Brossoit where they stand right now, but he’s actually an interesting name just based on where he is in his development arc compared to the rest of the team. With three shutouts on the 2015-2016 season (and an impressive NHL debut last year), Brossoit looks to be just on the cusp of being NHL ready – but the Oilers have both Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson ahead of him in the depth chart. By next year, they’ll have to pull a Vancouver and trade away an NHL goaltender in order to keep everyone appeased; if Brossoit is the odd man out, he’s looking like the real deal.
2. Jordan Binnington. The St. Louis Blues have a strong prospect in former OHL netminder Jordan Binnington, but the club brought in both Luke Opilka via the 2015 NHL draft and Pheonix Copley via trade with the Washington Capitals this summer; add in Finnish netminding prospect Ville Husso, and the Central Division club have a bottleneck of prospective talent in net coming through their system. Binnington will be 23 this year, while NHL starter Jake Allen is only 24 – so the Blues will have to get rid of someone sooner or later. Whether it’s Copley, Husso, or Binnington, the team that takes them on will probably be a winner.
3. Matt Murray. It seems like with all the chatter about John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, and Subban himself, no one has been talking about Matt Murray – and that makes absolutely zero sense, because he’s been filthy for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins from day one. He’s got starter potential and it isn’t even close, but his timeline and Marc-Andre Fleury’s are a little bit off from the start. He’ll likely want starts before Fleury is finished, which is when Toronto could pounce.
Realistically, though? If the team wants to trade with Pittsburgh in net, they may have to ask for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton backup. Which, if you’re an Edmonton Oil Kings fan… getting Tristan Jarry for your rebuilding club is far from a bad thing.
4. Eric Comrie. The Winnipeg Jets can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (and by the tunnel, I mean the Ondrej Pavelec era) – they’ve got one of the best depth charts among prospective netminders in the NHL. Not even kidding; they’ve got three netminders that look like NHL starter material, and they’re all 25 or younger. Michael Hutchinson is already established at the NHL level, though, and Connor Hellebuyck’s WC performance (paired with his AHL numbers) may be hard for Comrie to push past; if he wants to see the NHL before he’s 25 or 26, it may have to be elsewhere. Toronto could be the beneficiary here, in a big way.
The worst option for Toronto? They get Comrie, as the trio stand right now. That’s a ridiculously good worst option – if they can somehow pull off a trade for Hellebuyck, that could be the face of the franchise’s back end for years to come.
Will the Leafs have to give someone up?
Probably. Most teams can’t trade Andrew Raycroft for a bona fide NHL prospect in net; but all of these teams have a surplus of very good talent in net and nowhere to put them all.
Trying to speculate on who gets dealt for a rebuilding starter goaltender is very hard; depending on where the teams are in their seasons will have all the impact in the world on this. The Islanders managed to get a 1B in Chris Gibson as a part of a package for Michael Grabner; the Oilers initially picked up Brossoit for Laddy Smid, while it took T.J. Oshie to get the Capitals to part with Copley over the summer. Anyone from a Kapanen/Brown player to a high draft pick could be what a team asks for, and a bigger name – think Nazem Kadri or Dion Phaneuf – isn’t unreasonable to consider in this scenario, either.
With the goaltending situation in Toronto far from pretty right now, though, the likelihood of seeing that Reimer-Bernier tandem longer than the Leafs absolutely have to is getting pretty low. Which means it’s time to start looking at names – and these are the ones that may yield more than the Leafs could hope for within their own system.