The Smartest Goaltending Acquisition? Nobody.


Of all the positions that people are interested in the Leafs improving, goaltending seems to be the highest priority of the bunch. After all, Jonathan Bernier is coming off of the worst season of his career, and while Garret Sparks had a highly memorable first game with the team, he wasn’t exactly an all-star as the year progressed. There’s isn’t a ton in the pipeline either, with Antoine Bibeau riding the AHL average all year, Kasimir Kaskisuo being a question mark, and the remainder of the prospect pool consisting of, well, nothing.

But speaking purely about next year, I don’t see any reason for the Leafs to sprint to get a goaltender.

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The Expansion Bluff

The Expansion Draft is supposed to save goaltending in the NHL forever, or so they say. With Las Vegas reportedly about a year from pillaging the league’s leftovers, teams are in a panic to get assets for players that they are scared to lose.

In theory, this means that a few teams with great goaltending duos are at risk. Fleury and Murray, Vasilevskiy and Bishop, Howard and Mrazek, so on and so forth. Lots of teams have great pairs that could be broken up by a single pick.

Here’s the key thought, though: Each team will lose only one player, and the Vegas team is going to have to play around the Salary Cap. Roles come into play too; you’re not making a legitimate NHL starter with a solid paycheque sit in the press box. Assuming that 10-12 teams have two goalies they’d like to keep but can only protect one, we might be talking about 20-25% of them being at risk of losing their guy. Is that enough to start a reverse bidding war where a Frederik Andersen or even a Philipp Grubauer goes for peanuts? Probably not.

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Not to mention, there’s a whole season before this draft. Competing teams likely see a year of the other half of their duo as more valuable than the asset they’ll get back for the. In most cases, it makes more sense for those teams to hold on to the player until the end of the end of their season and take a lesser value for them.

Surely, teams have this in mind. It would be a shock to see a goaltender desperately on the market in the next few months; teams that will shop their guys will be doing so expecting full value, which negates the whole idea of opportunity.

Potential Bouncebacks


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Another thing to consider in this situation is that, frankly, running with the present duo of Jonathan Bernier and Garret Sparks might not be the end of the world.

The Leafs were an awful team last year, but a lot of that had to do with some shocking percentages from players they expected to perform better. Bernier has always been a peaks-and-valleys goaltender, but always found a way to spend the bulk of his time in and around the league average, if not above it. That went away this season.

Now, why that happened is still up for debate. Did technique shifts mess with his game? Was he especially mentally fragile and quite simply lost his marbles? After years of playing in different forms of dump-and-chase with the Kings and Carlyle Leafs, was he simply not prepared for the shots he’d face in Mike Babcock’s system? It’s hard to say for sure, but from January on he was a 0.920 goaltender, which is where we generally saw him before the start of the year. It’s not unrealistic to think that Bernier could be a decent if unspectacular goaltender in the league next year, which is all the Leafs would need to get themselves going in the right direction.

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The same goes for Garret Sparks. In his case, I wonder how much he was affected by injury. Sparks was a 0.938 in his first 11 games with the Marlies, and 0.921 in his first five games with the Leafs. He pulled his groin against the Sharks on December 17th, played through it, had an unspectacular game, and was gone for a month. His next tour of duty with the Marlies saw him struggle in the first few weeks but bounce back eventually, giving him an above average but below him 0.910. 

The Leafs were gutted by the time Sparks came back up, and it’s possible that he reaggravated something in that time. In those 12 games, he was only above 0.900 four times, which many took as a potential death sentence to his long-term NHL hopes. He looked to regain form with the Marlies, but ultimately only played in six of their final 16 games (twice as relief), putting up a 0.928 in that time despite his last appearance coming at the halfway mark of a massive blowout.

There are no guarantees that either of these two will return to form, but no goaltender comes with a guarantee. In fact, that’s more the case than ever this year with new equipment rules coming in; what happens if the Leafs happen to get the one guy who really needed larger pants? Both of these players come at no asset cost to keep in between the pipes, and neither has performed as poorat any point in their pro career as their bad stretches of last season. 

It’s not insane to think that 55 games of Bernier and 25 games of Sparks next year could produce a 0.915 save percentage. That’s not going to get you Jennings Trophies, but assuming shots against stay equal (with more talented forward core to maintain zone time, a more developed defence, and the second year under a new system, they probably go down), that’s still good enough to shave 30 goals against off the total. Nobody expects to sweep the playoffs next year, so that’s more than passable for now.

Game Theory

The photo for this article comes from WarGames, one of my all-time favourite movies. The underlying message that Joshua (the supercomputer that Matthew Broderick’s character almost accidentally convinces to start World War 3) teaches itself is that in war, the only winning move is not to play.

That doesn’t fully apply here, of course. If Matt Murray gets pumped for eight goals tomorrow, Fleury comes in to save the day in Game 7, and the Penguins panic and put the kid on the market at the draft; you swing for him. If the Red Wings decide they’d rather give Alexander Radulov his own island than give Petr Mrazek money, you tap them on the shoulder. If Frederik Andersen’s cost ends up being unreasonably small, then sure, you make the move.

Similarly, if there’s a quality goalie left on the UFA market for below value thanks to an overly patient market, you may as well find somebody to platoon with Bernier this year and give Sparks another year of development time. That doesn’t cost you an asset, after all.

But beyond that? Not playing isn’t a bad outcome. If there is an expansion panic, the clearance sale is going to come next spring, not this summer. Logic implies that Toronto’s goalies haven’t forgotten what a puck looks like and should be able to bounce back in some respect after a summer of regrouping.

Shoring up the pipeline would be nice, but as far as the NHL ice goes, there’s no need for the Leafs to go out there swinging the fences with obvious desperation.

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  • What I read was you blamed the players that the team lost after you over valued them. Sparks played very well at the beginning and you made a point about his injury maybe being the cause of his drop off. Look for him to be better this season however don’t expect the to get out of the bottom this season.

    With Flurey and Murry watch Pitsburg to look to shop Fluery as he is on his down slope now. Wouldn’t really want to pick him up. However if Murry is the shopped one? Might be worth taking a chance there.

    However until you shore up the D a little better it won’t matter.

    • Sparks did not play well at the beginning. He had a couple wins but you could tell he wasn’t NHL ready. at least not yet.

      The best way to manage the goaltending would be to sign a guy to backup bernier, unless Lou can find a way to steal a future star goaltender from another team.

      • DSP

        His number say different then just ok. I think he is ready to jump in and be a good back up to someone. Bernier however was over valued and he is as good as he will ever be. Reimer was the better goalie out of those two.

  • Gary Empey

    I am sure that Lamoriello has been quietly looking to add a top goalie to the roster. It has been his “modus operandi” since he has been in the NHL. It is the most important of the building blocks.

    No one knows for sure when one may become available. I bet Lamoriello will move quickly if one hits the market.

    To say the 30th overall team in the NHL, with one of the worst goals against stats, should not be looking for a top goaltender deifies logic.

    PS Marlies need one too.

    • The Marlies were 3rd in the AHL in save percentage this year, how do you gather that they need a goalie if you’re already looking at adding one up top? They got burned by a cold streak at the wrong time, not exactly up in arms level stuff.

      • As much as Jeff and I disagree on most things we are together here. The goalies had decent numbers. However the main club at the end brought everyone who could play up leaving the Marlies scrambling for talent anywhere and the goalies got shelled. They still had solid numbers though. It’s Defense what the team is in serious need of.

      • Gary Empey

        Anyone who watched the Marlies in the playoffs, should of been able to see they were beat by superior goaltending. Both Marlies tenders are still developing. They are not there yet.

        • Sparks barely played, Bibeau had his worst stretch in months at the wrong time. You can say Peters was the reason they lost, but both Marlies goalies were undoubtedly better than him over the course of the regular season. Hell, the Bears were swept in a series that saw him go 0.895, closer to his regular season 0.896.

          Anton Forsberg went 9-0 in the playoffs and was a 0.952. He was 0.914 in the regular season, a little above Bibeau (0.909, and 0.915 after November) and a fair bit below Sparks (0.928). Did he suddenly become a significantly better goalie than both, or did he go hot when the others didn’t?

          I’m fine riding those two again next year if they don’t have other things to do.

  • I think the Leafs should wait until free agency. Jonas Enroth is highly underrated and is just as good as James Reimer and made $1.25M on a one year deal with the Kings.

    I think it would be safe to give him 2 or 3 years at $1.8-2M per. This gives us a solid tandem (granted Bernier rebounds) while allowing Sparks and Bibeau to develop more; they aren’t ready.

    Bernier may, or may not, be out the door but this covers the Leafs in the event it happens.

    If Bernier lives up to the $4.1M contract and earns another, you still have Enroth to backup/tandem for the remaining 1 or 2 seasons. If one of the kids prove they are ready to backup, it wouldn’t be hard to move Enroth on a reasonable contract.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that the best strategy for the Leafs this offseason as far as goaltending is concerned is to sign as a UFA either Enroth or Reimer and keep Bernier as the Backup.There should be quite a number of decent goaltenders available at the 3rd round of this year’s draft or later. It is way too early in the Leafs rebuild to start considering trading picks and or prospects for a goaltender or right shooting D-MAN.

  • DSP

    I like how it’s the goalies fault for getting shelled every night due to lack of depth on the D line. But nope it is their fault they let a few bye them. Honestly look at their numbers. They did fine.

    That being said they should try and trade Bernier. Calgary may be the only team willing to take a chance. Long shot may be the Wild.

    Get rid of his contract and look at what they can find July 1st for a season or two on the rebuild.

  • Mitch92

    First off, Garret Sparks does not deserve the trashing he is getting for being put in the position of tank commander. Sparks has been developing nicely and should have lots of opportunity ahead of him to show us what he is made of.

    The Leafs could give Bernier the net to play out his final year before letting him walk to free agency. Then the timing will be better for snagging a goalie from a team that presently has two good ones such as Anaheim, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay. The problem is that there are 29 other teams in competition for those players as well. Good teams are always looking to upgrade or add insurance. I expect a lot of deadline activity in the goalie market next February.

    • DSP

      There won’t be a solution any time soon. If they see a chance and don’t act They will be in Calgary’s shoes looking for anyone who might play goal to jump in the net.

  • Trevor5555

    As far as the Marlies go two of Bibeau, Sparks and Kaskisuo should make a fine tandem. All three are 22 I believe and should be given time to develop. Kaskisuo had pretty good numbers playing in college. Bernier had a really bad year and I think the Leafs should explore all options to replace him.

    Whether the expansion plays a big role or not in the goalie market there are enough good tandems out there that the Leafs should be able to get a quality goalie if they offer a fair return. Cory Schneider was traded for Bo Horvat or 8th overall pick I believe so Im thinking the Leafs 30th overall pick and a prospect should be enough to aquire a guy like Jake Allen or Freddie Anderson and that would go a long way to making the leafs more competitive next year.

    With the addition of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Zaitsev and maybe a high end UFA forward the Leafs are likely to be much more competitive than last season and having a quality, confidence inspiring goalie would be a big help in establishing a winning culture and mindset early in the rebuild.

    If there is by chance a goalie rush leading up to the expansion it might make sense to get ahead of the market while the best guys are still available. Yet I doubt it will be a bonanza prior to the expansion as only 2-4 goalies are getting picked anyway and its clear who the most volunrable will be.

    • Anonymous

      Bernier had a very poor year and I believe he should be given a chance to redeem himself and that it is not a good idea to totally give up on him yet. Also, the Leafs are not desperate yet in their current state of the rebuild for a solid goaltender. Enroth and Reimer are going to be UFAs this offseason and the Leafs may do well to sign one of them.

      • DSP

        Bernier has had a poor career that hasn’t earned him more than a backup spot. If the Pens want to keep their team either Flurey or Murray has to go. I’m going to Guess Flurey due to age. Might make a decent stand in until one of the young Marlies are ready in a year or two to take over.