The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2015-16 NHL season without a clear #1 goalie in the organisation. Over the past few years, Jonathan Bernier has failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him by the management team that acquired him, while James Reimer was traded to San Jose for a draft pick. Garret Sparks put up impressive numbers in the AHL, but wasn’t able to replicate that success in his first major NHL stint. So it seems quite likely that the Leafs are going to look outside the organisation for at least one NHL goalie this summer.
Over the weekend, Jeff Veillette argued that the Leafs should just run Jonathan Bernier again next season, and it wasn’t that long ago that I also wrote about how Bernier could still be an NHL starter. That’s certainly one option. But if the Leafs do look to bring another goalie in, who might they target?
I’m going to look at three scenarios. The first is the UFA market. It’s a pretty thin market this summer, but there are a handful of options that they could try. Any of those players would only be a stop-gap until the Leafs find a better long-term solution in net. The second scenario is that they trade for veteran on another team. With an expansion draft likely coming next summer, some of these goalies will definitely be on the move. The final scenario, and the one I think is most appealing, is the Leafs trying to find a younger goalie who can stick around with the franchise and hopefully become the long-term starter.
A few of notes before I get to the goalies. First, I do not intend for this to be an exhaustive list. These are the options I would consider to be the best available, plus a few that are intriguing for other reasons. Also, I’m only including goalies who have played at least a couple dozen NHL games. I’m sure there are great prospects out there who don’t meet the criteria, but they’re not going to be included here.
All statistics listed below are taken from the past three NHL seasons plus playoffs. I didn’t originally intend to include playoff stats, but War On Ice includes playoff stats by default, and I didn’t realise they were in my results until after I’d gathered all the data. That’s not really a big problem, since increasing the sample size for goalies is usually helpful, and for a couple of the younger guys, in particular, it gives us far more games to work with.
The stats I’ve included are SV%, which you’re probably familiar with, high-danger SV% at 5v5, and 5v5 SV%. As a general rule, 5v5 SV% is a better predictor of future performance than regular SV% once you get to larger sample sizes like 100 games or more. HD SV% is taken only from shots from the “high danger” scoring chance area as defined by War On Ice, and is generally considered a better way to measure goalie skill than SV% on low danger shots, which are far more random.
|Player||GP||SV%||HD SV% (5v5)||5v5 SV%|
If the Leafs go the UFA route, the best available option would be to just bring back James Reimer. In a thin UFA class, he’s the most capable, and the one who’s carried the heaviest load in recent seasons. His high-danger SV% is also far better than that of anyone else listed here. Chad Johnson or Jhonas Enroth are decent options if Reimer doesn’t work out.
Anton Khudobin has said he’s going back to the KHL, so he’s probably not a realistic target, but I thought I’d include him since his statistics are fairly comparable to the other guys listed here.
VETERAN TRADE OPTIONS
(For the purposes of this article, “veteran” means anyone over 25 years old.)
|Player||Team||GP||SV%||HD SV% (5v5)||5v5 SV%|
I think the Leafs should be hesitant to give up good assets for any of the players on this list. It’s unlikely that someone like Marc-Andre Fleury or Craig Anderson is capable of leading a team to a Cup when the Leafs’ window opens up (hopefully) a few years from now.
All of the goalies listed here share one thing in common, which is that they’re all on teams that have another goalie they may want to protect in an expansion draft next summer. Because of that, they could be looking to move their other goalie before then.
Of the goalies listed here, Frederik Andersen and Scott Darling are probably the two who would hold the most interest for the Leafs as they’re on the younger end of goalies listed here. Andersen seems likely to be on the move, as Anaheim wouldn’t be able to protect both him and John Gibson in an expansion draft. However, it’s worth noting that his high-danger SV% is not particularly good, which is a bit worrisome over such a large sample size.
The Chicago Blackhawks, who have a very dicey salary cap situation, will almost certainly want to keep Darling, who makes a league minimum salary and has played well in limited NHL minutes. However, it’s possible that the Leafs could find a way to acquire Darling at a low cost if they agree to help Chicago out with their cap difficulties in return.
If the Leafs just want a stop-gap in net, Neuvirth, Greiss, and Anderson all present reasonable options, and are perhaps a bit better than any of the free agents the Leafs might sign.
YOUNGER TRADE OPTIONS
|Player||Team||GP||SV%||HD SV% (5v5)||5v5 SV%|
[Update: This list originally included Andrew Hammond, because for some reason I mistakenly believed he was under 26 years old. He’s 28, and so I’ve edited the list to remove him.]
For my money, aiming for a younger goalie who can stick with the Leafs as their prospects develop should be the preferred option. Tampa Bay trading for Lindback and Bishop, and then letting them fight to establish who was the #1, is a good example of the kind of approach I’d like to see the Leafs take.
Petr Mrazek is far and away the best option on this list. He’s also probably a player the Red Wings would prefer to keep, instead finding someone to take Jimmy Howard off their hands. But if I was running the Leafs, Mrazek is the rare goalie I would actually give up good assets for, as he’s established well above-average #s in all three forms of SV% listed here, and the sample size of 102 games is large enough to have some confidence that he’s really that good.
John Gibson’s numbers are interesting. His regular SV% is quite good, but his high-danger and 5v5 SV%s are both concerning. He may not be as good as his overall SV% makes him look. On the other hand, he’s had very good numbers outside the NHL as well, and that ought to be taken into account.
Some of the goalies on this list might not be likely to get traded. I’d expect the first three goalies listed to remain where they are, as their teams get rid of their veteran goalies instead. Matt Murray is likely sticking around in Pittsburgh, too.
The remaining names are all worth considering. Washington won’t be able to keep Grubauer, as Holtby is clearly their starter, so he could be an option for the Leafs. Korpisalo isn’t going to supplant Sergei Bobrovsky, so he could be on the move too. Winnipeg would be wise to keep Hellebuyck and ditch Pavelec, but it would have been smart to ditch Pavelec long before now, and the Jets have stuck with him. Calvin Pickard has put up exceptional numbers in limited NHL minutes and is a guy that any team needing a goalie might want to take a look at. As a bonus, he plays for the Colorado Avalanche, and any time you can trade with the Avalanche you should jump on it.
There are quite a few options potentially available to the Leafs this summer. Ideally, they would decide to focus on acquiring one (or two) of the younger goalies who will have the opportunity to grow with the team. But if they want to bring in a short-term solution while they continue to build up the prospect depth, there are a handful of reasonable options available either on the free agent market or as potential trades.