Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
It looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs have a goaltending debate once again. Jonathan Bernier is heading back to California to be the 863rd player in NHL history to wear both a Leafs and Ducks jersey in his career (don’t fact check that), which leaves the Leafs with $4.1 million more cap space and a bunch of questions regarding the backup role.
After giving up a first and a second round pick for Frederik Andersen, let’s assume the Leafs don’t feel like selling the farm for a backup. If that’s the case, what options are available on the market for the low asset cost of zero?
Contract History: ELC -> 2 years @ $2.6M -> 1 year @ $3.8M -> UFA
There was a point where Kari Ramo was hyped up to be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s goalie of the future. It never quite panned out, though, as he failed to perform as a backup and headed to the KHL. Since coming back, he’s been a slightly below league average netminder playing a little less than half the games in Calgary.
I’d expect that Ramo would still command a seven-figure salary, and there’s a reason the Flames felt the need to replace him with Brian Elliott, but there are certainly worse fish in the sea.
Contract History: ELC -> 1 year @ $600k -> 2 years @ $612.5k -> 2 years @ 2.3M -> UFA
Scrivens was such a fun story when he came into Toronto for his first tour of duty. He was a goalie who legitimately played in college to get his education and performed well enough to secure his first contract as a 24-year-old. He ripped up the ECHL and AHL and had a couple of decent years and big nights with the Leafs before being traded in, well, the Jonathan Bernier deal.
For most of his career, he’s been an above-average goaltender, but his first year as a starter in 2014/15 was an absolute disaster. In 57 appearances, Scrivens was a 0.890 and put up a quality start just 36% of the time; setting up an already bad Oilers team for disaster. His NHL numbers last year weren’t horrid, but he had huge peaks and valleys to create them and didn’t perform well in his AHL stints.
I’d love nothing more than to see Scrivens bounce back and get his NHL career going again, and it’d be cool if it happened here. But that’s a heart decision; the brain has to accept that rolling the dice on him would be a “f*** it, what’s the worst that can happen” type of move.
Contract History: ELC -> 2 years @ $675k -> 2 years @ $1.25M -> 1 year @ $1.25M -> UFA
Enroth is probably the best option, from a performance perspective, for the team for the next couple of years. He’s right around the league average over the course of his career, and his claim to fame was going on a hot streak for the Buffalo Sabres that panicked their tanking front office to the point of trading him. He’s the only free agent goaltender remaining that had an above average save percentage last season.
My biggest concern is his size, especially with equipment changes considered. Most assume that the pad shrinkage is going to have the biggest impact on smaller goaltenders, and Enroth is just 5’10. This is the type of situation that makes you wish that the NHL had option contracts.
Contract History: ELC -> 2 years @ $1.8M -> 1 year @ $925k -> 1 year @ $875k -> UFA
For all the praise that Steve Yzerman gets for being a genius General Manager, he’s had his whiffs. Trading two seconds and a third for Lindback, certain he had found his goaltender of the future is a move that ranks right up there. Lindback has never put up a full season above 0.915 in his career, and has been below 0.900 in two of the last three seasons. He’s still young-ish at 28, but he’s probably not anything.
|Last Season (14/15)||31||10||11||7||0.894||0||52||-15.3|
Contract History: ELC -> 1 year @ 925k -> 3 years @ $3.16M -> 1 year @ $1.5M -> 1 year @ 500k -> 1 year @ 600k -> 1 year @ 1.15M -> 1 year @ 1.65M -> 1 year @ $1M -> 1 year @ $600k
To be honest, I’ve only got Emery on my list because it’s hard to deny the power of networking. Rayzor was a fill-in backup for the Toronto Marlies last season, mostly because the team needed guys, he lived nearby, and he was an ex-Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound. The 33-year-old was less than stellar in that time, and really hasn’t done much exciting since backing up Corey Crawford in 2012/13. I can’t see him getting an NHL job anywhere this summer.
|Last Season (AHL)||30||15||13||0||0.923||1||56.67||17.17|
Contract History: ELC -> 1 year @ $600k -> 1 year @ $600k
McCollum is an interesting one, in the sense that the Red Wings drafted him as their goaltender of the future, and while he’s steadily improved over the past few years of “over-ripening”, there’s just no room for him to jump ahead of Petr Mrazek, Jimmy Howard, or even Jared Coreau. Goaltending might be the only place where the Red Wings have actual depth, rather than names rattled off because they wear Detroit’s emblem. He’s been well above the AHL’s league average now for three consecutive years and at 26, it’s as good of a time as any to give him a shot.
Also, his family has been coming to Marlies/Griffins games wearing his jerseys for years now and it’s adorable. Oh, and if this signing ever were to happen, Bobby Cappuccino would make his triumphant return to TLN to write his smash hit series, Thomas #MyColumn.
|Last Season (AHL)||47||28||12||5||0.908||8||53.2||3.69|
Contract History: ELC -> 1 year @ $550k -> 1 year @ $500k -> KHL -> 1 year @ $650k -> 1 year @ $800k -> 1 year @ 675k -> 1 year @ $575k
Speaking of goalies who haven’t had an NHL look in a long time, Danis is the veteran equivalent. The 35-year-old got his first taste of the NHL back in 2005/06 and has only played 55 games in the decade that’s followed. It’s weird, too, given that his numbers weren’t terrible, his AHL numbers have typically been above league average, and he looked respectable on a less than stellar KHL team in his year there.
Danis suffers from the same issue as Enroth, in the sense that he’s 5’11. As well, he seems to get absolutely lit up by the Marlies’ kids, so practicing or warming up with this year’s Leafs might be traumatic and confidence killing. Either way, I’d love to see some desperate team give him one more shot before his career ends.
|Last Season (AHL)||21||14||4||3||0.928||3||60||14.65|
Contract History: ELC -> RFA
Maybe the winning move here is to stand pat? It sounds crazy, given Sparks’ honourary status as “Tank Commander” in the spring. But people are quick to forget that he suffered a groin injury in November and wasn’t really the same for months after that. He was a 0.915 in his first five games, and while that’s a very small sample, it’s one I’d be willing to take a brief risk on given his dominance of the minors over the last two years.
At 23 years old, this is the right time to see if he can handle an NHL workload from a performance standpoint. Another injury would be my only real concern here.
|Last Season (USHL)||12||6||4||1||0.898||0|
Contract History: none
“These guys all sound terrible,” you yell from a distance. “and I don’t want to trade for someone either!”. Well, there’s always the nuclear option, which involves taking the youngest goalie in the draft and thrusting him into the NHL.
Now, maneuvers like this historically don’t happen. In the soon to be 100 years of this league’s existence, just eleven goaltenders have ever played more than 20 games in a season as a teenager. Tom Barrasso, Harry Lumley, and Dan Blackburn did it at both 18 and 19, and the former two played over 85 games in those first two years! Lumley’s is perhaps most absurd, given that he did it in the Original Six era.
Anyway, no teenage goalie has played regularly and crawled above 0.900 in the save percentage era, and the last attempt at breaking that involved Marc-Andre Fleury’s development nearly getting stunted by pure shock. Still, a man can dream.
Well, that solved nothing
All things considered, there isn’t really a ton to pick out of the free agent market. Enroth is probably the best bet, but I’m not sold on signing him for longer than a year if he comes at a more-than-buryable salary. Beyond that, most of these guys will likely still be on the market come November or December; it might make sense to give Sparks the bulk of the preseason starts and some regular season games before deciding.
Unless, of course, you think the Leafs are ready to go right now, at which point it would probably make sense to try to poach a talented, slightly younger goalie from a team with a logjam. But that’s a topic for another day.