Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 15, 2016
Sparks started off the season with the Toronto Marlies and quickly established himself as one of the most dominant goaltenders in the American Hockey League, leading many to believe that his 0.936 save percentage in the ECHL the year prior was no fluke. For his efforts, he was called up to the Leafs in late November and became the first goaltender in Leafs history to post a shutout in their NHL debut.
While the young netminder looked relatively sharp in his first few games with the team, he suffered a groin injury on December 17th against the San Jose Sharks. The injury came as a bit of a shock, both to the fans who were impressed by his first efforts in the league and to Sparks, who reworked his motions the year prior to reduce mid-body wear and tear.
Sparks wasn’t quite the same when returning, having a few off nights with the Marlies that hinted that he might not be at 100%. When he was called back up again, that became more apparent, as the second tour of duty with the Leafs came with significantly poorer results than the first. Sparks closed his year with a few very good games with the Marlies, but ended up playing sparingly in the playoffs while Antoine Bibeau took the lion’s share of the minutes.
The native of Elmhurst, Illinois finished the year with a 14-4-3 record and 0.928 save percentage with the Marlies, a 6-9-0 record and 0.893 save percentage with the Leafs, and a 1-0 record and 0.962 save percentage in a one-game conditioning stint with the Orlando Solar Bears. For more detail on how his Marlies performances went, our year in review post would be a fine resource.
Terms haven’t been revealed for the 23-year-old netminder just yet, though we’d have to imagine that it comes in at a relatively low cost, seeing as it’s a two-way deal for a yet-to-be-proven rookie. (UPDATE 1:23 PM: As per CapFriendly, Sparks will make $575,000 in the NHL, $100,000 in the AHL, with a guarantee of at least $150,000 combined) It remains to be seen whether the plan is for him to back up Frederik Andersen or for an experienced veteran to be signed or acquired for that role. If we were betting people, we’d lean towards the latter, though it’s not impossible to envision a scenario where a healthy Sparks could earn that job in camp in spite of a move.
Sparks was not scheduled for an arbitration session this summer. Toronto still has Peter Holland, Frank Corrado, Martin Marincin, Josh Leivo, and Connor Carrick left to sign.