Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
That sound you heard this week wasn’t exactly thunderous in terms of a celebratory UFA signing by the Toronto Maple Leafs — but it did make many breathe easier, in that Jhonas Enroth stabilizes the backup goaltender position going into this transitional 2016-17 season, behind Fredrik Andersen, signing a rather perfunctory one-year, $750k contract.
This move does a lot of things for the Leafs — they get a veteran backup, and one that looked quite good in just 13 starts last year in Los Angeles. Yes, the Kings are a pretty damn fine team to play in net for — and last season, Jonathan Quick led all NHL goalies in starts with a whopping 68. Hey, he didn’t even TOUCH Andrew Raycroft’s 72 from the ill-fated 2006-07 season, so we’ll always have that!
But it’s the most intriguing year in a long time to watch the Maple Leafs’ goaltenders — and yet intrigue, not to mention chaos and disorder have really ruled the crease for the Leafs, really ever since the lockout.
From 40-year old Ed Belfour’s dramatic drop-off in post-lockout performance in 2005-06, to the nearly-miraculous playoff berth during J.S. Aubin’s run, to the horrifyingly awful outcomes of the trades for Raycroft and just as significantly, Vesa Toskala, to Brian Burke’s ill-advised hyping of Jonas Gustavsson as the “best goalie on the planet not in the NHL”, which is a little like saying I’m the best sports radio host on the planet, if you don’t count 60 or 70 other guys……anyway, goaltending for Maple Leafs’ fans has been like watching quarterbacks come and go for several NFL franchises (including all teams in the AFC East EXCEPT New England) for the last 15 years or so.
With James Reimer departing mid-season in a trade to San Jose, and getting to experience a Cup Final run (albeit as a backup to Martin Jones), and the inevitable end of Jonathan Bernier’s brief and frustrating Leafs career, having two newcomers with several NHL seasons each under their belts could make things very interesting.
The Leafs had something few NHL organizations can claim from 1992-2004 — amazing consistency in starting goaltending, beginning with Felix Potvin, ascending as a youngster and taking starts away from Grant Fuhr, to four seasons of Curtis Joseph, to three very good ones before the lockout from Ed Belfour.
It’s zero coincidence, the Leafs won eleven playoff series in that span of time, haven’t won any since, and won just two in the thirteen years prior. Again, to spell it out, what can consistent goaltending bring you?
1979-1992: 2-7 in playoff series over 10 season span
1993-2004: 11-10 in playoff series over 12 season span
2006-2016: 0-1 in playoff series over 11 season span
Yes, goaltending is a “team”-based statistical category for the most part. But let’s look at league averages of goals against and save percentage post-lockout — and though there is promise for an Andersen/Enroth tandem (though it’s probably a 75/25 percentage split of starts leaning Andersen’s way if both stay consistent and healthy), promising goaltenders have arrived in Toronto in considerable numbers since the autumn of 2005 and either mildly disappointed or utterly flamed out and never recovered professionally.
|Year||SV%||AvgSV%||SV% +/-||GAA||AvgGAA||GAA +/-|
That was ugly to research, uglier to type, and ugliest of all, I suppose, for you to read. You can see just how hard Reimer had to work in the short season with how egregious Carlyle’s Leafs were at giving up more shots than their opponents, and in 2013-14 both Reimer and Bernier were facing the exact same thing, and just collapsed shy of the playoffs under those conditions.
In case you’re wondering, because I certainly was, the Maple Leafs haven’t had a team goals-against below the league average since Ed Belfour’s first season — league average was 2.55, and the Leafs were a 2.54, so, yeah, barely!
This will shock you — the Maple Leafs haven’t been in the NHL’s Top 10 for goals against since 1993-94!!!! They were 6th that season at 2.89 (Buffalo, yeah, Hasek, led the league at 2.60). You need to understand this — in the last TWENTY-ONE seasons, the Leafs haven’t once finished Top 10 in goals-against. Is that all on the goaltender? Hardly. There are five other players on the ice in front of that goaltender for the majority of the game, and there are coaches directing players and implementing systems — but for all the harping and griping about scoring more goals, and this player and that player not contributing offensively — the Leafs ineptness for a nearly 15-year span comes down to keeping the puck out of their own net.
That will hardly change overnight — but watching Andersen and Enroth this season, should, somewhat, even minutely, be a step in a direction to minimize the painful recent memories of Maple Leafs netminders.