Not taking anything away from a solid effort by Antoine Bibeau for his first career win on Thursday night, it’s no secret the Leafs have some major question marks in net beyond Freddie Andersen. And while Andersen has been other-worldly over the last couple months, vaulting himself to a place among the league leaders in save percentage, Toronto has been riding him pretty hard, starting him in 29 of their 35 games so far.
That’s an incredible workload, and it’s great to have that sort of horse back there in net that the team has been missing in recent years (sometimes by choice). And hey, for five-million dollars a year, they want the guy to earn those cheques. But still, with that pace stretched over an 82-game schedule, Andersen is due to start in 68 games this season, and only one goaltender – Jonathan Quick – did that in 2015-16.
Will that sort of number – 68 appearances – be too much for Andersen? At first glance I’d say probably not. Other bonafide starters have done it, and Andersen himself has started 54 games in a season with Anaheim, so it isn’t like he’s just going from 0-to-100. But 68 games played isn’t the same for everyone, and Andersen’s 68 games (or thereabouts) might look a good deal different than someone like Quick or Holtby or another big worker.
It’s probably easy to forget in this Corsi Renaissance over the last number of years that the metric was initially created to measure the workload of goaltenders. Put simply, if a player sets up to shoot, the goalie makes an effort to stop the puck whether it deflects off a player’s shin pad, sails wide, what have you. It isn’t just shots on target that make up a goalie’s tasks on any given night.
With that in mind, you can understand why, over 68 games or so, the amount of activity from goalie to goalie can vary by a huge margin.
Take those 68 games from Quick last season. I don’t have to remind you that the Kings have been a strong possession team in recent years, but part of that is being good at limiting opposing teams in their shot attempts, and the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Last season, with Quick in net, the Kings saw 50.54 shot attempts against per 60 minutes, and 27.03 shots (on target) against.
Now, this current Leafs team is considered a strong club too in terms of carrying play, as they’ve been in or near the top ten in score-adjusted Corsi all season. The difference is that they trade-off attempts for and against at a higher rate. It’s fire-wagon hockey, and it’s fun as hell.
But for Andersen, it translates to him being on the ice for 62.74 shot attempts against per 60, and 32.81 shots (on target) against – which is third and fifth highest, respectively, for goaltenders with 1000 minutes played so far this season. When you consider these guys can rack up nearly 4000 all-situation minutes of time played over the course of the season as they approach that magical 68 game summit, well, yeah, that can be a lot of difference in work.
In fact, if you look back at all the goaltenders who crossed the 60-start threshold last season, none of them saw Corsi against per 60 higher than 59.02, which was Lundqvist (who so happened to crater in the playoffs). And if you take a look at Craig Anderson, you see he faced more attempts and shots than the starts leader, Quick, despite playing 10% less of the season.
So you can see how the task in front of Andersen is a huge one if Babcock plans on bringing him up into the high 60s in terms of games started, especially given the brand of hockey this team is playing. And again, I’m not saying this is a poor way to play, it’s just high event hockey. It is what it is. The question just becomes “Is it something Andersen can handle?“, because all starts are certainly not created equal.
Now, because we’re thinking about this, you can bet the Leafs have already thought about it. It’s no doubt part of the reason why they’re at the forefront of using Catapult biomechanics tracking, which helps collect data related to this kind of stuff. Its use is limited to practice, but the main selling point on this technology is its supposed ability to help in “reducing repetitive-use injuries and quantifying the workload of each player throughout the season”.
With all this in mind, there’s probably no reason to think this reliance on Andersen is something he’s going to crumble under, as he’s been only getting better game-by-game to this point. But I think it’s still fair to argue for adding a little insurance, because it looks like both the team and goalie are going to be entering somewhat uncharted waters here. In the meantime, Andersen will continue to go about earning every bit of that five million dollar cap hit.