Freddie Andersen is putting in work, but can he keep it up?

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. 

Player Season Team   GP   TOI CA CA60 SA SA60
JONATHAN.QUICK 2015-2016 L.A 68 4040.13 3403 50.54 1820  27.03
DEVAN.DUBNYK 2015-2016 MIN 67 3870.5 3545 54.95 1829 28.35
BRADEN.HOLTBY 2015-2016 WSH 66 3846.84   3551   55.39 1803 28.12
PEKKA.RINNE 2015-2016 NSH 66 3905.23 3298 50.67 1745 26.81
HENRIK.LUNDQVIST 2015-2016 NYR 65 3778.42 3717 59.02 1944 30.87
MARTIN.JONES 2015-2016 S.J 65 3791.08 3437 54.4 1734 27.44
TUUKKA.RASK 2015-2016 BOS 64 3684.3 3544 57.72 1855 30.21
ROBERTO.LUONGO 2015-2016 FLA 62 3608.96 3113 51.75 1801 29.94
BEN.BISHOP 2015-2016 T.B 61 3595.33 3034 50.63 1673 27.92
CRAIG.ANDERSON 2015-2016 OTT 60 3489.01 3422 58.85 1915 32.93

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. 

  • LukeDaDrifter

    As long as Babcock feels putting Andersen in the net is his best chance to win a game, he will start. I know Harte of a Lion has some concerns about Bibeau’s ability to stay focused. I haven’t seen enough Marlies games last year and this to have an opinion. I mostly get the highlights, which doesn’t tell the whole story. I know Harte has followed them very closely. What I have observed though is Bibeau does seem to like the more structured and better executed system Babcock employs. Bibeau has allowed only two goals in each of the two games he has played so far.

    As for Andersen’s workload, I can see it possibly becoming a problem down the road. NHL coaches like to give some of their players a reduced workload coming into the playoff grind. We may not have that luxury this year. The word on Andersen before he played for the Leafs was that he is always in top condition.

  • Stan Smith

    Interesting read, and it brings to mind a couple of things. When you look at a goalie facing 60 shot attempts per game and 30 actual shots, is that really all that much in a 60 minute game? That’s one shot attempt per minute, and one actual shot every two minutes.

    You look at goalies in the past and lots of goalies on winning teams played 90%+ of a teams games.

    I would think that, as with all NHL players these days, that the goalies would be in better physical condition than the majority of those goalies in the past.

    When you put all of that together it is really that inconceivable for Andersen to carry that load for the season?

  • Harte of a Lion

    Ryan thank you for the breakdown. I have always believed Bibeau has the size and athleticism to be a capable NHL goalie. Steve Briere needs to find a way to have him focus all 60 minutes as he appears to suffer from Brenieritis also known as Toskalitis where his focus seems to wane during the game which leads to soft goals. He still needs to work on his positioning and stay calm between the pipes as he often over plays his side to side positioning/movements however IMO, Bibeau can be the Leafs backup moving forward and is capable of playing 12-15 of the Leafs remaining 45 games.
    (Every 3rd or 4th game)
    If the Leafs can make a run at the playoffs, and Andersen isn’t hurt or too exhausted, he is more than capable of stealing games/series as he has shown since November.

    • Stan Smith

      I have commented on this before but I think the Leafs should keep sending Bibeau back down to the Marlies when they have stretches where he won’t start. That way he keeps playing, and doesn’t get rusty sitting on the bench.

      • Harte of a Lion

        A good plan but if he plays 12-15 more games he will be playing every 3 to 4 games which will be every 5 days +-. Remember Stan, working with Steve Briere and practising with the team might be more important for his long-term development at this point. He needs to learn to focus for 60 minutes.

        • Stan Smith

          If you read my comment about Andersen, the only thing I would worry about him doing is playing back to back. I guess if you want to be really cautious maybe 3 games in 5 days. Even at that, in January, Bibeau would only get in a game a week. So that means only playing in a game once in 7 days.

          I would think that he would be able to work under Briere whether regardless of which team he is playing for, and to me practicing, whether it is with the Leafs or the Marlies is still not as good as actually playing games.

          The most difficult thing for a backup goalie is sitting for extended periods, and not being in game shape. If the Leafs continue to do what they have been doing it will take care of that.

          Plus lets face it, the Marlies look like they could use him too.

          • Harte of a Lion

            Thanks Stan for your thoughts. It’s refreshing when great hockey minds can offer each other productive thoughts. I’m the first to admit, I know a lot, more than most but far from everything when it comes to my Maple Leafs and the Marlies. It was great that the Marlies went so far last year but when you take the 9 best players off any team, no one can expect them to repeat their previous success. The Marlies are a development team first and foremost so though management undoubtedly would love for them to repeat their 2015/16 success, individual player development is more important than team success. Though the Marlies are struggling at the moment, it does not reflect on where they will finish this year.
            Even if Leipsic and Kapanen graduate to the Leafs next year, there are some very talented players joining the Marlies so that will help. Add Bracco, Grundström, Walker, Bobylyev, Brooks, Piccinich, Desrocher and possibly others to the core and the Marlies should challenge once again for the Calder cup.

            I completely understand your thoughts that Bibeau needs work and I have no issue with him bouncing back and forth from the Leafs to the Marlies between Leaf starts owever, his main issue IMO, is focus. (Also known as Toskalitis) The bouncing may or may not be beneficial to his development. I’m sure the Leafs concern is if Freddy has to leave a close game due to a minor injury, do we really want Enroth to replace him when points are precious? I checked the schedule and if Bibeau continues to play well, he might start 3 in January, 3 in February, 2 in March and 2 in April for 10 games in total. Not certain what management has decided regarding the long term plans for Bibeau, but if the Leafs have a chance to make the playoffs, management might feel that’s more important keeping him with the team than Bibeau playing for the Marlies between Leaf starts.
            As far as my beloved Marlies, they are being hurt by veteran player like Michalek whining that he made a mistake waiving his NTC in the Phaneuf trade. He is making 4 million to mentor the kids so suck it up Milan, if you had shown the desire and determination to play in the NHL this year, you would be with the big club. Interesting how 29 GM’s thought he was worth claiming off waivers. Unfortunately, he seems to have lost a step and I’m not certain if that is physical, or mental. You don’t hear Colin Greening or Brooks Laich bitching and that’s why they will be brought up as an injury replacements or traded to a contender before Michalek gets another sniff with the Leafs.

          • Stan Smith

            I agree with you on player development over team success with the Marlies. i do feel that development “and” team success is even better. While I knew they would have a vastly different team this season, I did expect them to be better, but it was mainly because I expected the veterans to be better, and provide more leadership. While they do have some nice young talent, it is not nearly on the same level as last year’s team. There is now way the same number of player graduate to the Leafs next season, as did this one.

            As for Bibeau, I don’t know if bouncing back and forth hurts a goalie as much as a skater. I think it is more important to get in games. Until they get to the NHL, young goalies are used to playing all the time. Last season Sparks performed well his five of his first six games, but then started sporadically until the tank was in full swing. That, plus a lack of talent really hurt him. I personally think Sparks had more potential than Bibeau, but for whatever reason, has fallen out of favour with the Leafs.

            I just want to close by saying agree, or disagree, we all bleed blue and white, and it is great to see them playing like they are. The future does look bright. I look forward to having discussion in the new year.

  • tealeaves

    This article made me think about how Bernie Mandela and Rimer started out strongly on the leafs before perhaps work load induced injuries took their toll on the goalie and the leaf play off dreams. Let’s hope this is not a repeatable situation

    • Harte of a Lion

      tealeaves, Bernier was too inconsistent from day one as some athletes have difficulty performing under the spotlight. Reiner was never the same goalie after Gionta ran him in that Montreal/Leafs game in 2011. He still had flashes of brilliance but he was too inconsistent as well. Looking back, it shows what a poor team Burke had assembled as no one stepped up after Optimus Riem was hurt. When your goalie is run over, someone needs to punish the offender. With Orr and Rosehill punching everyone that sneezed that season, its odd that Gionta got away with that blindside hit to Reimer’s head.