At some undetermined point in the first period of Saturday Night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Frederik Andersen took a hit to somewhere in the upper body that led to Curtis McEhlinney taking over for the second and third periods of what ended up being a 5-2 loss.
It’s a situation that has people very worried, with the Leafs teetering on the edge of a playoff spot with just eight games to go. With that in mind, here’s a few options to consider moving forward.
Phase 1: Take A Breath
Before we get into any sort of panic, there’s a real chance that Andersen’s injury isn’t really much of anything. Here’s the reasons we have to support this.
- While McEhlinney was brought in for the second, he was told that he was potentially going in before the first period ended. This meant that Andersen felt comfortable enough with whatever ailed him to keep going.
- Mike Babcock stated after the game that he hadn’t gone immediately to the trainers to find out the latest update, likely meaning that it wasn’t overly serious. While I could believe him wanting to tune those concerns out during the game, not getting a quick update after the fact likely hints at a lack of catastrophe.
- The other team’s doctor was the one who made the suggestion to the Leafs, who obliged. The training staff at no point came out onto the ice, so they wouldn’t have known of a direct physical ailment. What’s more likely? They may have seen things in line with a concussion or general wooziness, that a spotter might not have seen.
A head injury would make sense, given these two collisions that may have potentially caused it.
- William Carrier at 2 minutes [Broadcast Angle] [Overhead Angle]
- Evander Kane at 9 minutes [Broadcast Angle] [Alternate Angle] [Overhead Angle]
His fall on the Carrier hit is more dramatic, but the Kane one seems to involve a slam of the mask to the ice. The referee has a decent lengthed chat with Andersen after the whistle, but doesn’t seem to be that concerned.
The optimistic thought might be that Buffalo’s doctor had concussion concerns, and the Leafs decided that with the game close against a not-so-great Buffalo team, they could take their chances to make sure that Freddy didn’t take his. By the time the second period was over the game was basically out of reach by score and process, so it made even more reason to not make brash decisions.
To be honest, I feel less concerned about this that the idea that he may have tweaked the shoulder he hurt during the Olympics. Concussions are obviously serious, and if he does have a head injury he absolutely shouldn’t come back until he’s 100%, but I’m not sold that this injury is severe. If it is, though..
Phase 2: Consult Your Farm Team
The timing of this works okay for a call-up. Unfortunately for Antoine Bibeau, it’s unlikely to be him again after a few tries this year; he’s had a real rough go of late and would be more likely to go down a league than up one. Garret Sparks, on the other hand, is currently sitting in third in AHL save percentage at a 0.925, and had an impressive 28-in-29 save performance on Saturday in his first game in a month, following a hamstring injury.
With a potential division lead on the line, he’ll likely get Sunday’s game against Syracuse. If he performs even somewhat well in that, I’d be confident in having him be the call-up. Many remember his close to last season and would no doubt be skeptical of giving him another shot because of that, but given mess that was the end-of-season team and that he himself may have been playing through injury in those later months, I’m not sure I’d call it a definitive sample.
Phase 3: Pray For McBackup
Obviously, though, McElhinney would get the first dibs at the pipes while Andersen is gone. Is he capable of holding the fort? The answer, honestly, is no clue. In his ten appearances with the team, he’s had five appearances of at least a 0.935 save percentage and five under 0.885. That’s not exactly reliable; to run with him, the Leafs will probably need some hot sticks to support his bad nights.
Phase 4: The Nuclear Option
If neither of the two entice you, there’s one crazy option: trade for somebody. Yeah, you heard me.
“But the trade deadline has passed!” You’ve probably said to yourself. That’s certainly true. But the deadline doesn’t mean you can’t make a transaction; just that the player you acquire can’t play in the playoffs. If Andersen is out for a few weeks but might be ready for playoffs, why not grab someone just to hold the fort for right now?
After all, there’s a few UFA’s on teams about to miss the playoffs. Ryan Miller’s having a decent year in Vancouver. Ben Bishop headed over to Los Angeles at the deadline, but they’re probably going to miss the boat. Anders Nilsson has been a heck of a backup for the very same Sabres that the Leafs have just faced.
You have to imagine that the cost for a goaltender a month after the deadline, especially the two high salary guys mentioned before, would be extremely minimal. If you feel absolutely no confidence in McEhlinney or Sparks, this may be the route to go.
Though, again, let’s look back to Phase 1: for all we know, we might be over thinking this entirely, and Andersen’s disapperance may simply be precautionary. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.