RFAs, the sequel: Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau

Oct 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks (40) covers up on a loose puck against the Montreal Canadiens during a preseason hockey game at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportsYesterday, this year’s RFA series kicked off with an analysis of Nikita Zaitsev’s future contract extension. Even if you don’t care about what Zaitsev’s contract might look like, you should read that piece to get an idea of what the goal is here before reading this one.

The Players

For Day 2 we’re going to talk about Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks, the Leafs’ 2 (perhaps of 3 with Kaskisuo’s recent play) AHL goaltenders.

Bibeau and Sparks have long been slated side by side in the Leafs’ prospect depths. For the majority of the last 3 years, it’s been a complete stab in the dark as to which of these goaltenders might actually be successful in the NHL.

But now, the gap has widened, as Bibeau isn’t even starting for the Toronto Marlies in their playoff series as they take on the Albany Devils. With Sparks hurt, the starting role goes to Kasimir Kaskisuo instead. Not a great sign for Bibeau. But let’s take a look into it.

The Stats

We’re extremely limited in this case because a) they play in the stats-limited AHL and b) they play at the stats-limited position of goalie. However we can do basic career numbers here. Career save percentage:

  • Antoine Bibeau: 90.6% (3618 shots faced)
  • Garret Sparks: 92.1% (2216 shots faced)

It really doesn’t get much clearer than that. For a deeper look into Antoine Bibeau check out this piece from Jeff Veillette. The best deep look we have into Sparks is this prospect profile, also from Jeff Veillette.

Pragmatically, there’s no real indication that there’s a bright future coming for Antoine Bibeau. But the same cannot be said of Sparks.

The Money

This is where things get very interesting. Kasimir Kaskisuo has only played 11 games (including these playoffs) at the AHL level but his numbers (92.8% over 247 shots) far exceed those of Bibeau. They even exceed Sparks’. Given that he’s starting above Bibeau right now, you have to think he’s higher in the depth chart going forward for Sheldon Keefe. Do you want to sign Bibeau to an NHL deal just to stash him in the ECHL and hope he gets up to AHL quality? Generally my answer would be no.

As for Sparks, he’s a 23 year old goaltender. Now is the time when your quality is being established. Is he a safe option to slot in at backup goalie next year? Or does he need more time in the AHL?

Let’s check out the possible permutations.

Antoine Bibeau

Optimistic: 1 year AHL contract

Realistic: No offer

Pessimistic: 1 year, 2-way, $550k

It’s possible the Leafs feel they need to see more of Bibeau. I think there is still the possibility of him getting an NHL deal. But realistically, I think they’re just going to cut ties. The limit of 50 contracts forces you to optimize the players you give NHL deals to and the Leafs likely see the opportunity cost of that slot as being higher than the potential loss of Bibeau signing with another team. The best-case could be bringing him in on an AHL contract, because I think organizationally you probably want to keep an eye on him, in case his play takes a swing. He is still 22 with a couple years left to grow, after all. But his quality over the last 3 seasons is just not worth an NHL contract.

Garret Sparks

Optimistic: 2 year, 2-way, $650k

Realistic: 1 year, 2-way, $750k

Pessimistic: 1 year, 1-way, $900k

I don’t think there’s any question that the Leafs will want to see Sparks back on an NHL deal. There’s a pretty good chance he makes a strong case for himself against whatever NHL-established backup the Leafs will have a training camp competing for the backup job. The money can probably vary anywhere from league minimum ($650k) to the Wade Redden Rule amount, which will be $1.025M starting next year. I’m happy with the amounts I have as $750k seems very fair for a NHL/AHL tweener.

Stay tuned because tomorrow I’m going to take a look at Connor Brown.

  • Stan Smith

    I like Sparks. I think he has shown that at the very least, he is a great AHL goalie. In his stint with the Leafs he started out great, but then I understand he was hurt, and struggled either coming back from the injury or playing with it. I’m not sure the Leafs like Sparks. They seemed to over-react in suspending him in that social media flap last season, and he does have a history of injuries. My guess is they re-sign McElhinney as back-up next season, and Sparks, with the intention of keeping him with the Marlies.