Make It So And Call Up Pickard

Frederik Andersen had one of his best outings of the season last night, but he also provided us with one of the scariest realities we’d have to deal with and that’s how screwed we’d be if he’s ever hurt.

Thankfully, it wound up being nothing and Andersen stayed in the game, but it forced a couple of harsh realities on us. The first of which is how would a cold Curtis McElhinney impact the outcome of a close game, and secondly, in the event of a serious injury, how screwed would the Leafs be if they had to rely on McElhinney for an extended period of time.

These seems like questions that could be put off and dealt with later if an injury were to occur, but this weekend should have us considering the backup situation sooner rather than later. With back to back games against the Bruins this weekend, the Leafs will undoubtedly go with their backup netminder for at least one of the games, and based on McElhinney’s performances so far this season, it’s safe to say the Leafs could be handing a win to Boston just by having him play. When you factor in that the Leafs could be without Auston Matthews this weekend, there is a lower probability that McElhinney will be bailed out by the offense in his next start like he has been previously. While the overworked Andersen is currently sitting at a dismal .898 save percentage on the year, McElhinney has been even worse at .869 (not nice) in his two starts. The fact that Andersen has also been one of the most overworked goaltenders so far this season, it might be a good time to find someone who can help with the workload.

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Why Pickard and not Sparks?

Simply, at the NHL level Pickard has been the better goaltender and with both Sparks and Pickard requiring waivers to bring them up to the Leafs be returned to the Marlies if called up by the Leafs, it makes more sense to go with the one that is likely to stick at this level. Wanting to reward Sparks for his hot start with the Marlies is understandable, but with teams like Vegas potentially looking to claim a solid goaltending option when it comes available, makes it more appealing to go with the experienced option, who probably shouldn’t have landed in the AHL in the first place.

As 22 year olds, Pickard was the better goaltender. As goaltenders in 2015-16, Pickard was the better goaltender. And last season, while Sparks was strictly in the AHL, Pickard ended up the defacto starter on his team (though it was a historically bad team, and arguably didn’t help their cause as much as you’d hope to see.) Even in Pickard’s rough year last season he managed a better quality start percentage exceeding what Sparks has put up in the NHL, and while I’m not advocating for giving up on Sparks completely, when waivers concerns are factored in, Pickard does look like the best immediate option, and would give Sparks the opportunity to handle a bigger workload on the Marlies.

How It Happens

With the Leafs not waiving Curtis McElhinney on Thursday, that guarantees that he’ll still be on the Leafs roster for Friday’s game. That doesn’t mean that Pickard couldn’t be recalled either on emergency recall (meaning Andersen won’t be available for Friday’s game and McElhinney could still see half of the B2B) or the Leafs could demote Frederik Gauthier to make room for a third goaltender giving them the opportunity to split the games between Pickard and Andersen. With Andersen not practicing on Thursday it seems possible he won’t get the start on Friday night, and if they keep him completely out of the lineup they’d also have the option to go with Sparks for the game without worrying about putting him on waivers after. They then could arrange for Pickard to join the team on Saturday and give both Marlies goaltenders a shot and let Andersen rest until next Thursday.

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While all of these scenarios seem appealing to me, and I think to a lot of you, there really hasn’t been any indication from the organization that they’ve soured on Curtis McElhinney at all. He’s got a two year contract and it’s completely likely that they see him as a capable backup and won’t sweat giving him a start. This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this, as it’s one thing to play the wait and see game, but it’s another thing to mismanage a home and home series that could put the Bruins one point behind the Leafs in the standings (with a game at hand). As the Leafs approach the 20 game mark, it’s less acceptable to use the “it’s early in the season” excuse.

I don’t doubt that we’ll see Pickard (or Sparks) at some point down the stretch, but not integrating one of them into the lineup now seems like a wasted opportunity. In addition to improving the Leafs chances against a division opponent, they’ll have 5 days between the next game to practice with the team, and get familiar with the defense. After the Leafs play New Jersey next week they’ve got a soft schedule facing Montreal, Arizona, and then Florida. Those are all starts you don’t mind handing off from your starter and could settle Pickard into his role prior to than needing to handle one of Carolina or Washington on the next back to back situation two weeks from now. Or the Leafs can stick with what they are doing and find ways to win in spite of what I think. They’ll probably do that.

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      • globalgolfer

        From Cap Friendly…”A player does not need to pass through waivers if the player has not been on the NHL active roster for a cumulative 30 days since last clearing waivers, and has not played in 10 or more NHL games”. Likely room for Pickard to come up. Not Sparks?

      • CliffPennington

        “Simply, at the NHL level Pickard has been the better goaltender and with both Sparks and Pickard requiring waivers to bring them up to the Leafs…”

  • globalgolfer

    Pickard and Sparks will only join the team if Andersen is injured. McElhinney hasn’t been bad, or great. Two games at .869 is not a reliable number. Both Leaf goalies have been sub .900 so the problem may be the defense???? I think we have to let McElhinney play to see where this goes. Let’s hope he’s a rock this weekend.