It’s tough to get a handle on when Freddie Andersen will be 100 percent again, or whether this recent injury will be nagging him down the stretch. The Leafs are pretty secretive about these things, and for good reason I suppose. But one thing has always been clear for those who follow the Leafs: Poor goaltending can really unravel a season. We’ve all endured our share of Toskalitis over the years.
Kyle Dubas has had to scramble in the last week to make a move and bring in Michael Hutchinson and call him up along with Kasimir Kaskisuo (who is in no way an NHL goalie) to fill in on an emergency basis while Andersen and now Sparks sit on the sidelines with injuries. And these are the types of ailments that strike fear into fans; Andersen has tweaked his groin, and has missed time for a number of stretches as a Leaf, while Sparks is dealing with concussion protocol. Given the nature of the injuries, who knows how this manifests itself as the season wears on. All I know is that if a playoff series started tomorrow, Toronto would be in a world of trouble.
In today's episode of "As The #Leafs Goaltending Turns," Frederik Andersen, Michael Hutchinson and Alex Fotino of York University are all on the ice as practice begins.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 4, 2019
Frederik Andersen participated in all of #Leafs practice today, first time he's done so since Dec. 27. Positive sign of progress for Toronto's starter.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 4, 2019
But the playoffs don’t start tomorrow, and there’s oodles of time for Andersen to make his way back. Sparks too. This could all be fine, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, in the instance of a worst case scenario, it’s worth looking around the league to see who could fill in for the Leafs if they’re eventually looking at weak goaltending torching their chances of a deep run with the best roster they’ve put together in 25 years. Every season is precious, especially with this group, and you don’t want to waste a window year. And it’s definitely something the Leafs have talked about internally, as Babcock hinted to yesterday: “I don’t know what’s going on, we were just talking about maybe finding another goalie…We’d like (Kaskisuo) to get playing, we don’t want him to be sitting around. So maybe we’ve got to find another goalie and go from there.”
There are some interesting goalies out there for the team to look at, with guys who’ve put in a lot of reps and present as options that would at least ease some of the panic about going into a series with the Bruins or Lightning with an unknown in net. This is going to be especially true if the Leafs choose not to improve their defence corps.
If the Leafs find themselves unsure about Andersen’s status down the stretch, they could make a bold play by going after Howard out of Detroit. While he’s had his ups and downs over the years, he has put it together this season with 27 starts already and a 0.918 sv% on the year. His career mark is 0.915.
The main issue here is money, where Howard is carrying a heavy $5.29-million AAV cap hit until the end of the season. Still, if things get real dicey in net, it would be worth the price of rental to get him until the summer, especially as his cap hit falls every day leading to the deadline. It would probably just mean the Leafs have to rein it back on going for a higher priced skater like Wayne Simmonds or a big defensive upgrade. These are potentially the kinds of decisions they could be left with as the deadline gets close.
Miller is backing up John Gibson in Anaheim, so his days of getting meaningful starts in that city are over. But he is making $2-million through the end of this season where he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. If the Ducks feel like they don’t need the insurance, or if they fall off the pace a bit in the next few weeks, Miller could probably be had for a song at the deadline. And his numbers have been dynamite the last two seasons, where he posted a 0.928 through 28 starts in 2017-18 and is currently sporting a 0.922 through 10 games this year. At 37 he doesn’t represent any kind of long term option, but for a run down the stretch and some playoff insurance he could make a lot of sense. Perhaps even a one-year contract for next year wouldn’t be the worst thing in the word.
To this point when we’ve talked about the Leafs going after another goalie it’s usually in that same vein of cast-offs like Pickard, McElhinney, Hutchinson and so on. If things take a turn and the team starts ending up on the wrong end of games they should be winning, and the playoff picture tightens up, there might be a need to do something a little more bold and put some minds at ease, fans and players included.