The Toronto Maple Leafs have gotten either all-world performances or replacement-level duds from backup goaltender Garret Sparks this year, who hasn’t put up a single game with a save percentage between an .898 and a .928 all season.
Despite the polarizing nature of his play, though, the Leafs seem happy with the 25-year-old backup – so he’ll reportedly come back for another season, inking a one-year extension with the team to get him through the 2019-20 campaign.
Hearing TOR working on a one-year extension for G Garret Sparks. In the $750K range, sounds like.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 5, 2019
Drafted 190th overall by the Leafs in 2011, Sparks played for the Guelph Storm of the OHL and the gold-medal winning US National Team for the 2013 U20 World Junior Championships before going pro in 2013 within the Toronto organization.
Since then, he’s proven to be one of the best minor league goaltenders in North America, winning a Calder Cup with the Marlies in 2018 and posting a .922 or better every year at both the AHL and ECHL levels from the 2014-15 season on.
He’s failed to establish the same kind of consistency in Toronto, though, putting up a .929 or better in seven of his 14 appearances and an .897 or worse in his other seven. Despite putting up the first rookie debut shutout in Leafs franchise history, he’s proven to be either a serviceable backup or barely replacement-level in his performances over time, causing frustration among the fanbase.
Still, the reported $750,000 cap hit that Sparks will pocket next year will be one of the cheapest among backups with NHL experience, and it’s unlikely that the Leafs would have been able to bring on a backup for that low of a cost without taking a hit in performance. Given that head coach Mike Babcock still seems resolutely determined to play Frederik Andersen, a current Vezina front-runner, in every game possible no matter who the backup is, this penny pinches at a time when the Leafs will need every extra dollar they can find.