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Photo Credit: Thomas Skrlj

Uncertainty looms for Marlies after Hutchinson departure

The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t want to recall Michael Hutchinson from the AHL and deflate the Marlies’ hopes of a sizeable playoff run, but they had to. Desperate times had called for desperate measures.

Garret Sparks’ season-long struggles forced the Maple Leafs to re-evaluate their backup goalie position and clearly they came to the reality that Hutchinson, not Sparks, was the second best goalie in the organization. While Hutchinson is currently away from the team to take care of his wife and their newborn, which lead to Sparks backing up Andersen in Game one, Mike Babcock confirmed that Hutchinson will return to being Frederik Andersen’s understudy once he re-joins the team.

It appears Hutchinson will be with the Leafs from here on out, as he would have to pass through waivers before being able to report to the Marlies.

A tough blow for the Marlies, nonetheless.

“He was acquired for this very reason. Not exactly [for Sparks’] particular scenario but he was acquired for insurance and depth at the goaltending position for the Maple Leafs,” Keefe told The Leafs Nation after Mondays practice. “We benefited from that, because it just so happened that we needed help stabilizing our goaltending at the time.”

The thing is though, Hutchinson’s arrival to the Marlies was no coincidence. At the time, Sparks’ game was not perfect but it wasn’t horrible– posting a .910 save percentage in his first nine games— midway through his first full NHL season. The acquisition of Hutchinson was to shore up the Marlies’ goaltending situation, which was greatly hindering the organizations AHL affiliate.

After stumbling out of the gate with a 1-4-0-1 start, the Toronto Marlies were starting to turn things around–but their goaltending withheld them from fully elevating their game. They were scoring goals at the beginning of the year–as they have been all season with the team comfortably in the top-three for goals throughout the year–but they weren’t getting saves when they needed them the most. Through the Marlies’ first 32 games– -with Eamon McAdam, Kasimir Kaskisuo and Jeff Glass splitting games–the Marlies allowed the fourth most goals against in the entire league (119).

Relying on edging out the opponent in high-scoring games–where the combined goal count was near, or over, double digits–was not going to be sustainable. Hence the decision to bring someone of Hutchinson’s calibre to provide the Marlies with some stability between the pipes.

And once Hutchinson arrived, the tide started to turn.Then Marlies went 25-10-5-2 after getting their upgrade in net, with Hutchinson–who had a .909 SV% throughout his Marlies tenure– being a big reason why the teams’ goals against average dropped to 2.85, a far-cry from the 3.71 goals against average the team had beforehand.

Despite the teams’ defensive improvements over the last little bit, the Marlies have started to crumble.

It was in a game against the Rochester Americans back on March 23rd that the degree of separation between the  Marlies and the team one spot ahead of them in the North Division was put on full display. The Marlies allowed three unanswered goals in the third period and lost the game 5-2. Keefe said the Marlies looked a combination of tired and scared against a Rochester team that they’re currently slated to face off against in the first round.

“We’ve been just surviving and treading water here for quite a while and finding ways to get games to overtime and squeeze some points out of it. Finally, [we] play one of the top teams in the league and we look [overwhelmed] a little bit. I wouldn’t really call it frustrating, I just thank that it’s a sign that despite the fact that we’ve been getting points, are play isn’t where it needs to be,” Keefe told reporters post game.

Through the last 20 games, in which the Marlies have iced practically the same roster as the one they have now, it’s become evident that it hasn’t just been Hutchinson’s departure that’s been plaguing the team.

In the first two months of 2019, the Marlies gradually lost four of it’s top-end contributors–Carl Grundstrom, Sam Gagner, Trevor Moore and Calle Rosen–with their offence faltering as a result. In the last 20 games, the Marlies have averaged 2.80 goals a game, which is well below their season average of 3.71 goals scored per game.

Furthermore, those four players accounted for 20% of the Marlies’ even-strength goals this year and over the last 20 games without them (with the exception of Rosen skating in two of those games before being recalled for good) the team is producing up a mere 1.85 even-strength goals per game.

The teams’ power play, fourth best in the entire AHL (22.2%), has done a lot of the heavy lifting on the offensive side of things. When the playoffs roll around, though, referees don’t blow their whistles as often as they do in the regular season and relying so heavily on your power play to produce offence, like the Marlies, is not ideal.

“At five on five, we want to play better and we want more production there but to think that [we are] just going to flick a switch and have it happen, is probably unrealistic,” said Keefe after the Marlies practiced on Monday.

As the playoffs approach, Keefe has tired to tinker with his lines–spreading offensive contributors across the lineup–in hopes of enhancing the teams’ depth. And while spreading out the scoring talent does, technically., make the Marlies a bit deeper–their depth this year is nowhere close to the last years Championship-winning roster

As crucial as NHL-calibre talents like Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott were in the playoffs, having a trio of Moore, Adam Brooks and Mason Marchment on the fourth line creating matchup nightmares is what really set the Marlies apart.

Toronto Marlies 2017-2018 playoff roster 

Andreas Johnsson–Miro Aaltonen–Carl Grundstrom

Dmytro Timashov–Chris Mueller–Ben Smith

Pierre Engvall–Frederik Gauthier– Colin Greening

Mason Marchment–Adam Brooks– Trevor Moore

 

Martin Marincin–Justin Holl

Travis Dermott–Vincent LoVerde

Calle Rosen– Timothy Liljegren

Sparks

Pickard

The Marlies can either roll out a lineup that features a stacked top-six and weak bottom-six or they can thinly stretch out their skill across all four lines– –with players like Pierre Engvall Michael Carcone, or Dmytro Timashov driving lines of their own.

Neither situation is ideal.

The Marlies can either play Kasimir Kaskisuo, who is better suited in a backup role than as the teams’ starter, or Eamon McAdam, who has never played in an AHL playoff game.

Neither situation is ideal.

The Marlies’ issues go way beyond just Hutchinson, and even if he was still donning a Marlies uniform he wouldn’t have been able to help change the teams’ goal scoring woes. But Hutchinson was a safety net, providing consistency at the most important position.

Now that all the security that the Marlies had in net is thrown out the door, it seems the nail is in the coffin on the Marlies’ hopes of going on a long playoff run.