Last night was a high point that Toronto sports hasn’t seen since “Touch’em all Joe” and while I am not much of a basketball fan, I certainly appreciate the excitement for the sports fans of Toronto who are long overdue for some happiness.
If you are exclusively a Leafs fan, you’re getting served up a little bit of happiness today as well…
Hearing from a few sources that the Maple Leafs have quietly been shopping Garret Sparks. The backup goalie, 25, has one year left on his deal paying him $750k.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 14, 2019
That’s right, the Sparks era seems to be coming to a close. That’s really the opposite of a surprise since the team sent him away at the start of the playoffs to work on his game, and based on the fact that he’s being shopped, I’m guessing that intense ten day boot camp didn’t inspire the Leafs decision makers.
The first thing that’s worth noting is that there isn’t going to be much of a return on Sparks. Teams aren’t beating down the doors for 25 year old backups who don’t have the confidence of their previous organization. He is young-ish and he does have some impressively misleading AHL numbers to name, and that salary is surely something teams can get behind, but any deal would be about giving Sparks a fresh start more than bringing in a return.
What’s Next for the Leafs Backup Position?
Now that Toronto has seen the wonders of load management in basketball and there’s a bit of buy-in to that philosophy in the city, I’d suggest the Leafs need to look at a backup goaltender who can help Freddie Andersen get down to around 50 games a season, and push him a little by being (dare I say) reliable and in some cases sparking a bit of debate about if he has earned consecutive starts.
The Leafs certainly don’t have money to spend on a backup goaltender in excess of the league minimum, but the rumours around Zaitsev and Marleau should inspire some hope that there might be more money there than originally thought. Names like Cam Talbot and Petr Mrazek are inspired, and options like Brian Elliott might be worth exploring, but perhaps the cheaper options like Chad Johnson, Cam Ward, and Michal Neuvirth are what is of particular interest to the Leafs.
I won’t exclude Michael Hutchinson from the conversation, as he could be the cheap familiar option, as well as a potential return of Curtis McElhinney, but seldom do we see players excited to return to teams that waived them.
Who wants Sparks?
Well, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of teams looking to overhaul their goaltending situation. The Blues, for example, could try to move on from Jake Allen and Sparks could be a more affordable backup option. The Oilers have nothing resembling goaltending in their organization, so why not invite Sparks to camp? Ottawa and San Jose are messes, and that rings true for teams like Calgary as well. There seem to be plenty of options for teams willing to roll the dice a little. The price on Sparks isn’t going to be significant, and he’s decent swing for the fences option on teams that don’t have much of a Plan B or goaltending pipeline.
No matter what, I’m pretty sure we can breathe a sigh of relief that Garret Sparks won’t be in a Leafs uniform again.