Players haven’t even taken the ice for training camp in September and it’s already time to start worrying about how tired they will be in April. That may sound ridiculous, but alas, planning out goaltender starts throughout the season is probably a good idea for a few reasons. The first being communication to the goaltenders of what their anticipated starting workload will look like. And secondly so you can find a pleasant balance over the course of the year that doesn’t leave your starter hopeless exhausted by playoff time.
To my personal glee, this was tweeted out earlier today:
“I’m sure we’ll try to do some load management or whatever you call it.” -Frederik Andersen, workhorse
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) September 4, 2019
Late last March I attempted to advocate for not playing him as much citing that he was playing more than he ever had before since joining the Leafs, and potentially that was leaving him exhausted come playoff time. Now Frederik Andersen is an elite athlete, capable of handling his current workload and then some or so he’d say, but in practice all of these guys, players and especially goaltenders either exhausted, sore, or worse by the time playoffs start and there is no harm in having them in best possible shape once playoff games start.
The Regular Season Doesn’t Matter
Okay, it matters a little, you have to be better than half the teams in the league to qualify for the playoffs, and that certainly requires some effort, but with the Leafs being as talented as they are, it seems that we might as well pre-place that little ‘x’ next to Toronto on the standings, and then spend the next 82 games wondering if the Leafs will have home ice advantage in a series against Boston or if they will be playing game seven on the road. Anything short of a catastrophic decline in Tampa seems to dictate this is the case.
My proposal is that resting Andersen throughout the year makes up for the potential loss of home ice advantage in round one, and a potentially fresh Andersen and game ready backup leave the Leafs in a better situation to be competitive in regular season games as well.
Proposed Load Management Schedule
At this point we don’t know whether Neuvirth or Hutchinson will be the backup to Andersen to start the year. Frankly it doesn’t matter a whole lot, but you could argue that a healthy Neuvirth would be the more capable option. The fact that neither goaltender is pushing for a starter gig means that load management should be fairly easy to institute and keep Andersen still starting around the usual number of games he has in the past, just at more strategic times.
With my suggested idea, Andersen’s longest stretch of consecutive starts would be 5 games, and he’d only have to take that on once. Naysayers will point out that he’d be asked to potentially play seven consecutive games in a playoff series, and then potentially move on to the next one with little rest, and he needs to be prepared for that, but to them I’d say, you raise a valid point, but increased time between series and the fact that getting him to the playoffs in one piece is the priority, I like my way better.
The other decisions on when Andersen should rest seem pretty simple…
- Back to back nights? He sits one of them, usually with the preference Andersen faces the better team or gets the Saturday night game
- It’s been a while since a back to back, let him rest when the Leafs play a team that sucks. Sorry Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles, and Ottawa. Seeing Andersen live isn’t in the cards for you.
- It’s been a really long time since he’s rested… sit him against Florida or something, whatever midweek road game looks like a decent option.
- March and April should basically be a split. Andersen needs rest, and god forbid the Leafs need their backup in the playoffs, it would be nice to have them capable of handling the work.
Andersen rest days in blue
So yeah, that’s pretty simple right? Just banking on 23 starts going to the backup. That’s just one start less than what Andersen had last season, though who knows how much he would have played if he wasn’t hurt in January. I could understand any arguments made for reducing his workload by another 4 starts to get him down to 55 games, but the schedule provides some support with the nine day break for the Leafs in January, the four day break at the start of November, end of November, and again at Christmas. Perhaps the only additional argument to be made is if some of these off nights need to be lumped together to give Andersen additional extended rest periods. I’d argue that a strong performance from the backup earns those extra four starts and additional nights off for Freddie.
Really the Leafs don’t seem that far off from where they need to be about managing the number of Andersen’s starts, the problem seems to be that Mike Babcock has at times pushed Freddie for periods of time without relief. There’s also the potential benefit of rest heading into the playoffs, or at the very least it serves as risk mitigation for injury. Whatever for that load management is taking, I’m excited that the idea has been put out there and Andersen says it’s happening. Optimizing goaltender performance can go a long way.