Through the first month and change of the 2019-20 season, very few goaltenders have struggled quite like Maple Leafs backup Michael Hutchinson.
The 29-year-old former Winnipeg Jets prospect has posted an abysmal .879 save percentage through his first six appearances of the year, averaging nearly 4.5 goals against per game, going 0-4-1 in credited results, and -5.90 Goals Saved Above Average at even strength alone.
The poor start has hardly been his fault alone, but it seems as if the team has finally decided on the fact that Hutchinson is not the answer. So, Hutchinson will be the first to fall on the sword, as the netminder hit waivers on Monday morning in what’s presumably a move meant to give Kasimir Kaskisuo an NHL shot.
Hutchinson was picked up as a reclamation project of sorts from the Florida Panthers last season after he struggled to rediscover his game following a move from the Winnipeg Jets (who had used him as a backup from 2013-2018) that summer.
His five games with Toronto’s NHL lineup last season saw him post a .914 save percentage in all situations, and the team then opted to move into their 2019-20 campaign with him as the backup to Frederik Andersen while sending former number two Garret Sparks to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Sparks’s lone NHL game this year suggests that he wouldn’t have done much better than Hutchinson behind Toronto’s often-chaotic defence; he allowed two goals on 14 shots in relief during his only game for the Golden Knights so far, which gives him a .857 save percentage in his own limited season. But his AHL numbers have been, once again, some of the best in the North American farm league. Sparks has gone 4-3-1 to this point while posting a .953 save percentage in eight games for the Chicago Wolves, the best among all goaltenders across the AHL through the first month of their respective season.
It’s not particularly likely that anyone will pick up Hutchinson before he’s able to be assigned to the Marlies, but don’t count out a team like Columbus wanting someone to help them out by adding a bit of NHL experience. And the bottom line, as pointed out by Bob McKenzie, is that this isn’t necessarily all Hutchinson’s fault, either:
It’s obviously easier to waive Hutchinson and roll dice with Kaskisuo than it is to waive the five skaters on the ice for Patrick Kane’s 3-1 goal last night, where he and the Hawks walked in from a centre ice faceoff and never got touched by a Leaf defender.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 11, 2019
The assumption is that Kasimir Kaskisuo will now get his long-awaited shot in the NHL, following what seems to be a bit of a turn-around in his game this year. Kaskisuo posted a .928 save percentage in all situations through eight games for the Marlies — which isn’t quite Sparks numbers, but is certainly among the best in the AHL in its own right.
After getting picked up as an undrafted free agent following his career with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Kaskisuo has become the established starter for the Marlies since Sparks’ departure to serve as backup last season.
How will he fare in the NHL? Let’s wait and see.