Freddy Andersen, the Leafs’ starter, has been bad. Jack Campbell, the team’s back-up, has been good. What do we have here? A good old fashioned Goaltending Controversy? Not quite. Not in 2020, at least.
The odds that we get at least one "GOALTENDING CONTROVERSY?!?" headline in Toronto before the end of the season are like 100%, right?
— draglikepull (@draglikepull) February 13, 2020
Goaltending has been a major topic of conversation in Toronto all season, mostly because it hasn’t been very good. Andersen, who had been one of the most valuable players on the team in recent years, is having the worst season of his career, while back-up Michael Hutchinson came nowhere close to getting the job done in his role.
All told, the two of them have produced a save percentage just a shade over .900 in all situations, which has played a very key role in the reason the team ranks 27th in the league in goals against and is currently fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot.
What ails the Maple Leafs? A deep dive into grit, back-checking, leadership, and why the key to salvaging the season may ultimately come down to trading William Nylander.
My piece: pic.twitter.com/W4HSH10YhY
— Active Stick (@TheOakLeafs) February 18, 2020
Enter Jack Campbell. The former first-round pick has never lived up to the hype that made him once the top goaltending prospect in hockey, but Campbell eventually became a perfectly solid back-up goaltender in Los Angeles. After allowing four goals in a loss to the Rangers, Kyle Dubas had seen enough, and went ahead and acquired Campbell (along with Kyle Clifford) from L.A. to fix the back-up goalie situation.
But, since arriving in Toronto, Campbell hasn’t just proved to be an upgrade over Hutchinson, he’s also been better than Andersen. I mean, it’s a four-game sample size we’re talking about here, but Campbell is 3-0-1 with a .919 save percentage since arriving in Toronto. Meanwhile, Andersen has a .887 in 12 starts in 2020 and has been all over the grid, posting some really, really good starts and some really, really bad ones.
So, again, this is a goalie controversy, right? Andersen is your guy, so you have to play him. That’s what you’re paying him for. Campbell is there to open the bench and be ready to come in when Andersen needs a rest, but nothing more than that, right? Wrong. This is a double goalie league now. More and more, we’re seeing teams roll with the 1A and 1B tandem strategy, operating with a hot-hand and ensuring that neither goalie gets overloaded at any point during the season.
Back 10 years ago, you didn’t really see goalies split the net. Teams had their guy and that was that. In 2009-10, seven different goalies started 70 or more games and 13 started at least 60. This year, we might see two, Carey Price and Connor Hellebyuck, start 70 games, and maybe six or seven will hit 60.
Take a look at the goalies who have started the most games. It’s Price, Hellebyuck, Andre Vasilevskiy, Andersen, and Sergei Bobrovsky. Price is getting worn into the ground because Montreal doesn’t have a backup, Hellebyuck is Winnipeg’s only prayer at making the playoffs so they’re also wearing him into the ground, Andersen started so much because the Leafs had arguably the worst back-up in the league, and Bobrovsky is taking up like half of his team’s salary cap so they have no other choice but to play him. The exception here is Vasilevsky, who has been excellent for Tampa Bay while playing as much as he does.
The better way to go about business is the way teams like Dallas (Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin), Boston (Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak), Arizona (Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta), the Islanders (Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov), and Columbus (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzļikins) are operating. Those teams are all using the two-goalie strategy and are rolling with the hot hand. None of those teams has a goalie who’s going to have to play 70 games. Their season won’t get derailed if their main guy goes down with an injury. They also aren’t screwed every time they have a back-to-back.
Also, guess where those teams rank in the league in save percentage in all situations? First, second, third, fourth, and sixth, in the order that I listed them above. The team that breaks the pattern here, again, is Tampa Bay. Otherwise, these five teams who all roll with the 1A and 1B format are the best in the league at keeping the puck out of the net.
A few years back, the Oilers made the playoffs with Cam Talbot putting together an incredible season in net. They leaned on him to play a franchise record-setting 73 games. Then, the following year when he fell off a cliff, the team did too. The Oilers put all of their eggs in that basket and it broke. Goaltenders are incredibly volatile and confusing and difficult to predict. Whether it’s the Oilers or this year’s Panthers or whoever, there are plenty of examples of teams resting their hopes on one guy and it blowing up in their face.
So, if Jack Campbell is playing well enough to keep Andersen out of the net, so be it. There’s no controversy here. It’s just the way the game is headed. Good goaltenders are valuable. Why grind them into paste by playing them every single night? Have two guys split the net and that won’t be an issue.