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Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

How many games should Andersen start for the rest of the season?

It’s that time of the year again. It’s everyone’s favourite topic. You’ve been waiting for this.

IT’S TIME TO DISCUSS GOALTENDER LOAD MANAGEMENT!!!!

(This is a topic I’ve forced on you twice before here and here, if you want the background)

I can sense your excitement about this, but this time it’s different. This time it’s not the Leafs riding the hot hand of Freddie Andersen in a futile attempt to grab second in the Atlantic away from the Bruins, all the while having a shooter tutor as a backup goaltender. No. This time you can’t wait to get Freddie out of the net. The “All-Star” version of Freddie Andersen is currently sporting a .906 save percentage, a number he has only exceeded in one calendar month (November) and he’s been a sub .900 goaltender in calendar 2020. You are probably very comfortable with splitting the workload especially when you consider Jack Campbell’s very handsome .919 save percentage in his 4 games as a Leaf, which begs the question, “why hasn’t he played since February 15th?

The answer to that question is that the Leafs are still 100% for good or bad behind Freddie Andersen as their starter, and with Freddie Andersen as their starter Moneypuck is presently giving the Leafs 83.5% odds of making the playoffs. So there’s that. I don’t think it would particularly impact those odds if the Leafs went with Jack Campbell over Andersen, but I’m not going to ask them to run the numbers nor am I going to attempt to hastily build a prediction model for the purpose of exploring this. Instead we’ll go with what we do know and that is that Freddie has a lot of good years on his resume and this isn’t it. Jack Campbell was good last year, iffy on a bad Kings team, and looking a lot better for the Leafs in the small sample of 4 games. The numbers equate to goaltenders being voodoo and that leads us to the human factor.

Do the players want to play in front of the goaltender they know, and the one who has been with them for the past few years and step up for him? I can’t answer that. Neither can you. It’s a nice sentiment, and it may ultimately be the reasoning we see more of Freddie than expected down the stretch, but there could also be a quiet sentiment in the room of wanting to play in front of a goaltender who consistently stops the first shot of the game. That would probably be the biggest human factor case for Campbell, although he’s quickly endeared himself to his teammates as far as we can tell, and is unlikely to have a team not want to play for him, if that’s even a thing.

Looking at the remaining 17 games, there are only two instances of back to back games. Assuming those are absolutely guaranteed splits for the goaltenders, that would see Andersen playing 64 games, two off his career high, and 4 more than last season, the year that lead us to the load management discussions. Campbell, assuming he plays those two games would be sitting at 26 games, 5 short of his NHL career high from last season.

So that’s leading me to wonder, is it possible to get Andersen below 60 games and have Campbell keep up his 31 game level without making it seem the Leafs are going away from Freddie more than they should?

Well, the Leafs have games against the Sharks, Devils, Senators, and Red Wings in addition to the back to back games. That puts Freddie at 60 games for the season, matching last year and keeps him from playing more than 4 games in a row the rest of the season. That seems like a pretty healthy balance. That also leaves the Leafs with the option to find Campbell another start somewhere down the stretch. If the wheels come off for the Panthers, god willing, the Leafs might have a bit of flexibility to give Campbell a late March start against Columbus or Florida as well. The past few years Andersen has finished up March and April by taking 12 of the remaining games, potentially the Leafs could wind up with 9 or 10 for Andersen down the stretch this year, with an especially late March schedule.

Assuming the small sample size doesn’t blow up in Campbell’s face, the Panthers don’t go on a hot streak, or the realities of the current state of the Leafs blueline doesn’t completely devastate the team, it would be nice to see a 10 game Andersen/ 7 game Campbell split.