The Toronto Maple Leafs finally look like a good hockey team again.
Since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock on November 20th and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe, they look like an entirely different team. They’re starting on time, they’re scoring first, they just look better and more motivated.
So is this it? Are the Toronto Maple Leafs a perfect team now? Is their road to the Stanley Cup paved for once and for all? No. Of course not.
So what’s the next issue to tackle? In my opinion, one that’s been sticking out more than the others is the need for a backup goalie.
Toronto Maple Leafs Back-Up Goalie
The backup goalie dilemma stemmed last season when the Leafs opted to go with Garret Sparks for the backup job over Curtis McElhinney, a move that many Leaf fans still haven’t forgiven Kyle Dubas for.
In reality, any GM would have been smart to pick Sparks at the time. He had been voted the AHL’s goalie of the year in 2017-18, and while McElhinney was just about everything you could ask of a backup goalie, he was 35 at the time and there was no way of knowing if he would repeat his success. But regardless, it’s in the past.
The Toronto Maple Leafs backup goalie struggles have continued into this season, with Michael Hutchinson now under the microscope. In six starts this season, Hutchinson has gone 0-5-1 with a GAA of 4.55 and a save percentage of .876, while allowing at least four goals in each start he’s had.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these numbers are bad. And while it would be unfair to pin the blame entirely on Hutchinson for each of those losses, seeing that for most of them he was thrown to the wolves on the second half of a back to back, he still hasn’t met expectations.
As a backup goalie, you should be able to steal a game for your team every now and then. And Hutchinson hasn’t been able to do that.
The reality is, the Leafs need a backup goalie who can take some of the weight off of Frederik Andersen. For the last few seasons, the backup goalie has more or less only played when the team has a back to back.
And the Leafs haven’t been able to rely on Hutchinson for those. So what happens if Andersen goes down with an injury? I’m not sure Hutchinson would be the answer in the crease, especially if it were to be long term.
So where do the Leafs look for a new backup? Enter the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There have been rumours floating around that the Penguins would be interested in trading one of their goalies not named Matt Murray. This leaves current backup Tristan Jarry and AHL starter Casey DeSmith as options.
DeSmith, 29, has a total of 50 NHL games to his name and carries a record of 21-15-6 with a GAA of 2.66 and a save percentage of .917. 36 of those games came last season, when he was serving as the Penguins’ backup to Murray. He surprisingly lost the backup job to Tristan Jarry this year, and was placed on waivers before reporting to the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He carries a record of 9-4-0 with a GAA of 2.44 and a save percentage of .922 for them.
Meanwhile Jarry, 24, came out of nowhere and won the backup job for the Penguins out of training camp this year. He was solid in the AHL last year, but wasn’t anything special in the NHL in his short sample size.
This year, on another note, he’s been very good. Behind Matt Murray, he carries a record 5-4-0 with a GAA of 2.27 and a save percentage of .929. These are very good stats despite Jarry only starting nine games.
Between these two goalies, I would think the Penguins would be more interested in a deal involving Jarry. They know that they have a capable backup goalie in DeSmith, and Murray is only one year older than Jarry so it’s obvious that he’ll be their starter for years to come. Plus, Jarry’s strong start to the season likely inflates his price.
If the Leafs were to approach the Penguins with an offer, there are a couple of ways to go about it. If they were to simply look for a stable backup goalie to give Freddie a night off every now and then, DeSmith would be the guy to pursue. He likely comes with a cheaper price tag and has proven as recently as last season that he can be a stable backup goalie.
If they were to pursue Tristan Jarry, then they need to be prepared to pay for it. He’s 24 and looks like he’s finally showing that he can be in the NHL to stay. Jarry is likely never going to have a secure starting job in Pittsburgh with Matt Murray in front of him, whereas Frederik Andersen’s contract expires after next season. Jarry could be an option for insurance or a “plan B” if Andersen opts to test the market.
In the end, the Leafs should be working the phones to find a new backup goalies at this point, and Pittsburgh could be one of the teams worth checking in on if they decide to go that route.