Without Michael Hutchinson the Toronto Maple Leafs Were an Elite Team

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Michael Hutchinson #30 of the Toronto Maple Leafs just made a pad save against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Michael Hutchinson #30 of the Toronto Maple Leafs just made a pad save against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are (as the cliche goes) hitting the golf course.

In a twist M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of, the person most responsible for the Toronto Maple Leafs currently not playing in this year’s playoffs is now a hero with the Colorado Avalanche.

That’s right, old Michael Hutchinson, the back-up goalie who couldn’t save a beach ball when dressed in the blue and white, is now 2-0 with a .938 save percentage, and has won two playoff games to bring the Avs to game seven.

Now, this has lead to many to observe “it must have been the team, not the goalie,” and that is absolutely nonsense.  It is patently absurd. Nice narrative though, just completely incorrect.

First, no level of team defense can procure saving 94% of the shots – goalies fluctuate independently of the team all the time.  Every team in the league in the past year has a few shut-outs and a few blow outs – these things happen and attributing to the team every time is just wrong.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Michael Hutchinson

Obviously if a team has extremely tight defense, the goalie might do slightly better, but nothing explains the atrocious performance of Michael Hutchinson in Toronto this year.  In fact, the entire reason the Leafs were not in a hurry to spend assets on a back-up is because – over the long term – doing so is usually a waste of assets.

NHL goalies are unpredictable and thus not usually worth the investment unless you get lucky.  If goalies were predictable, there would be several of them who are bigger stars than Connor McDavid, because in any given year, the best goalie is far more valuable than the best player – you just never know who it will be (unlike with forwards).

Now as far as Hutchinson goes, I acknowledge that Babcock played him almost exclusively in the back half of back-to-back games, and I acknowledge that the Leafs aren’t the best defensive team, but even so, that doesn’t explain how bad he actually was.

His performance made it so that the Toronto Maple Leafs had to play in a play-in series in the first place.  Sure, Babcock was partly to blame, as was Freddie Andersen, and injuries were a major factor, but Hutchinson was the biggest problem.

Michael Hutchinson had a record of 4-9-1 with the Leafs this year.  That is a points percentage of 0.321 which compared to the regular season standings, would put the Leafs in 30th place, below Ottawa and above Detroit.

So just so we are clear:  In games where Hutchinson was the goalie of record, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the equivalent of a 30th place team, while getting 32% of all possible points.

Now, if Hutchinson were not mostly to blame, the Leafs record with a different goalie would be equally terrible, but that is not the case.

The Toronto Maple Leafs record in games with anyone but Hutchinson was 32-16-8, which is a points percentage of .643, which would rank them seventh overall in the NHL just ahead of the Golden Knights.

Tampa picked up 64% of their points this year, meaning that the Leafs with Hutchinson were Ottawa, and the without him they were Tampa.  Playing exclusively on back-to-back nights can’t explain that.  The Leafs defense doesn’t explain that.  (All stats naturalstattrick.com).

Now, I’m not saying the Leafs missed the playoffs because of Hutchinson, but I am saying he was the single biggest factor.  And I’m sure people will say that this isn’t the player’s fault, but the GMs.  Those people will be wrong, because other than those 15 games, Michael Hutchinson has never given any indication that he’s a bad goalie.

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The Leafs had every reason to suspect he would perform at his career average, and if he did, they’d have gotten a by to the first round, and could still be playing right now.  The bottom line, however, is that the Leafs had a record good enough to compete for the President’s Trophy in games that Michael Hutchinson wasn’t the goalie of record this year.