There has been a rise and fall of Garret Sparks over the past few seasons and it officially hit rock-bottom today with his ECHL signing.
It was only two seasons ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs named Garret Sparks as their back-up goaltender and it was a decision that cost them dearly.
In 18 starts that season, Sparks was only able to register 17 of a possible 36 points, finishing with an 8-9-1 record. The Elmhurst, IL native finished with an awful 3.15 GAA and .902 Sv% (stats via: hockeydb.com) which hurt the Toronto Maple Leafs chances at winning every time he was in net.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were fourth in goals scored that season, so Sparks didn’t need to stand on his head to at least get the game to overtime and secure a point. Instead, he suffered tremendously and was a huge reason why the team never received home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The team finished seven points behind the Boston Bruins in that category, so if Sparks would have been competitive in a few more games, the series against Boston could have gone much differently.
Let’s go backwards for a second before Sparks was ever named the back-up. As much as I’d like to blame him for everything, he never should have been in this situation to begin with. In fact, he probably should have still been fourth on the depth chart, if it wasn’t for a few terrible decisions made by Leafs management.
The Toronto Maple Leafs decided to protect Sparks from waivers (assuming another team would pick him up), which exposed both Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard to waivers instead. It turned into the worst case scenario for the team as both McElhinney and Pickard were claimed and instead of having three goaltenders compete for the back-up position, Sparks had the job all to himself.
Internal competition is good for everyone and I think this would have helped Sparks tremendously. However, he was awarded a job in the NHL for the first time in his career and it didn’t work out.
Garret Sparks Has Officially Hit Rock-Bottom
After winning the Calder Cup and being voted the best goaltender in the American Hockey League, people fell in love with Sparks. However, those fans probably didn’t watch him everyday.
If you watched Sparks’ game closely, like I did, his game wasn’t polished. Sparks put together a few good seasons and one spectacular season statistically, but it was mostly due to the team in front of him. The Toronto Marlies from 2015-2018 were like the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s. The team was stacked with so much talent that almost any goaltender could have excelled in that time.
Even Antoine Bibeau and Kasimir Kaskisuo looked good during a few playoff stretches, so it was clear that goaltending wasn’t the reason why this team was winning.
With Sparks’ signing to the Orlando Solar Bears today, in my opinion, that’s the end of his NHL dreams. When you play in the ECHL, all you want to do is leave. You’re like a 17-year-old in your parent’s house just waiting to blossom and live your dreams.
But like many young adults, they find out that life is a lot more difficult than it seems and end up back in the same basement where they were writing down their biggest dreams and hopes just a few years prior.
That’s where Sparks is right now. He started with the Solar Bears, left for four seasons and accomplished his NHL dream, but reality kicked him in the butt. Either he’s going to be that kid who lives with his parents until he’s 40-years-old or he’s going to use this opportunity to regroup and get his life back together.
It’s your call Sparks and although I’ve criticized him for most of his career, I love a good comeback story. Let’s see what he’s actually made of now.