Do The Toronto Maple Leafs Need A Goaltender?

November 9th, 2011 10 Comments

Fresh off an embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending picture is murkier than ever.

Maple Leafs starting goaltender James Reimer has been out with concussion-like symptoms since October 22nd, while both Jonas Gustavsson (4-4-0, 3.78 goals against average, .878 save percentage) and Ben Scrivens (1-1-0, 4.07 goals against average, .867 save percentage) have been inadequate in relief.

Reimer’s absence from the lineup, combined with the struggles of both Gustavsson and Scrivens has the Leafs Nation nervous about the Maple Leafs goaltending, both now and for the foreseeable future.

First, nobody knows when Reimer will return. One thing we have learned from concussions (or concussion-like) symptoms is that they are relatively unpredictable, especially where setting a return date for players is concerned- just ask Sidney Crosby!

Second, if both Gustavsson and Scrivens continue to struggle, everything the Maple Leafs gained with their quick start to the 2011-12 season will be all for not, which might just lead to yet another year without NHL playoff hockey in Toronto.

When you consider the options Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has few goaltenders jump out at you as bonafide solutions.

Most NHL teams are going with cheaper options between the pipes, often leading to streamlining. This scenario makes it difficult for teams to consider trading their backup goaltenders, which means Burke’s options are few and far between.

The other issue Burke is facing is that it is very early in the season. Most NHL teams still believe they have a chance at a playoff spot. As such, few teams will consider moving their backup or starter in case they too encounter an injury.

A quick look around the league reveals few options for Burke. Fact is, outside of a few re-treads, few teams have much to offer in the way of goaltending relief.

Dan Ellis might be available from the Anaheim Ducks, but with Jonas Hiller suffering from vertigo last season, they may wish to hold onto Ellis in case those symptoms return. Besides, when you consider how badly Burke fleeced the Ducks in the Francois Beauchemin deal, the Ducks might want to avoid dealing with Burke for a while!

One team that may entertain the idea of shaking things up is Thursday night’s opponent, the St. Louis Blues.

The expectation for the St. Louis Blues was to have high-priced Jaroslav Halak play the majority of the games this season. Problem is, Halak struggled mightily to start the season, which all but forced the Blues to use backup Brian Elliott as their primary goalie.

In seven starts with the Blues Elliott has assembled a tidy 5-1-0 record to go along with an excellent 1.72 goals against average and a solid .941 save percentage. Comparatively, Halak has gone 2-6-0 with a 2.91 goals against average and a .879 save percentage.

For Halak, those numbers serve as an embarrassment for a goaltender whom many feel could be amongst the leagues best.

With three years left on his four-year, $15 million contract Halak isn’t the most attractive option for any team, let alone the Blues. That said, when you consider Halak’s body of work (85-61-0-14 with 17 shutouts, with a career 2.58 goals against average and a modest .914 save percentage), he could be attractive to a team like the Maple Leafs.

Fact is, Burke doesn’t know when Reimer is coming back. Plus, given the way Gustavsson and Scrivens have played this season, Burke has to know that neither one of these goaltenders is ready to assume the starting role, let alone be thought of as a legitimate NHL backup.

With Elliott playing so well and Halak struggling, would the Blues entertain moving Halak? Or, would they move the hot handed Elliott?

Despite a respectable 27-21-7 record with the Blues last season, Halak never really displayed the type of talent he was known for when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

To be fair, the Blues endured a number of injuries last season and had to endure a number of poor performances both up front and on the backend. Still, Halak has never seemed comfortable being a member of the Blues, which may lead to him being dealt before long.

So, what would Burke have to give up for Halak?

The Blues traded forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz to Montreal for Halak. After a very average 2010-11 campaign with the Habs, Eller (originally drafted 13th overall by St. Louis in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft) is thought to be finding his game, posting four points in 12 games with the Habs this season.

Schultz spent the 2010-11 season with Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, registering four points in 45 games. Originally drafted in the third round (87th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Schultz is seen by many as a fringe player with moderate upside.

With that in mind, the Blues (who just made a coaching change this week) might be willing to take a combination of prospects from the Maple Leafs in return for Halak or, perhaps even entertain the idea of moving Elliott.

One scenario that may make sense would be Burke dealing little-used Nazem Kadri (originally drafted seventh overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft) and another prospect to the Blues in return for a goaltender.

The Blues are short on talent up front at the NHL level and while Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Ty Rattie all have upside, all three prospects appear to be a year or two away from making an impact at the NHL level.

The options for Burke are not great right now, but for a general manager who is often faced with making something out of nothing, the St. Louis Blues just might be a viable trading partner.

Another team that could offer the Maple Leafs an upgrade between the pipes is the New York Islanders.

New York currently has Al Montoya, Evengeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro under contract to play Goal.

DiPietro’s enormous contract and frequent visits to the injury list makes him impossible to deal, but the feeling is both Montoya or Nabokov could be had for the right price.

Any discussion Kadri being dealt to the Islanders for the likes of Nabokov or Montoya would be premature. That said, Kadri could be the centerpiece of a bigger deal involving several players being dealt between the two teams. Let’s not forget, this is a young Islanders team that, despite some early success, is still in the middle of their rebuilding process, that could use a talent like Kadri.

More likely, Burke would have to surrender a lesser prospect and/or ship a draft pick to the Islanders.

Montoya owns a 2-2 record through four games to go along with a 2.12 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Montoya is currently in a one-year deal that carries a cap hit of $601,000. Given the affordability of the contract and Montoya’s inspired play it is unlikely the Islanders would part with Montoya, but one never knows.

Nabokov owns a 1-3 record to go along with his 2.81 goals against average and .911 save percentage. He too has a very affordable one-year contract that carries a cap hit of $570,000.

Once again, given the affordability of Nabokov’s contract it is unlikely that New York would be willing to deal him, but if the right offer was made, considering the Islanders gave up nothing to get Nabokov, New York might just pull the trigger on a deal.

Of course, there is also the matter of Nabokov’s No Movement Clause, but one has to believe he would entertain a destination like Toronto over staying with New York.

One thing is for sure, Burke needs to start looking for options-  the sooner, the better.

Until next time,





  1. steve says:

    Learn how to spell BRIAN ELLIOTT! Yeesh.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Grumpy, are we?

  3. Geoff says:

    It’s concerning that you seem to be ok with dealing for Halak. That’s far too big of a contract for the leafs in net right now. Especially for a goalie who is struggling right now. He reminds me way too much of Toskala.

  4. MarkRitter says:

    Fair enough. I think Halak would fair much better with the Maple Leafs than he has with St. Louis. And besides, the key to many deals is to buy low and sell high, with Halak struggling it’s a perfect time to buy. As far as his salary goes it’s pretty moderate considering his overall record, which is very good. You have to consider that Reimer may not be back for quite sometime and, if he is suffering from his second concussion, he may not be back to the form he once was at all, thus the need for a legitimate number one goalie. Many teams use two good goalies, maybe the Leafs need to consider this? Thanks for the comment—

  5. Dave Neeson says:

    A well thought out and nicely written article dude! Agreed, there is a goalie contreversy brewing and who knows where this thing goes. If our buds struggle through the next two or three with no timetable for Reimers return and a continued sub-par effort all around, look for a move. Could be as simple as reassigning Scrivens and bringing up Rynnas (doubtful) but knowing Burke a possibilty. He does have a knack for doing the unpredicatable. The top of my trade dreams list would be none other than the Moose himself, Jonan Hedberg – I know, I know, fat chance but one can dream can’t he?

    We keep saying it but lets do beers soon brother! Keep up the great work!


  6. Dave Neeson says:

    Oops…mispelled Johan…thought I’d better fix it with the spelling Police monitoring….


  7. Geoff says:

    Good point. It still think Halak is the wrong direction to go. His contract is reasonable for his record, but it’s way more than the leafs need right now. Especially in length. I like the thought of Nabokov a lot more simply because he’s so cheap (and the leafs are tight against the cap) and it’s only till the end of the year. Nabokov is a proven, veteran goalie who will provide stability and ease the minds of the players and fans. Plus, with 3 capable goalies in NY, they are much more likely to be willing to part with him.

    I still like Gustavsson, and I feel like in 3-5 years he could be a very capable back up goalie or even a starter. He just needs to calm down and use his abilities efficiently instead of being so erratic and unpredictable.

    Side note: I’m really liking this blog. Keep posting frequently!

  8. MarkRitter says:

    Gus seems to have regressed from “the best goalie not playing in the NHL” to a guy that looks confused and nervous on more nights than not. Sorry, but I do not share your positive outlook for Gus. Gus has had to endure two heart ailments and the loss of both parents since coming to Canada, so he can be excused. That said, it’s time to put up or shut up or be sent to the AHL to find his confidence.

    Halak’s salary may be a bit on the large side, but one thing we have learned over the years is that if your team doesn’t have goaltending, it has nothing. With that in mind, if Toronto has a chance to get a quality goaltender like Halak (keeping in mind that Reimer may never be back and that Gus and Ben have been so bad) you make the deal and worry about chopping salary later. Besides, Burke could always ship a player off to St. Louis to help off-set the cost of Halak’s salary.

    Nabokov would be great—nice stop-gap solution while the Buds sort out Reimer’s injury status. Hopefully Reimer is ready to go, but after hearing his concussion-like (ok, I think we’ll just call it a concussion) symptoms are not going away I am a little scared that his injury is going to derail him for weeks or months. Thanks for the comment!

  9. MarkRitter says:

    They are everywhere!

  10. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks brother! Rynnas has had a tough start this season—I think he has earned just one win in six starts (or something like that), so I do not see him being moved up. Hedberg would be nice, but with Brodeur in decline, I think NJ keeps him in the fold. Beers? Yeah, soon man, would be great to reminisce. Cheers man!

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