Maple Leafs Won’t WIn Without Goaltending

March 17th, 2016 No Comments

 

The Maple Leafs will be hard-pressed to win without a number one goalie...

The Maple Leafs will be hard-pressed to win without a number one goalie…

When you look back at the history of the NHL Entry Draft, the most difficult position to project has to be goaltending.

While many top-tier netminders have been chosen in the early rounds (Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo) an equal number of early draft picks have failed to live up to expectations (Al Montoya, Rick DiPietro, Eric Fichaud).

And then there are the diamonds in the rough, netminders that were taken in the later rounds that emerged as stars (Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Dominik Hasek).

Of course, we would be remiss if we did not include a number of undrafted goalies that emerged as stars such as, Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph and Jonas Hiller.

In the early days, few netminders were drafted in the first round, but with a premium being put on the position, this behavior is changing, resulting in more crease beasts being drafted in the top-two rounds of the NHL Entry Draft. That said, drafting a goaltender is hardly an exact science, as witnessed by our findings.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the last goaltender they drafted that emerged as a star was Tuukka Rask (taken 21st overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft). Trouble is, Rask never played a single game for the Maple Leafs as he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft.

What made Rask expendable? At the time of the deal, Rask was a virtual unknown and the Maple Leafs were high on goaltending prospect  Justin Pogge, who had played very well with Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Further, Raycroft had won the Calder Trophy two years earlier (2003-04) posting a 29-18-9 record to go along with a impressive .926 save percentage and tidy 2.05 goals against average.

With Pogge coming along and Raycroft having won the Calder just one season ago, the Raycroft deal looked to be a decent move at the time. Of course, history proved that Pogge would not develop into an NHL goalie, while Raycroft would eventually fall off the map.

The 2004-05 NHL season was lost due to the strike. The following season, Raycroft, would struggle to find his game, posting a 8-19-2 record while registering a paltry .879 SV% and a ugly 3.71 GAA.

Despite the poor showing in 2005-06, many felt Raycroft would rebound with the Maple Leafs, which he did to some extent, posting a 37-25-9 record while registering a unimpressive .894 SV% and a very average 2.99 GAA.

Raycroft’s 37-wins stands as the most wins recorded in a season by a Maple Leafs’ netminder (*Tied with Ed Belfour, who also registered 37 wins) but, as the numbers suggest, those wins were more about the “team” than they were about Raycroft’s goaltending.

Raycroft would tumble the following season (2007-08), posting a 2-9-5 record while registering an awful .876 SV% and a bloated 3.92 GAA. And, just like that, Raycroft’s time with the Maple Leafs ended in a thud.

Raycroft would go on to win 12 games with the Colorado Avalanche the following season. After that, Raycroft would fail to earn another double-digit win season, eventually fading away from the NHL.

The Raycroft deal remains one of the worst in the history of the Maple Leafs’ franchise. Had Toronto kept Rask, who knows where they would be? One thing’s for sure, the Leafs wouldn’t need a netminder, as Rask is now regarded as one of the best talents between the pipes on the planet.

Why tell the Raycroft story? It’s a reminder that, even a Calder Trophy winning netminder can fall from grace in the blink of an eye. You just never know…

When the Maple Leafs employed the likes of Joseph and Belfour between the pipes, the team enjoyed a lot of success.

Since their departures, the Maple Leafs have tried to find a solution to their goaltending issues, giving the likes of Vesa Toskala, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier an opportunity to take the reins. Each had various levels of success but, for the most part, all of them failed to impress.

Toskala was acquired for a first round draft choice, Giguere was supposed to be the clubs savior while former Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke rebuilt the team, Gustavsson was signed as a free agent out of Sweden (never lived up to the hype), Reimer emerged as a solid goalie for a season (followed by inconsistent efforts) and Bernier is following in Reimer’s footsteps— putting up a good season and then seemingly falling apart the next.

With both Reimer and Bernier failing to meet expectations, Maple Leafs general manager, Lou Lamoriello, made the decision to part with Reimer, clearing the way for Bernier or any number of other goalies that may come Toronto’s way in the off-season, to snag the number one role with the Maple Leafs.

Don’t get me wrong, Bernier will be on a short leash and may already be on the Leafs’ off-season trade list.

With Reimer gone and Bernier struggling this season, the hope is that one of Garret Sparks (recently called up) or Antoine Bibeau (both playing with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate— The Toronto Marlies this season) can emerge as a number one goalie.

That said, both Bibeau and Sparks look to be a season or two away from being NHL-ready and, as history has shown us, there is no guarantee either player will evolve into a number one goalie.

Which brings us to the upcoming off season. What will Lamoriello do?

Needless to say, Lamoriello is capable of pulling off any numbers of moves. He could hit the free agent market, but with names like Cam Ward, Jonas Hiller, Niklas Backstrom and Karri Ramo expected to be headlining the UFA list this summer, it would appear as if Lamoriello will pass on making a splash via free agency.

On the trade front, there are a few netminders that may peak Lamoriello’s interest.

There has been a lot of support from those in NHL circles for the Maple Leafs to explore trading for Anaheim Ducks netminder Frederik Andersen, but there are no guarantees that he will be made available.

Detroit Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard is another name being bandied around, but with his bloated contract and on-again, off-again play, he is hardly a lock between the pipes.

What the Maple Leafs really need is a stop-gap netminder that can be steady and give the team some time to develop a young netminder. Trouble is, with the UFA and trade landscape looking somewhat bleak, acquiring a solid netminder may prove to be difficult.

Obviously, in a perfect world, Bernier could be that guy, but we are not holding our breath!

More likely, the Maple Leafs will need to draft a young netminder this summer (Cater Hart would be a nice addition) or make a trade for an up and coming goaltending prospect.

A quick look at the NHL depth charts suggest that several NHL clubs could be looking to unload a young netminder this summer.

Standing 6’3” and wieghing in at 218 pounds, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis appears to be ready to make the jump to the NHL in the not so distant future.

Originally drafted in the fifth round (124th overall) by Tampa in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Gudlevskis is currently playing in the AHL with the Syracruse Crunch.

Gudlevskis earned a 25-14-4 record in 2014-15. Despite struggling this season, Gudlevskis earned a AHL All-Star invite this season, posting a 9-10-6 record.

To be fair, both Sparks and Bibeau would seem to have similar upside to Gudlevskis, but the Latvian born goaltenders size is intriguing.

Making their home with the St. Louis Blues, Brian Elliot and Jake Allen are firmly entrenched as one of the top goaltending duo’s in the NHL.

Elliot could be made available via trade this summer, but with the Blues looking to win now, it would appear as if they would be more likely to move futures for something that can help them win now.

In the Blues system is youngster Ville Husso. Originally drafted by the Blues in the third round (94th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the 6’3”, 205 pound Finnish netminder has been turning heads with the HIFK Helsinki team in the SM-Liiga (Finland).

Through 39 games played with HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga), Husso has put together a 25-8-6 record while posting a .920 SV% and a 1.91 GAA. With more than 120 games in the Finish league, Husso appears to be ready to make the jump to North America next season. He would be best served to start in the AHL for a season, but he has plenty of upside and looks like the real deal.

Hockeysfuture.com says of Husso— “Husso was one of the more heavily scrutinized players in Finland during his junior hockey career but quieted many of his critics with an outstanding rookie season in Liiga in 2013-14. While questions persist among some coaches about his composure and mental approach, he was one of the league’s top goalies as an 18-year-old on a team that was in turmoil at times. His physical skills and technical abilities match those of many of the top goalies in his age group and his production is starting to match his talent level”.

Another young goalie that has NHL fans talking is Pittsburgh Penguins former third rounder (83rd overall, 2012), Matt Murray. According to several reports, the Maple Leafs tried to make Murray part of the Phil Kessel deal, but were told “no”.

Despite employing Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, Murray appears to be the Penguins goaltender of the future, so it will be a tough assignment getting him out of Pittsburgh.

Fortunately, the Penguins also employ another interesting netminding prospect in former second round draft choice (44th overall, 2013), Tristan Jarry. At 6’2”, 185 pounds, Jarry has a little filling out to do but he is very athletic and is known for his calm demeanor.

Jarry won the Memorial Cup with Edmonton in 2014, posting an awesome 44-14-3 record to go along with a 2.24 GAA and .914 SV% in the regular season and a 2.19 GAA and .925 SV% in the playoffs.

Through 24 games played with the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Jarry has been impressive, posting a 12-9-3 record, 2.45 GAA and .917 SV%.

Hockeysfuture.com describes Jarry as— “Jarry possesses a package of skills that scouts find extremely appealing in goaltending prospects. He has the prototypical size of an NHL goalie with a sound technical foundation. His glove and stick work are already pretty good and does a fairly good job of tracking the puck. Jarry is able to maintain an even temper under duress and his game is typically unaffected by bad goals. He has been extremely durable during his junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings — playing in 145 regular season games and an additional 27 playoff games in the past three years”.

Clearly, Jarry is an exciting prospect who, under the right set of circumstances, could have a long/successful career at the NHL level.

Brought to New Jersey under the Lamoriello regime, Cory Schneider is widely regarded as one of the best goalies in the NHL.

With the Vancouver Canucks seemingly looking to unload disgruntled netminder, Roberto Luongo, Lamoriello shocked the NHL world by pulling off a trade for Schneider, whom many felt was going to be Vancouver’s goalie of the future.

With Schneider firmly entrenched as New Jersey’s top netminder, there is a chance that the Devils would be willing to listen to offers on highly touted goaltending prospect, Mackenzie Blackwood.

Taken in the second round (42nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Devils, Blackwood is best known for his role with Team Canada at the World Juniors. Blackwood struggled at the WJC, but he is having a tremendous season with the Barrie Colts of the OHL where he is among the top netminders in goals-against average (2.68), save percentage (.922) and wins (27).

At 6’4”, 216 pounds, Blackwood already has NHL size and he projects as a solid NHL goalie. Hockeysfuture.com describes Blackwood as— “Blackwood is a modern goaltender who plays a strong butterfly style which combines his size and incredible athleticism. He was one of the best athletes in his draft class and top performers at the NHL combine. Using this, he moves quickly for his size in the cease, especially laterally. By staying poised and being in the right position, Blackwood is able to play consistently each night. In order to reach the next level, he still needs to improve his stick handling and patience in staying on his feet longer. He also feels he can always improve his hands”.

Blackwood is still 3-4 years away from being an impact player at the NHL level, but he could be a tremendous player to invest in.

And then there is the best goaltending prospect in hockey, Washington Capitals former first round draft choice (22nd overall, 2015), Ilya Samsonov.

Playing with Magnitogorsk in the KHL, Samsonov has played the majority of the season as a backup. Don’t let the “backup” label fool you though. Samsonov, 19, has put up excellent numbers, going 6-4-3 with a .925 SV% and a 2.04 GAA. Samsonov followed his regular season numbers up with a 2-2 record in the playoffs to go along with a .919 SV% and a 2.11 GAA.

With Braden Holtby emerging as a world-class talent this season, the Capitals appear to be set in net for the next decade. The Capitals want to win now, so if the Maple Leafs could put together a package to the Caps’ liking, one never knows?

Hockeysfuture.com describes Samsonov as— “Samsonov is a very athletic goalie who covers a big part of the net and can count on his good lateral movement to make a save. His good size (6’3”, 200 lbs.) and quick feet will most likely allow him a fast adaptation to the North American game, even if he will surely need some seasoning. After Vasilevsky, Russia produced yet another potential NHL starting goalie, as his performance at the 2015 U18 WJC confirmed”.

Like all of these youngsters, Samsonov has a ways to go before he will be NHL-ready. That said, he clearly has the highest ceiling right now and the potential to be a difference maker for one lucky NHL club.

Whatever the case may be, history has proven that without good/great goaltending, you cannot win at the NHL level.

Looking at the past five Stanley Cup Winning teams, each one finished the playoffs with save percentages of .928, .923, .924, .925 and .932, respectively. Three of the past ten Stanley Cup winning teams did so with their netminder winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP (Carolina Hurricanes, Cam Ward- 2006. Boston Bruins, Tim Thomas- 2011. Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Quick- 2012).

If the Maple Leafs intend on winning, they will have to address their goaltending. It all starts this summer— what would you like to see Lou Lamoriello do?

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