Goaltending State of the Union

With the Toskala countdown entering the final 12 weeks, I wonder what's next for the Blue&White in net.

What is the standard of goaltending in the NHL, and what should we hope for from The Burkie? The Monster is a given as our developing/B-goalie, but who should share time with him next season? And how much of a difference will being Toskala-Free mean to our team?

Going into next year, I think we can assume two things: 1) Burke will re-qualify Gustavsson; 2) Toskala and his $4m anchor will be gone.

Now lets say that due to consistency issues, and the lack of overwhelmingly dominant play, Gustavsson gets Tryout Part 2 in the $1m-1.5m range, likely for another single year, but potentially stretched to two (depending on when his RFA status would disappear and when he would be UFA-eligible). But who should share the load with him? What kind of goaltending can we expect, and what will it mean to the team?

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

It is an illusion and a dream to think that every team can have a stud goalie who looks like they will be the crease-monkey for the foreseeable future. Most teams have to struggle with competent goaltending, and thats on a yearly basis. Most guys will only be a stop-gap for 2-4 years. Which isn't necessarily as bad as it seems.

10 teams have no worries when it comes to the next few seasons: BUF-Miller, CGY-Kiprusoff, CAR-Ward, FLA-Vokoun, MIN-Backstrom, NJD-Brodeur, NYR-Lundqvist, PHX-Bryzgalov, PIT-Fleury, and VAN-Luongo; with both Vokoun & Bryzgalov expiring in 2011. Yet 5 of these top goalies weren't even starters with their teams coming out of the lockout.

In tier II are the 4 teams with good goalies, but some kind of competition/controversy or they don't have their main goalie signed beyond this season: BOS-Thomas/Rask, CHI-Huet/Niemi, NAS-Rinne/Ellis, SJS-Nabokov. Both of Nashville's guys are UFA at the end of the season, and only 1 will probably still be there. Nabokov is still good, but lack of playoff success unfairly pinned on him (not his fault if the #1 West team can't score and they lose 2-0) and his 34 year age might mean he's not long for the HP Pavilion.

Then we have the trainwrecks, aka the other half of the league:

--- Tier III ---
ANA- Hiller/Giguere = who knows who still has talent or wants to keep playing there..
ATL- Is Pavelec starter material?
COL- Is Anderson playing well enough to last beyond his 2011 contract?
CBJ- Will Steve Mason rebound?
DAL- What happens after Turco UFA this summer?
DET- Does half a season of Howard mean he's ready for the long-term?
EDM- Khabibulin surgery + two guys named Drou and Dub = who knows.
LAK- Is Quick good enough to carry an emerging conference contender?
MTL- Price/Halak, whats the scenario?
NYI- DiPietro is the Colaiacovo of goalies.
OTT- Sorry, Leclaire is the Colaiacovo of goalies.
PHI- Emery experiment, results unknown.
STL- Having already fired their coach, will UFA Chris "the Playoff Beard" Mason last there without results?
TAM- Niittymaki has been much better than Smith this year. But he wasn't last year.
WSH- Varlamov looked okay at first, but has been injured this season and Neuvirth doesn't inspire confidence.

The thing about the above list is that 8 of those teams are in playoff contention. You don't need a Vezina-candidate to make a difference, all you need are two guys named Who that can actually stop the puck on a regular basis. Which is exactly what the Leafs have been lacking all season with The Vesa. Most of the guys on other teams' benches coudl do a better job of it than Toskala. With someone contributing a .900 SV%, the Leafs would be much better off.

Consider: Toskala has 3 OTL this season. His SV% were .852, .897, and .800. So with a .900 goalie we would have probably won the first and third of those games (that middle one was already about .900) and would have done so in regulation. With .900 SV% abilities, the rest of Toskala's losses become much closer:
L5-2 >> L3-2
L7-2 >> L3-2
L3-2 >> T2-2
L5-2 >> L3-2
L6-3 >> T3-3
L3-1 >> L2-1
L6-1 >> L3-1

Six out of those seven losses (five of which had 5GA) would now become 1-goal games. With a few bounces, that could have meant another 2 or 3 wins and at the very least 2 ties/overtimes. Add that to the 2 of 3 OTL that should have been wins in regulation, and you are looking at a 4 to 8 pt impact on the standings.

And that's without knowing how much better the team would play if it felt it was in every game and not getting blown out twice a week because of flimsy goaltending. 


The strange thing about Toskala is that somewhere he has the talent to be a great goalie. Obviously we know it will never happen, but he has earned almost all of his wins, they haven't been gimmes with six of seven having SV% over .910, and no wins facing less than 24 shots:
31/32, .969
22/24, .917
30/32, .938
34/37, .919
22/24, .917
21/24, .875
38/38, 1.00

In his wins, Toskala has a save record of 198/211, or .938... the sad thing is that this only happens about 40% of the games he plays, and that is no where near good enough for a starting goalie. When your season % is somewhere around .874, all you need to know is in those last three numbers.

/Toskala discussion


So, we have one potential goalie prospect. We know that with .900-minimum goaltending we would be closer to the playoff pack. We know that many teams can contend for the playoffs with question marks in net. So who can we get?

With Toskala + Gustavsson + the games that MacDonald showed up for + Raycroft's buyout finally coming off the books = over $5.5m we had tied up in goalies last year. That's a lot of free money to help patch the goaltending. Again, assuming Gustavsson comes in under $2m, there would still be over $3m to stand pat in net. And since I don't think there is even the talent out there to sign at $3m, overall goaltending will be a savings to the team and there will be around $1m going back into the team to spend on forwards/defence.

I don't think any #1 options will be available, so we probably have to find someone to share games with Gustavsson until we know if he's for real or not. 


Some names to discuss:

Martin Biron has a 0.900 sv% with the Islanders and has somewhat of a track record of decent-to-pretty good play. $1.5m-2m may not be unreasonable for the now-journeyman goaltender.

- Jose Theodore has a 2.88 GAA/0.902 sv% so far this year, and may be passed over in Washington. Coming down from his once-starter status, his $4.5m may fall to less than $2.5. If it does, I think he's a reasonable choice.

- Depending on what happens with Emery this year in Philadelphia, he may or may not become available. As it is now, his season went off track with injuries and not the attitude/chemistry/legal problems that were the worry coming into the year. He could end the year as he started it, still an unknown quantity, and may be willing again for a trial opportunity to show himself as a 1A potential goalie. Take a chance at less than $2.5m for a year.

- Turco is 35 and already looks inconsistent enough in Dallas, so he would probably get lit up here. However, he is an Ontario boy and his name might get bandied about. Pass.

- Nabokov will probably re-sign in SJ (they would be stupid if they didn't) but if he becomes available expect Burke to try and bid for him on a short-term deal (1-2 years). His current and two previous seasons are as follows: 2.25 GAA, .925 %... 2.44 & .910... 2.14 & .910. Drool. But being 34 and potentially wanting to play at some point in Russia at the end of his career, he is not any more than a quick fix. Which he will likely be for a Cup-contending team. Like the Sharks. Or if a team like PHI, LA, or DET can afford him, he could definitely take them to the next level. And Nabby on the Capitals with the rest of Team Russia would be super scary for a Cup drive.

- Dan Ellis (29)/Pekka Rinne (27). Nashville is in a unique situation here. They have two quality keepers both sharing time and making peanuts (Ellis $1.75m, Rinne $0.725m) and are both UFA at the end of the season. They will probably stick with one of them and allow the other to walk. Both have similar histories with Nashville:

Ellis: From out of the NHL to starting in 07-08, usurping the job from Chris Mason, going 23-10 with 6 SO, 2.34 GAA, and .924%.
Rinne: From out of the NHL to starting in 08-09, usurping the job from Dan Ellis, going 29-15 with 7 SO, 2.38 GAA, and .917%

Both guys have been pretty good this year, though none stellar enough to dethrone the other. Right now, I would guess Rinne has the higher market value, with the more recent great season, being 2 years younger, and being from Finland (Non-Toskala goalies seem to be surefire successes. See: Kiprusoff, Backstrom, Rask). It leaves Nashville in a potential Chara/Redden scenario, where their choice might be the less talented player.

It also sets up a potential gamble with the goalies and their agents: Nashville's shallow pockets might mean the guy who 'wins' the job for the Preds could actually lose out on higher contract dollars as a free agent. Maybe Ellis can get a 3-yr @ $3m deal, maybe Rinne can get $4m per year -- will Nashville be able to commit comparable amounts of money to either of these guys?

One of these two guys could be the biggest UFA splash in the summer, so Toronto might not even be on the radar for them. However, it could be the only #1 option available until the Anderson/Bryzgalov summer of 2011 (Vokoun will be 35 by then, so who knows)

- = - = - = - = - = -

Unless Gustavsson materializes into a true #1 starting goalie, then it seems that for the next few years we are going to have goaltending instability until Burke finds that next 4-year bandaid. But as long as Toskala isn't anywhere nearby, we should be able to still compete for the playoffs despite that.



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