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What if I don’t want to believe in Antoine Bibeau?

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Everyone wants me to love him. He’s the hero we didn’t know was right here all along, the goalie prospect who, at 22, really can become an NHL backup despite the odds.

Colorado Avalanche v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Everyone wants me to believe in Antoine Bibeau. But I don’t see it. I never have.
I’m very prepared to say that maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t Bibieve.

Let’s go back to last year.

Garret Sparks played half the games Bibeau did in a season where the Marlies set records in win percentage. Sparks had a save percentage of .928 in 21 games. Bibeau’s was .909 in 40 games.

Of the six other goalies who played for the Marlies last year only Ray Emery, signed as an emergency PTO goalie when everyone was hurt at once, and rookie Kasimir Kaskisuo, had lower save percentages than Bibeau. The Marlies outscored their problems to win games, and Bibeau looked, to me at least, like one of their problems.

At the end of the season, he was on a hot streak, and everyone likes to say with a young goalie that a hot streak is progress, not normal variance, but I’m cold-hearted, and I say it’s variance unless you can prove me wrong. I didn’t Bibieve.

Sheldon Keefe seemed ambivalent. He started Bibeau and then Sparks in the first two games of the playoffs, and they gave up one goal between them to a bad team. He went with Bibeau for the third game, and he got lit up for four goals against and Sparks had to come in in relief while the Marlies scored six times to take the game and sweep the series. It seemed like the script was written.

But the second round was a repeat of the first. First Sparks and then Bibeau got wins against Albany. Sparks gave up two goals in a loss and Bibeau gave up three in a win. And Bibeau got the next start. This is when it started. For whatever reason Keefe Bibieved, but I didn’t.

The Marlies lost that game in overtime, and still Bibeau got the next start. Albany did Toronto over 4-1 and still Bibeau got the next start. Rich Clune won it with a thrilling end of game goal after Bibeau had given up three. Three was his number. If the Marlies could just score four, they could win it. And the truth was, they scored four a lot. And they weren’t innocent in the goals that they gave up either. It’s never just the goalie.

The next round was against Hershey, the really good team, and Bibeau started the first game and gave up three in a loss.

That was enough, finally, for Keefe, and he started Sparks, who’d been watching from wherever he was sitting each game, and he gave up three—one of them the OT winner, and that was it for Sparks. Keefe Bibieved for real. He’d wavered, but his faith was strong again. Or maybe he just had no love for Sparks. He’s never shown any since, either.

How does this story end? Not like a movie. Real life is messier. The next game, Hershey tuned up Bibeau for four goals, Sparks came in, and...gave up four more. The next start went to Bibeau, because Sparks hadn’t had his Hollywood moment at the right time, and Bibeau got a shutout. One Hollywood moment delivered on cue, and surely now you all Bibieve?

The grand finale was a standard Bibeau game where he gave up three, the Marlies lost because they couldn’t score four, and Hershey went on to lose in the final to Cleveland, who maybe have a pair of goalies worth this much angsting over.

I don’t think anyone has believed in Sparks since.

This year, the Leafs had Kaskisuo on contract, signed Jeff Glass to a PTO, and Keefe played Sparks as little as possible. Sparks, because he thought this narrative needed more conflict, made a public spectacle of himself on Facebook and gave the Leafs a reason to not want him in net, if they didn’t already have one.

Except a ‘flu bug hit the Leafs and that opened the door up again and with Bibeau getting the call to go off to possibly back up an ailing Frederik Andersen, Sparks played in some games, and played well. Like he always does in the AHL. He’s got no surprises left in him. And we all saw him play in the NHL last year very poorly.

And maybe that’s the problem.

It is possible, with Bibeau’s good-enough play in the AHL and his few months less time on earth than Sparks, to imagine he might be more someday than he is now. He isn’t more now. He is, right now, an acceptable AHL goalie on his good days who performed poorly for the Leafs in preseason games.

Bibeau’s save percentage on the Marlies is good enough for 32nd among goalies who have played at least 360 minutes. That makes him a borderline AHL backup. Giving him the benefit of the doubt due to his slightly higher career totals, he could be an okay AHL starter on a team that doesn’t need amazing goaltending to win.

But the Leafs Bibieve.

They called him up for real once they’d had enough of Jhonas Enroth, and started him in a game against a bad team. He lost. He gave up two goals, both on the powerplay, and everyone was trying so hard to make me Bibieve. The commentators on the broadcast in his rookie start, Babcock after the game. Others in the media.

He was better than I expected. I expected Colorado’s opportunistic offence to eat him alive as he scrambled after pucks, gave up huge AHL rebounds, and failed to track the puck in traffic. I’m not sure about the MacKinnon breakaway goal, it was just the sort of goal he gives up, where he just has nothing to offer on a breakaway and just freezes. But it seems churlish to fault a goalie for not stopping a scorer of that calibre in his rookie game.

Except scorers of that calibre are all over the NHL. To be an NHL backup, you have to play once in a while, come in off the bench cold in an emergency, relieve a starter getting done over for four goals, or who has suddenly been hurt, maybe badly enough to make you the starter for a few weeks. And you might have Crosby or Ovechkin or McDavid bearing down on you when you do get in a game.

Is that a job Antoine Bibeau can do? Now or in the future? I don’t Bibieve.

The next back-to-back for the Leafs is a road trip to Denver and then Phoenix—the contenders for last place one after the other in late December, very nearly Christmas. If you’re going to give Bibeau another start, that’s the time to do it, when no one is watching.

Real life isn’t like a movie, and the timing of all of this might just be a coincidence. But it almost makes you wonder if the Leafs don’t really Bibieve either.