Last season, the Orlando Solar Bears were frequently using emergency backup goalies because the Leafs system was short of talent. The Leafs had zero prospects in the pipe, two NHL goalies and two goalies playing in the AHL on NHL contracts. They added and subtracted over the summer, so that the current configuration looks like this:
In addition to that list, there is now one prospect, Joseph Woll, who is in his first year of NCAA play.
There’s also Karri Ramo, who practiced with the Leafs one day, had a stall in the locker room, and is both rumoured to be looming over Enroth and said to be not really around most of the time. Ramo is a UFA, and is currently rehabbing an injury.
At the top of the list is Andersen. After a rough start, he’s been playing well and has the confidence of Mike Babcock and the team.
At the bottom of the list is ECHL goalie Ryan Massa, who has played consistently well, and seems to be the go-to guy of new Solar Bears coach Drake Berehowsky. He won the goaltender of the month award for the ECHL in November.
In between those two successes are a lot of question marks.
Jhonas Enroth has performed poorly in very tough situations, playing only the second half of back-to-backs on the road, aside from a few brief fill-in minutes.
After the Leafs 3-0 loss to Calgary, Babcock bluntly called his play not good enough. He also revealed that the Flames new backup and the shutout winner on the night, Chad Johnson, had been someone the Leafs looked at in the summer.
Enroth has good overall career statistics, much better than the terrible numbers he’s produced for the Leafs, and he’s been victimized by some of the same issues that plagued Andersen when he was struggling: bad defensive positioning, long sessions of high shots against, poor rebound control etc. But no one could ever claim Enroth has performed as expected.
The Leafs have a lot more back-to-back games yet to come, and Andersen has never played more than 54 games in a professional season in his career. The status quo can’t continue indefinitely at the NHL level.
Meanwhile on the Marlies, Antoine Bibeau, who emerged as Sheldon Keefe’s choice in the playoffs last year, continues to be the goalie Keefe wants to start. Bibeau has started back-to-back games already this season, but you can’t play only one goalie in the AHL where three games in three days is normal.
Bibeau’s save percentage this season is .907, and the team is allowing a lot of goals when he is in net. Garret Sparks has better numbers, but in only four games, they aren’t as conclusive a result as Bibeau’s. Sparks had better numbers heading into the playoffs last year too and it didn’t get him the starter’s job.
Sparks was listed as suffering from “soreness” earlier in the season as an explanation for not even dressing as the backup for many games. Sparks was suspended for non-hockey related reasons, and the decision on his return was said to not rest with Sheldon Keefe himself, but was rather a Leafs management decision. In last night’s Marlies game on the road, he was quietly slid back into the lineup as the backup on the bench.
Moving down the depth chart, Kasimir Kaskisuo has been performing in the ECHL as badly as Enroth while on a two-year NHL contract. He has a save percentage of .883 in nine games heading into December.
Kaskisuo was signed by the Leafs after some very credible rumours had them seriously in on SHL sensation Mantas Armalis. Armalis eventually signed with the San Jose Sharks, and has had an expected period of adjustment to the smaller ice. He has a save percentage in the AHL of only .903, but a win-loss record that makes him look a little better than that number implies.
It can’t help but seem like the ones that got away, Armalis and Johnson, are better than the ones the Leafs ended up with. That might very well be an illusion with so few games in the books for Enroth and Kaskisuo.
There are two interesting wrinkles in the goalie picture. The first one is Jeff Glass. He wanted to come back to North America, and the Leafs offered him a PTO this summer, and he saw it as an opportunity.
The 31-year-old Glass made it known that he wanted to return home after playing the past seven seasons overseas in the KHL. He needed another shot at the NHL before he was labelled too old, so Maple Leafs offer was enticing.
"It took about three seconds for me to reply because Toronto was at the top of the list," said Glass.
Glass, who played various roles for the Leafs in training camp and backstopped the Marlies during their pre-season games in St. John’s, has two AHL starts so far, a good one, where he allowed one goal on 23 shots against, and last night’s road contest in Rochester where the team did not play well in the first, got down by two goals early and Glass gave up 3 goals on 25 shots.
In his seven years in the KHL, he had a varying set of results, but last year for Dinamo Minsk, he put up stats virtually identical to their starter this year: Ben Scrivens.
Is he a potential NHL backup? It’s impossible to say that without seeing him in more games in the AHL. It will be revealing of more than just the organization’s opinion of Sparks if Glass gets the nod to backup Bibeau in Toronto today and tomorrow where the media focus might be on Sparks if he were to be dressed for those games.
The second dark horse candidate to ride in and try for a job in a Leafs net is Karri Ramo.
In the Edmonton Oilers game Tuesday night, Jonas Gustavsson came in in relief of Cam Talbot. The television commentator said that the funny thing about Gustavsson is that he’s never had even league average results, and yet he keeps getting NHL jobs. Which is true, and tells us more about goalie evaluation by teams than it does Gustavsson.
Ramo is the near statistical twin of Gustavsson, with only a slight variation here and there in areas of effectiveness over their careers. Both are statistically worse than Enroth. Is Ramo the shiny new possibility who looks like he fills the net better and so gets more leeway to be bad playing tough starts? He may be. And up close, the shine might not look any better than Enroth’s.
Glass might be the cream that rises to the top, if given a chance. And it would be foolish to assume that Enroth is down and out for good. His start so far may just be a blip that he can correct.
One thing is clear. At the moment the Leafs don’t have the cap space or the contract space (they are at 48 or 49 out of 50 pending the Cowen grievance results) to make an addition. Not unless they can start moving out some of the players they don’t use and don’t want to use.
So from the crop of goalies the Leafs do have under contract—and Glass’s PTO is with the parent club, not the Marlies—one of them needs to show he has the ability to be a legitimate backup to Andersen and seize the job, at least in the short term.