No one was surprised when Jhonas Enroth was signed by the Leafs on August 22. Everyone knew they needed a backup; he was clearly the cream of the crop of available free agents, and the signing had been rumoured for weeks.
Perhaps we should have been surprised at the salary.
At only $750,000 per year for a one-year deal, that is a bargain price for a goaltender who very ably backstopped the Los Angeles Kings to seven wins, five losses and a tie last year. He took a discount on his previous salary of $1.25 million to play for the Leafs.
Enroth has a couple of knocks against him that may have contributed to the low pay. He played for years for the Buffalo Sabres and struggled there in an environment unlike anything else in the NHL for his final year and a half. He did not play superbly well for his few starts in Dallas after the Sabres traded him away for the sin of not being bad enough, and he played very few games for the Kings last season, as they relied heavily on their successful starter. He's also short.
At 5' 10" tall, and a listed weight of 172 lbs, he bucks the recent trend that assumes bigger is better in goalies. The fear expressed by many fans and media about Enroth as he remained unsigned was that with new, smaller goalie equipment coming into the NHL, he was going to be so harmed by an even larger reduction in the area he blocks that no one would or even should sign him.
It's not the size of the dog, it's the size of the pads on the dog.
There is a great deal of controversy over the view that goalie surface area is a large contributing factor to recent improvements in goaltending in the NHL. It's impossible to know how all the factors contribute, but goalies have been getting bigger, goals have been declining, and not all of the decline is necessarily skill improvement or better goaltender evaluation. It's definitely not just size either.
The question remains: is a good small goalie better than a poor big one? When does size trump skill, and how do you judge? The other question is: how much of the size bias in goaltending is just general managers not wanting to buck a trend and look bad if it blows up in their face?
The point is moot for the moment.
In March it was reported that a planned change to the rules on goalie equipment would take effect for the coming season. The NHL Board of Governors met and agreed to the plan to change the size and shape of goalie equipment and to enforce the existing rules more stringently, but just a few days ago, Sprotsnet reported that the NHLPA had not signed off on the deal which was supposed to have the new equipment debut at the World Cup of Hockey next month.
Sources tell Sportsnet that despite unprecedented cooperation by the NHLPA, a small cadre of NHL goalies have managed to stall the process long enough that not a single NHL goalie has received gear fitting the hoped-for standards for the coming season.
The World Cup appears out of question, and it is believed enough goalies will make a case that they will be unable to adjust to the new equipment without a summer to assimilate, that the new standard could well be pushed back to September of 2017.
Some believe a mid-season equipment change is possible, while others spoken to by Sportsnet doubt that an across the board equipment change could be instituted in-season.
InGoal magazine, in their profile on Enroth, had this to say on the new equipment rules and how Enroth would be affected:
However, none of the ten NHL contracted goaltenders InGoal Magazine has spoken to over the last few weeks have tried or ordered any new equipment, with all ten saying they do not expect it to be used before the start the new season.
This change in outlook has undoubtedly helped Enroth’s case, making the experienced netminder an increasingly attractive option for teams seeking to boost their goaltending depth in recent weeks.
It seems unlikely that for his expected 20 starts with the Leafs, Enroth will have to make any changes to his equipment.
The scouting reports on Enroth tell us that he is quick, agile, and has a good reaction time, something that equipment doesn't determine. These are the skills he's being paid for, and his somewhat rocky history shows that he might be a very good choice.
Out of the dressing room and onto the ice.
Enroth is from Huddinge, a semi-rural, semi-urban suburb of Stockholm. So he's more like a kid from Peel Region or Richmond Hill than from downtown Toronto. He just turned 28 and was drafted in 2006 in the second round.
He played for his local club Huddinge IK as a youngster and then moved on to nearby Södertälje when he was 17. Södertälje has played in the second tier Allsvenskan for most of the recent years, but Enroth played there in 2007-2008 when they were in the top league, and he had good success.
He has played for the Swedish national team for many years, including two stints at the World Junior Championships. He was on the Olympic roster but did not play in Sochi as Henrik Lundqvist played all of the games.
He hasn't been selected for the national team in the last two years, and he was overlooked for the World Cup of Hockey team in favour of Lundqvist, Robin Lehner and Jacob Markström, however, a last minute change in the lineup due to Lehner's injury status has put Enroth right back where he was at the Olympics, manning the bench door and watching Lundqvist play.
Enroth was drafted by the Sabres and left Sweden to play professional hockey for years in the Buffalo system until the machinations of the tank made his exit necessary. His overall performance over his NHL career is around league average. Which makes him a high-end backup. Contained in that average is a very low year in 2014-2015 and very high one in 2015-2016.
His performance last year carries the gift of some easy starts on an easier team to play for in the Kings, so Leafs fans should not expect similar numbers, but expecting his struggles in the heavy shot environment of Buffalo or Dallas is not reasonable either.
He is likely to be fully capable of handling the workload the Leafs have in mind, however. He played in 50 games in 2014-2015 and 28 games the year before.
For a deeper look at Enroth's career stats, you can revisit this speculative piece from just after Andersen was signed.