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Who should be the Toronto Maple Leafs backup goaltender?

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Promote from within or an outside hire?

Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs have no one marked as the backup to Frederik Andersen next season. Last year we saw Jhonas Enroth, Curtis McElhinney, and Antoine Bibeau all back up Freddie and get in some games. All three of those goalies are now unrestricted free agents, heading into the new contract period, and can sign with any team on July 1st. Below, I have four categories of goalies to browse for our newest backup.

Last season’s Leafs

Why go out for milk when you have a cow at home? There are options that we watched last year for the Leafs, Marlies, Solar Bears and in the prospect pool:

Curtis McElhinney - Columbus Blue Jackets/Toronto Maple Leafs - $800,000
16/17 Leafs Stats: 14GP - .914sv% - 2.85GAA
Career NHL Stats: 166GP - .905sv% - 2.95GAA

The Leafs’ backup for the final half of the season McElhinney played rather well compared to the other Leafs backups this season. He hasn’t been resigned yet, so he’ll get his chance to test out the UFA goalie market and see if he can land somewhere.

Jhonas Enroth - Toronto Maple Leafs / Marlies/San Diego Gulls - $750,000
16/17 Leafs Stats: 6GP - .872sv% - 3.94GAA
Career NHL Stats: 153GP - .909sv% - 2.84GAA

An early season experiment that went sour real fast, Enroth was sent down to the Marlies, then traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a 7th round pick in the middle of the night. He never played for the Ducks, but suited up for 18 games for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate. He won’t be back in Toronto next year.

Garret Sparks - Toronto Marlies - $575,000
16/17 AHL Stats: 31GP - .922sv% - 2.16GAA
Career NHL Stats: 17GP - .893sv% - 3.02GAA

Sparks had an odd year. He was suspended early in the season by the Marlies, and after he came back, he split the starting role with Kasimir Kaskisuo before going down with a mystery injury and sitting out the playoffs. Despite becoming the first Maple Leafs goalie to record a shutout in his debut, Sparks will most likely be back in the minors another year.

Kasimir Kaskisuo - Toronto Marlies/Orlando Solar Bears - $925,000
16/17 ECHL Stats: 32GP - .899sv% - 3.45GAA
Career NHL Stats: N/A

Kaskisuo spent the majority of the season in the ECHL, but was the go to guy for the Toronto Marlies playoff run. Jumping from the ECHL to the NHL is a big leap for anyone, and his big goal this year is to become the Marlies full time starter.

Antoine Bibeau - Toronto Maple Leafs/Marlies - $655,000
16/17 Leafs Stats: 2GP - .927sv% - 1.99GAA
16/17 AHL Stats: 32GP - .894sv% - 3.08GAA

The Maple Leafs didn’t qualify the former QMJHL Playoff MVP, so he’ll take calls from any team that picks up the phone. Falling to third on the Leafs minor league depth chart, he played only 37 minutes in the playoffs for the Marlies this year.

Joseph Woll - Boston College - Unsigned
16/17 NCAA Stats: 34GP - .913sv% - 2.64GAA
Career NHL Stats: N/A

Woll has played only his freshman year for BC so far, and it’s very unlikely he’ll leave school now. He had an excellent year with the Eagles, falling in the Hockey East championship game to U.Mass-Lowell. The Leafs hold his rights for a few more years, so it’s best to let him develop in the NCAA for a while.

Former Leafs

If those guys aren’t an option, what about someone we used to know?

Jonas Gustavsson - Edmonton Oilers / Bakersfiled Condors - $800,000
16/17 NHL Stats: 7GP - .878sv% - 3.10GAA
Career NHL Stats: 179GP - .901sv% - 2.88GAA

The former “best goalie not in the NHL” has signed a contract with Linköping HC of the SHL, so he’s off the Sweden unless he has an NHL out clause. With bad numbers over all in the league and an abysmal year with the Oilers, he’s most likely done in the NHL.

Jonathan Bernier - Anaheim Ducks - $4.15M
16/17 NHL Stats: 39GP - .915sv% - 2.50GAA
Career NHL Stats: 252GP - .915sv% - 2.65GAA

The former Leafs starter was sent to Anaheim in the Frederik Andersen deal to act as insurance for the Ducks in case John Gibson wasn’t up for the starter’s role. He played half the regular season, and four games in the playoffs as the Ducks went to the Western Conference Finals. The Ducks only have about $5.5M in cap space for next season, so if he’d wants to stay in SoCal he’ll need to take a pay cut. Bernier wasn’t awful for the Leafs, could he come back to Toronto? We’ll have to ask his baby to find out.

Career backup

These guys know they won’t get the most starts, and they’re used to it.

Darcy Kuemper - Minnesota Wild - $1.55M
16/17 NHL Stats: 18GP - .902sv% - 3.13GAA
Career NHL Stats: 102GP - .910sv% - 2.60GAA

Kuemper has been the Wild’s back up for the length of his career (when in the NHL), and has been average at best. Stefan Morrone wrote about Kuemper’s time with Minnesota:

Kuemper is an example of a young goaltender who was brought up much too soon and forced to play beyond his experience by a desperate team. It’s no wonder he hasn’t lived up to expectations; he’s been constantly thrown into the pressure cooker with little room to grow and develop himself. This is even truer now that he’s stuck as a backup. If given a chance, he could be a solid reclamation project.

Chad Johnson - Calgary Flames - $1.3M
16/17 NHL Stats: 36GP - .910sv% - 2.59GAA
Career NHL Stats: 137GP - .915sv% - 2.44GAA

He was good for the Flames this year. He may want to go somewhere closer to contending for next year. Spending most of your time with the Islanders, Sabres, and Flames will do that to a guy. Matchsticks & Gasoline wrote of Johnson’s season:

Johnson had a higher adjusted Fenwick save percentage than his counterpart in Brian Elliott and ultimately had the better season. He ranked 29th out of the top 75 goalies, so he could probably be a sub-par starter somewhere. Not bad for the price tag, but not necessarily ideal going forward.

Anders Nilsson - Buffalo Sabres - $1M
16/17 NHL Stats: 26GP - .923sv% - 2.67GAA
Career NHL Stats: 78GP - .908sv% - 2.94GAA

It’s very hard to find anything recapping Nilsson’s year with the Sabres. If you have something, please share it. His raw numbers look fine from this past season for playing 26 games. He’s 27 and has bounced around a lot in the league. He could be McElhinney, he could be Enroth. Who knows?

Former Starters

Maybe a way to ease into retirement, but it would also help to have someone experienced and ready to jump into a starting role if [knocks on wood] Andersen gets hurt mid-season.

Brian Elliott - Calgary Flames - $2.5M
16/17 NHL Stats: 49GP - .910sv% - 2.55GAA
Career NHL Stats: 372GP - .913sv% - 2.42GAA

Ousted from the Flames this off season by Olympic Gold Medal Winner Mike Smith, Elliot will be looking around for another job this weekend. The Senators, Blues, and Flames have all given him a starting role, and he’s performed excellently in some seasons - posting a GAA under 2 twice for the Blues - but usually follows up with an average year. He’d be an expensive back up, but on a one or two year deal he’d make a great piece of security behind Andersen. Matchsticks & Gasoline wrote this about his year:

Brian Elliott was brought in to “stabilize” the crease for the Flames after they received abysmal goaltending the previous season. It is hard to say that he did that. He was brutal to start the year, had an amazing run toward the end of the season and then a mediocre playoff. It was that sort of situation where he was never as bad as he seemed when he was on his lows and never as good as he seemed when he was on his highs. Really, my one major issue with him was his propensity to allow very soft goals, which really sank the team at various times. That being said, they would not have made the playoffs without him. I would not be opposed to bring him back for a couple more seasons, but I am sure that is very unlikely.

Antti Niemi - Dallas Stars - $4.5M
16/17 NHL Stats: 37GP - .892sv% - 3.30GAA
Career NHL Stats: 423GP - .913sv% - 2.49GAA

2010 Stanley Cup winner, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, average goalie in a $10M platoon and recently bought out, Niemi is on the market and looking for somewhere to play. His time in Dallas was inconsistent, and summed up by Defending Big D as:

His problem in Dallas wasn’t his ability but his maddening inconsistency, especially in the back half of the regular season. He could never seem to spell Kari Lehtonen when Lehtonen got into a rut, and while he had a few brilliant games, he also had a number of stinkers where it felt like three of the first five shots went in.

Could he start over and become a starter again? He’ll need some time as a backup to try again if he wants to stay in the NHL. With a $1.5M salary from the Stars coming his way for the next two seasons, he could be a cheap backup if the Leafs wanted him. He is currently rumoured to go to the Flyers.

Ryan Miller - Vancouver Canucks - $6M
16/17 NHL Stats: 54GP - .914sv% - 2.80GAA
Career NHL Stats: 709GP - .915sv% - 2.61GAA

Coming off three years in Vancouver where you’re never sure who is in charge of the crease, Miller may not want to move on to backup status right away - he could return to the Canucks, or try and break in as a partner with Raanta in Arizona. Elliotte Friedman says he’s expected to play for cheap with the Ducks next season:

Goalie market: there is a lot of expectation of Ryan Miller to Anaheim for approximately $1 million, although I’m not sure if bonuses will be added to that.

Canucks Army doesn’t sign his praises but points out he did the best he could on a team that was mostly forgettable.

Although his statistics appear to be far from impressive, the numbers fail to show how valuable Miller was to the Canucks this season. Goal support simply wasn’t there for him. The team averaged a measly 2.17 goals per game, which ranked them 2nd-last in the league. You can’t win games without scoring, hence the large difference between his wins and losses. The defence, although still mediocre, was better. Miller managed to keep his goals-against average lower than the team’s 2.94 goals-against per game. His 0.914 SV% was also slightly higher than the league-average 0.913 SV%. He had average numbers on a below-average team.

If Miller is considering the Ducks, could he come here? it would be nice to take an old Sabre and let them win a cup here.

Ondrej Pavelec - Winnipeg Jets* - $3.9M
16/17 NHL Stats: 8GP - .888sv% - 3.55GAA
Career NHL Stats: 379GP - .907sv% - 2.87GAA

LOL NO.

Steve Mason - Philadelphia Flyers - $4.1M
16/17 NHL Stats: 58GP - .903sv% - 2.66GAA
Career NHL Stats: 463GP - .911sv% - 2.68GAA

A nice Oakville boy, so clearly he wants to play for the Leafs no matter what right? Well, sure but he’s only 29 and probably doesn’t want to settle for a backup role anytime soon. In the linked 30 Thoughts piece above, Mason is mentioned as looking to head to Winnipeg this year. His agent says he most likely won’t be returning to Philadelphia next season. Broad Street Hockey points out how well Mason was for Philadelphia last year:

Under new coach Dave Hakstol in 2015-16, the Flyers went on that unbelievable second half run to the playoffs. Flashy guys like Shayne Gostisbehere get a lot of the credit for it, but it can be easy to forget just how solid Mason was in net on a night-in, night-out basis during the stretch.

In fact, during the 2016 half of the season -- from January 7 against Minnesota until his regular season finale against Pittsburgh on April 9 — Mason went 16-9-5 with a .923 save percentage. He was as much a reason the Flyers qualified for the postseason in Hakstol’s rookie coaching year as anything else.

Steve Mason, if he can't get a starting job, would be a great back up for the Leafs. After all, he’s a former Calder Trophy winner, what could go wrong?


So, what’s the best option? I don’t think the Leafs will bring back Enroth or McElhinney and the depth goalies aren’t ready yet. Bringing in someone via free agency is most likely the way to go, and there are plenty of options out there, even outside the NHL.

What would you do if you were Lou? Who would you bring in?

Poll

Who should be the Maple Leafs back up?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Curtis McElhinney
    (285 votes)
  • 0%
    Jhonas Enroth
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    Garret Sparks
    (49 votes)
  • 0%
    Kasimir Kaskisuo
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    Antoine Bibeau
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Joseph Woll
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Jonas Gustavsson
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Jonathan Bernier
    (17 votes)
  • 4%
    Darcy Kuemper
    (49 votes)
  • 17%
    Chad Johnson
    (195 votes)
  • 10%
    Anders Nilsson
    (124 votes)
  • 10%
    Brian Elliott
    (125 votes)
  • 4%
    Antti Niemi
    (46 votes)
  • 5%
    Ryan Miller
    (67 votes)
  • 13%
    Steve Mason
    (153 votes)
  • 0%
    Other - Please tell us in the comments, we hate mysteries
    (7 votes)
1147 votes total Vote Now