The Leafs need a goalie again, or so it seems from the depth chart:
Matt Murray: played one game, got hurt in a practice and his return is said to be “on the horizon”. He only just started skating at the end of last week, so it seems unlikely he’ll ride up by this weekend.
Ilya Samsonov: hurt his knee in a game on November 5, had not yet had an MRI as of the time of writing, and is out at least through the coming weekend. There is no clarity beyond the seven days he has to be on IR, but there is no long-term gain for the Leafs in hurrying him back.
Erik Källgren: has played four times as much NHL hockey as Murray so far this season, and is the number one goalie right now.
Joe Woll: had surgery last spring, time to return is totally unknown.
Keith Petruzzelli: just signed to an NHL contract to allow him to sit as backup, and the probability is high that, absent a trade, he’ll start one of the back-to-back games this weekend.
Dennis Hildeby: is a prospect playing in Sweden
The coming schedule:
- Tuesday at home to Vegas
- Friday at home to Pittsburgh
- Saturday at home to Vancouver
- Next Tuesday on the road in Pittsburgh
- Thursday back home for New Jersey
- Saturday home for the Sabres
Barring that back-to-back this weekend, the schedule is good, with no onerous travel, and no other back-to-backs until American Thanksgiving weekend. If one of Murray or Samsonov isn’t playing by then, well, who knows... that seems like years away in the goalie prediction business.
There’s no really good reason not to just play Källgren and Petruzzelli this week and see what happens. You never know with goalies, and while I don’t believe either of them are NHL starters in the making, they can still produce good enough results in a few games. Or not. They could be abysmal, but that’s just one of the risks of hockey.
There’s so much we don’t know here, but for the sake of getting to the business at hand (mocking those lists), say the health of one or both of the Leafs tandem is compromised longer term and/or that the stopgap tandem we have right now can’t make any stops. What if it really is necessary for the Leafs to seriously shop for an NHL-ready goalie?
Everyone, it seems has published a list of three or five choices, and all of them are bad. Seriously. We went through this last summer, and the only argument anyone had for not-Murray and not-Samsonov was a set of mostly unattainable goalies, any one of whom could be better — a handy argument tactic that nonetheless can’t really be employed by a GM. He can’t get six to magnify his chances of looking smart later. More’s the pity.
In no particular order, the suggestions floating around that annoy me are:
He’s played one game in the NHL (he was bad) and one in the AHL (good) coming off surgery. Yes, sure Columbus has a hot prospect they can recall, but who is giving up assets for a goalie who is ready to play game three of the season any day now? We have one of those already! This is just such a dumb idea, I can’t figure out why it’s first on so many lists.
Several lists put Alex Stalock in as a good choice because, I guess, no one noticed Chicago has a dedicated bed in the infirmary for a goalie, and its current occupant has just changed from Petr Mrazek to Stalock. Okay, to be fair, that just happened on Monday, but he actually got bowled over and hurt a week ago. But also:
Google before you do the list, come on.
Cards on the table, back in the day when people around here argued endlessly about Reimer vs Bernier (so last week) I was absolutely in the “none of the above” camp. So was Lou Lamoriello, and that’s why he traded for Frederik Andersen, and that was the right move then.
Reimer is a pending UFA on one of the worst teams in the NHL, who also have a host of goalies in the minors. They could trade Reimer. They may very well do that at some point, but they aren’t doing it now unless someone overpays them. They also aren’t doing it to one of the five teams on Reimer’s no-trade list, and if those five names don’t all start with Toront and end with o, I’ll be shocked.
You can’t go home again, not when reporters have contacted your mother for stories and your wife has had to plead with people to leave her the hell alone.
Google, people. Google. There’s more to the Reimer in Toronto saga than that stupid game against Boston where he took the blame for a terrible team regressing to their mean in the third period.
While we’re here, I’ll note that he makes too much for a short-term fill-in and while he’s had a hot start, his recent career performance is average goalie. In other words, he’s not better enough than Källgren, that he’s in a class of goalies who are the sort you think about if the injuries are permanent.
He’s also having a hot start, so it’s natural that he’s on these lists. His cap hit is small as well, and his contract expires this year, He also plays for the Ducks, who are not trying to be good. The Ducks have some prospect goalies they could play as well. So this sounds good right? This is the not dumb one.
It’s not absolutely unimaginable, but in the “who says no” game, the answer is the Ducks. What’s in it for them to trade the guy who is running hot and making their young team feel better about this season? What’s the gain for the Ducks to put a prospect in the NHL on a team that’s really terrible?
Stolarz is more valuable to them as a cheap, decent guy who can backup the unreliable John Gibson than is the 5th round pick they’d get for him.
At first blush it seems absurd that Dallas, the team so desperate they signed Keith Petruzzelli clone Matt Murray 2.0 to play backup, would want to trade away a goalie, but this is actually where a deal could be found to make this a win-win-win.
Dallas signed Khudobin to a three-year deal in 2020 for $3.3 million per year. They did this because their GM is really bad at this sort of thing. Like, really bad. So bad they had to dance around scraping up cap space and squeezing Jason Robertson — one of the best players in the NHL this year — because they’ve maxed out their cap on crap.
They are so maxed out, they have to keep Khudobin buried in the AHL, and couldn’t recall him when Jake Oettinger was hurt. I seriously cannot believe anyone calls Kyle Dubas incompetent when this sort of management is routine out there in the league.
Khudobin, who is 36 now, has played indifferently in the AHL last year and this with some hip surgery in there, but the word is he’s been hot lately. Can he still play NHL backup level hockey? I would bet yes that he’d better Petruzzelli on a long enough sample of minutes. But the problem is that cap hit.
Dallas is on the hook for $2.2 million (and change) with Khudobin in the minors. If, as Frank Seravalli outlines, the Stars retained some of his salary — less than that number — the Leafs and the Stars both get their problems solved at decent cost. The Leafs would only need to send a contract back the other way, since the gain for Dallas is the cap relief.
Let’s say the Stars retain $1.3 million against their cap, Toronto can fit in the remainder while they have Jake Muzzin on LTIR. The Stars now have enough room to recall a player if they need to.
If there’s a miracle and everyone gets healthy on the Leafs, they have a problem, but most of that cap hit is buriable. This is where it gets tricky. The Leafs have to take enough of the cap hit to make it worth it to Dallas, but not so much that they end up with a problem down the road. But the Leafs are good at ignoring the problems that might never come down the road, and they could always just trade him if they need to because he’s not a $3 million-dollar backup anymore.
The reason Khudobin isn’t a bad idea is because he’s the only name anyone has put on a list where his team has an incentive to trade right now. The NHL is not in the business of doing Toronto favours, after all.
Now. If Murray comes back and fizzles or Samsonov is hurt worse than we all hope, this conversation changes, and the Leafs are shopping in a whole different kind of store. But until then a clever scheme to get Khudobin might be the best move the Leafs actually can make right now.