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So you want to trade for another goalie

Didn’t we just do this goalie shopping thing?

Fair for parlour games “Spiel ‘19” (Game ‘19) Photo by Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Maple Leafs need a new goalie. Someone should set that to music and make it the Leafs’ goal song, because it’s the one thing you hear more often around here than Hall & Oates.

Last summer, with Frederik Andersen’s contract about to expire, his contract ask too rich for the Leafs, and that relationship strained beyond repair anyway, I did the most absurd and comprehensive shopping of the entire NHL’s cadre of goalies.

Unfortunately the comments are gone — maybe forever — but I remember there was a lot of stanning for Ullmark. What I find funny, these months later, is that I dismissed Petr Mrázek out of hand, and I did that because, although he had the best recent record of any of the choices, he had a history of the sort of injuries goalies his age get over and over again. Alas, I was both right and wrong about him.

Recent results are a silly thing to pick a goalie on, however, and I knew that at the time, but sometimes you just can’t hold back the tide of the hockey fan’s favourite game.

And here we are again, deciding to only look at the worst stretch of games of the Leafs’ two goalies to declare the sky is falling and it’s time to spend a very limited draft capital on another one.

Last summer, I said this:

The uncertainty around goalies is frustrating, so declaring — for example — one side or the other in the dispute over the value of Alex Nedeljkovic extremely stupid for their opinion on 23 games of NHL play is very satisfying in an argument. It’s not how a GM of a team looking to battle it out in a tough division can make his decisions, though. Kyle Dubas is not setting out to win a take contest, so he needs to do more that compose a short declarative sentence about who is good and who is bad.

The take of the week then was dragging the Carolina Hurricanes for dumping Nedeljkovic because it’s fun to accuse them of being cheap. This was considered the stupidest move any GM had made over a goalie since the Sergei Bobrovsky extension, and Steve Yzerman was a genius.

How did that all turn out?

Freddie really can carry off that lavender colour. I picture him serenely floating along while Shesterkin and Husso fly too close to the sun.

You can get a lot out of that image about where we are with goalie shopping, but let’s play the recency bias game again with this year’s results in the same way I did last summer. I’m going to skip the preliminary steps and just go right to all the actual goalies you can imagine playing a tandem or starter’s role and also moving teams this season.

Goalie Shopping

Player Team Age 2021-2022 Contract Term GP FSv% xFSv% dFSv% 2020-21 dFSV% GA FA xGA GSAx
Player Team Age 2021-2022 Contract Term GP FSv% xFSv% dFSv% 2020-21 dFSV% GA FA xGA GSAx
Anton Forsberg OTT 29 0.9 UFA 26 94.17 93.49 0.68 -0.2 62.47 1070.92 69.72 7.25
Anthony Stolarz ANA 28 0.95 1 19 93.85 93.35 0.5 0.54 46.52 756.5 50.32 3.8
Matt Murray OTT 27 6.25 2 20 93.37 92.95 0.42 -1.49 59.51 897.85 63.29 3.78
James Reimer S.J 33 2.25 1 34 93.99 93.69 0.3 -0.31 88.66 1474.17 93.08 4.42
John Gibson ANA 29 6.5 5 40 93.55 93.43 0.12 -0.27 112.35 1742 114.42 2.07
Semyon Varlamov NYI 33 5 1 16 93.5 93.38 0.12 0.7 44.02 676.89 44.83 0.81
Scott Wedgewood ARI 29 0.825 UFA 23 93.32 93.38 -0.06 -0.87 68.64 1027.12 68.03 -0.61
Braden Holtby DAL 32 2 UFA 24 93.72 93.83 -0.12 -0.79 60.85 968.57 59.73 -1.12
Alex Nedeljkovic DET 26 3 1 40 92.87 93.02 -0.15 1.5 113.66 1594.29 111.34 -2.32
Jack Campbell TOR 30 1.65 UFA 39 93.62 93.92 -0.3 0.65 96.18 1507.29 91.69 -4.49
Jake Allen MTL 31 2.875 1 24 92.74 93.19 -0.46 -0.29 71.14 979.56 66.67 -4.47
Marc-Andre Fleury CHI 37 7 UFA 41 93.17 93.67 -0.51 1.51 117.6 1720.82 108.86 -8.74
Alexandar Georgiev NYR 26 2.425 RFA 21 92.97 93.51 -0.54 -0.46 54.28 772.6 50.13 -4.15
Sam Montembeault MTL 25 0.75 RFA 27 92.38 93 -0.62 AHL 80.22 1052.26 73.67 -6.55
Martin Jones PHI 32 2 UFA 21 92.47 93.34 -0.87 -0.9 69.48 923.2 61.49 -7.99
Adin Hill S.J 25 2.175 1 24 92.97 94.03 -1.06 -0.2 62.41 887.91 53.03 -9.38
Thomas Greiss DET 36 3.6 UFA 21 92.29 93.48 -1.19 -0.46 62.52 810.58 52.89 -9.63
Mackenzie Blackwood N.J 25 2.8 1 23 92.54 93.79 -1.25 -0.86 69.89 937.23 58.16 -11.73
Joonas Korpisalo CBJ 27 2.8 UFA 18 91.51 92.93 -1.42 -1.43 63.12 743.09 52.57 -10.55
Petr Mrazek TOR 30 3.8 2 14 91.94 93.51 -1.57 2.64 40.67 504.32 32.73 -7.94
Chris Driedger SEA 27 3.5 2 17 91.84 93.56 -1.72 0.83 49.35 604.54 38.94 -10.41
Philipp Grubauer SEA 30 5.9 5 42 92.09 93.87 -1.78 0.36 124.31 1572.51 96.39 -27.92
Jon Gillies N.J 28 0.75 UFA 13 91.35 93.48 -2.13 AHL 45.32 523.77 34.16 -11.16
2021=2022 All-Situations SVA Evolving Hockey and Cap Friendly

I sorted this by the delta (difference) of the actual save % and the expected save % based on unblocked shots — dFSV%.

I left in a few very unlikely trade targets. I don’t think Anaheim is going to dump John Gibson with five years left on his contract, nor do I think Seattle has any reason to get rid of Chris Driedger. I did include a few tantalizing actual backups like Adin Hill and Anthony Stolarz.

So pick your set of dice and roll it. Do you have any good reason to think that Anton Forsberg will continue on with something like the number he has this year? Or is that bad result last year just as likely to be the results he’d produce?

What about Matt Murray, then. If you believe that the remaining games played this season will closely resemble the most recent set of games, where set is defined as whatever amount gives you the number you need to make your case, then surely you want Murray?

James Reimer? This all becomes more complicated when fame takes over from recency bias and a fervent belief that the “hot hand” is not a fallacy, and Marc-André Fleury’s name comes up. He was good last year. So you have to believe that his bad results this year are because of his team. Which then doesn’t work for Murray, who didn’t change teams, but maybe he just figured it out.

As for Forsberg, you have to be very careful to not look at his whole career (all 82 games of it) and discover that he is a career -0.12 or not a bad backup in a pinch.

This is the point at which people throw up their hands and say goalies are voodoo, which is not true, and is a profound misreading of a whole host of religions and spiritual practices.

When a goalie plays 30 or 40 games, his results nearly always fit within the range of his previous results. Sometimes a goalie has a game here or there much better or — more likely — much worse than his historical record, but not often. In this way, goalies are extremely predictable. The trouble is that all goalies have a wide range of results. The idea that a goalie can be consistent is a fantasy, and when any goalie isn’t that, it’s not his fault you’re upset, it’s actually yours for expecting it.

The differences between the elite, the merely good and the large swathe of average goalies are subtle, and can’t be seen in 20 starts. No goalie has so tight a distribution of results that he can’t have a run or really great or really bad results and then just have some other random sample out of his range of capabilities.

Given that, you might say, as many have, that goalie salaries should be low, and they should be fairly interchangeable. Wouldn’t that be lovely? It isn’t true because most people running teams are just as capable as you or I of making up a story to explain why this or that goalie is very good, and should be locked up to term.

The right thing to do when your two goalies are producing poor results is to get another one and try again. But even if a GM doesn’t buy in on the kind of goalie mysticism that drives up salaries, he’s still in the same market with the ones how do and with prices and trade costs he can’t control.

The Leafs could get Forsberg, and roll the dice with him the way they did with Campbell and Mrázek this year. Forsberg is cheap in AAV, and the roster limits (not the salary cap) goes away on deadline day. So why not? Well, because they really need to improve their defence even if Jake Muzzin is back to playing by then, that’s why. And there’s only so much draft capital to spend on the chance that Forsberg’s dice come up with a better number than Mrázek’s and Campbell’s will in the future.

Micah McCurdy said something very interesting recently.

This is the Maple Leafs. It has always been the Maple Leafs, and yes, you bet the defence is the best it’s been in a very long time, and this is still the Maple Leafs’ giant weakness. They can’t win enough when the goalie is below average. And no goalie is always above average all the time. Not even that irritating man in net for the Lightning.

The last few games of the regular season don’t matter a great deal. The Leafs are in a playoff position, their first-round opponent will be a tough one, and someone has to be in net for at least four playoff games. It doesn’t matter his name, only the number that comes up when he rolls the dice.

If you can guess who that should be, call Kyle Dubas right now and tell him.


Do you think Kyle Dubas will trade for a goalie now?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    No, but he should
    (389 votes)
  • 26%
    (327 votes)
  • 42%
    No, and I’m fine with that
    (540 votes)
1256 votes total Vote Now