In the second intermission of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast on Saturday night, Damien Cox and Elliotte Friedman did a bit where they introduced a few topics and bantered back and forth. You can watch it here:
The last topic, when the bantering gives way to sniggering, is about a goalie the Leafs are rumoured to be pursuing, and include a picture they were quick to tell us all on the game broadcast was carefully cropped. Leafs fans everywhere immediately Googled Mantas Armalis and—okay, fair cop, the very first thing I did is find the full version of the photo and post it in the game day thread comments.
What's the rumour about?
And then I looked up his stats along with several other people who've been burnt by the hype machine one two many times. The first thing a lot of us noticed was his contract with Djurgården in the SHL runs to 2018. So even if he's the second coming of Henrik Lundqvist in more ways than one, can the Leafs get him?
The answer seems to be yes. As Expression dryly notes in their story today, they knew all about this NHL interest a month ago [translation by Google, helped along by me]:
Mantas Armalis extended his contract by two years earlier in the winter, but can still leave in the summer.
"If he gets a concrete offer, and is enticed, and he goes to the NHL so we deal with the situation then," Djurgården's former sports director said.Digging in to Expressen's past coverage, it seems Djurgården gave him an extension in 2015 that hasn't kicked in yet, so he must be able to opt out of it this summer when his season ends.
The interest, according to Friedman is coming from not just the Leafs, but also from the Hurricanes.
TOR and CAR among the teams who have pursued him hardest...with TOR believed to be the favourite. But, we'll see how it plays out.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) 20 March 2016
Who is Mantas Armalis?
He's from Lithuania, and is the team Lithuania goalie of choice right now. Lithuania, in case you're confused, is not the one that has brought us Zemgus Girgensons and Kristers Gudlevskis and almost beat Canada at the Olympics. That's Latvia. Lithuania is their next-door neighbour and has brought us Dainius Zubrus and Darius Kasparaitis. So if the amazing Armalis makes it, he'll be accomplishing a very exceptional thing as a Lithuanian.
He is amazing, when you think about it. He first played in the IIHF World Championsips—the men's version, not the junior one—at 18. He's had some excellent stats come out of the worlds and the junior event and some not so excellent. Lithuania is generally in one of the lower divisions, not playing with the top teams, and the quality of the players in front of him must be dramatically lower than in the SHL.
And the SHL is where he is now. He's the backup goaltender for Djurgården, playing behind a familiar name to Leaf fans in Mikael Tellqvist. In the regular season, Armalis' play had impressed, and he was often given the start over Tellqvist. He had 34 starts to Tellqvist's 20 and a .918 save percentage. Tellqvist came in at .919.
But what does that even mean? Some context is needed. Djurgården has the guy who came second in scoring on their roster, but they finished in seventh place and had to play in a best of three contest with Brynäs to make it into the quarterfinals against Frölunda, Andreas Johnson's team. They're currently tied up with Frölunda at one game a piece.
The Djurgården coach has gone with the trusted veteran Tellqvist in the playoffs, and used Armalis only in the middle match vs. Brynäs which they lost 5-2. So that's a cautionary note.
But Armalis is in sixth place in the league for the regular season with that .918 save percentage, and the four guys ahead of him and Tellqvist are all the goalies for the top teams. In that context, his play with Djurgården this year has been exemplary. Exemplary enough to take the bulk of the starts away from a guy who has over a decade's more experience.
How will this translate to the NHL or the AHL? I'll give you my same annoying answer I always give: wait and see.
Why do the Leafs want him?
He seems like an outside chance for success. InGoal Magazine weighed in on the Leafs goalie prospects:
The emergence of Garret Sparks is the only thing that saved the Maple Leafs goaltending system from being an unmitigated disaster in 2015-2016.
That's blunt, and it's not unwarranted. The Leafs have the following goalies in the system:
Marlies backup (UFA this summer)
Solar Bears starter (Under contract to the Marlies)
Solar Bears second starter (Under contract to the Solar Bears)
And that's it. There's no draft prospects in junior or Europe, nothing. Getting a decent prospect who is good enough in the SHL to rank with the best at 23, and getting him for nothing but the money to sign him is a smart move, and hopefully only the start of fixing this gaping hole.
The 'male model' thing
While I was doing my sober Sunday morning reading up on Swedish hockey, I found an editorial by Magnus Nystrom that started out with this line: "Talented girls. I am so tired of that expression"
He's talking about his own newspaper's staff and the women who won the Riksserien championship today in Luleå. He's talking about how tiresome it is for women doing hockey or journalism to be exclaimed over with surprise for doing it well, even when that praise is well-meant. And it resonated very strongly with me, because everyone: Sportsnet, fans, other media are falling all over themselves to call Armalis a "male model". Sportsnet described him this way:
By emphasizing that he's a "male" model, they're reminding us that he's an outlier. By marking out his sideline business as an exceptional act—by normalizing the surprise we're supposed to feel when a man makes himself an physical object to be admired—this isn't exactly the same as what Nystrom is talking about, but it is the flip side of the coin. All that the sniggering, the "male" modifier and the cropping of the picture all go together to say, men aren't like that normally. Just like when you gasp at the talent of a woman playing hockey, you're marking her out as not like regular women.
Men absolutely are like that. When they chose to be. And there's lots of men and women who don't mind looking when a man like Armalis chooses to display himself. So cut out the "male model" stuff. You don't have to remind us he's a man, we can clearly see that.