As the Leafs are about to play the second half of their seventh back-to-back set of games, everyone’s minds turn to backup goalies. Again. The magic trick of playing the struggling Michael Hutchinson in the first game instead of the second did not yield a win. The team did not play well, and he did not save them:
Recap: Maple Leafs fall to the Sabres 6-4
The players and the coach can trot out the talking points about how they’re behind him, and we sure could tell they weren’t in front of him doing much, but this isn’t about him or if he feels good about being part of the team. Hutchinson has a good historical record, and he may bounce back, but the Leafs aren’t in a position to wait. And while the choice to play Kasimir Kaskisuo in a single game seemed like “giving him a chance”, it was doomed to fail, and fail it did where the team played very poorly, and he could not save them. No reasonable person expects Kaskisuo to be able to play NHL hockey any better than Michael Hutchinson, Garret Sparks, Antoine Bibeau or Jeff Glass, to name a few AHL goalies the Marlies have had who are better than him.
1. Casey DeSmith, 28, $1.250 million, expires 2022, Pittsburgh Penguins
$$: DeSmith’s cap hit is at the upper limit of what the Leafs can afford if they play a 20-man roster, without trading out a salary to make space. Trading a skater when the Leafs are not on top of the world seems like a dangerous game to play.
Would the other team deal: The Penguins have an excess of backups. It’s a starter they lack, but they haven’t really figured that out yet, and one hot streak from Matt Murray will lead them to forget the idea entirely. They have very little cap space, a goalie they seem happy with in Tristan Jarry, who is younger, and they might like to chip out some space for defender who isn’t terrible in a season where they’re one of the best teams in the NHL.
Would the Leafs want him: Beggars. Choosers. But that term makes it a little iffy. On the plus side: In only 50 games played in the NHL, he’s had excellent results with a substantial saves over expected rating. Most of that came last season in 36 starts, so it isn’t five games here and three there.
Fit: It’s a tight fit, and a bit of a gamble, because if he’s terrible, the term is hard to move. DeSmith has a conviction for a lesser charge stemming from a domestic assault while he was in college, and his life has definitely changed since then, but it’s something to consider how we or the Leafs might feel about that.
2. Tristan Jarry, 24, $675,000, expires 2020 as an RFA with arbitration rights, Pittsburgh Penguins
$$: Absolutely perfect
Would the other team deal: Well, no, not without us using the override button. Not unless they really have pegged DeSmith as their guy, and the eight good starts from Jarry this season were a showcase. But the consternation from DeSmith when he was waived and sent down argues against that.
Would the Leafs want him: He’s the only actually good backup available on a cheap deal.
Fit: Too good to be true.
3. Ryan Miller, 39, $1.125 million expires this season, Anaheim Ducks
Would the other team deal: No. And he has a no-trade clause, so you’d have to make the Ducks want to move him, and make him want to leave his cushy life in California. If the Ducks sink like the stone they appear to be, and he wants one last blast at glory, he might go somewhere at the deadline, but now seems unlikely.
Would the Leafs want him: He is the best backup currently playing in the NHL who isn’t someone’s prospect. He’s also one old man moment away from being totally incapacitated. What the hell, what’s one more guy on LTIR?
Fit: If the Leafs could wait until the deadline, they very well might go for it, but he seems like the guy to have wooed last summer, not now.
4. Jonathan Quick, 33, $5.8 million, expires in 2023, LA Kings
$$: Hilariously horrible, but what if LA wants to retain 50% and take Cody Ceci, throw in Sean Walker and hell, while we’re here, can we have Carl Grundstrom back?
Would the other team deal: LA would likely do a lot to get out from under this grave mistake of a contract.
Would the Leafs want him: Well, no. Would anyone?
Fit: It’s a galaxy brain idea, one where you imagine some amazing bounce back and then the Leafs trade him on when their fantastic prospect is magically ready next year.
5. Eric Comrie, 24, $700,000, expires in 2022 as an RFA with arbitration rights, Arizona Coyotes
Would the other team deal: Near as I can see, they grabbed him off waivers for that very purpose. He’s not exempt, if they waive him, Winnipeg could snatch him back and put him on the Moose. The Yotes are carrying three goalies, and wheeler dealer John Chayka must just be waiting for the price to peak.
Would the Leafs want him: That’s a very good question. He’s played four games this season while the Jets and the Yotes have been keeping him on popcorn duty. He played 47 for the Moose last year, and was good, but the Leafs can get “good in the AHL” from the Marlies. He has five NHL games behind him and the results are sparkly. I mean, as in like Garret Sparks, not as in good.
Fit: It’s a big dice roll, and would depend on scouting to tell you if he’s a failed prospect with some flickers of good results in the past or if he’s a guy who has been dumped in the Jets organization for years and never developed. This might have been a summertime plan too.
UPDATE: Steve Yzerman, the man with the worst team in the NHL, just traded Vili Saarjarvi for Comrie. Now the Red Wings have three goalies. Or perhaps the injury to Jimmy Howard was severe and they just have two. Either way, this is a no-lose gamble for Detroit.
Joseph Woll, 21, $800,000, Toronto Maple Leafs
Yes he’s sitting right there, and he’s been okay as a rookie. Yes he’s big, agile, looks like he might, maybe, possibly, in a good light and with the prospect goggles on, be a real boy.
But he’s had seven actual pro hockey games in his entire life. Leave him alone! He’s not Carter Hart. He’s not ready to be dumped into the NHL, and if he is a real boy, let’s not screw that up now.
Are you cheered up? Ready to believe that this time, after all the other times, the Leafs will find a backup who doesn’t make you long for James Reimer? Hey, can the Leafs get James Reimer...
The truth is that there should be a pipeline, stacked and ready before the season starts. Pick a guy, if not him, then immediately onto the next, and if not him, try again. Keep at it until your number comes up on the goalie roulette wheel.
But instead of that plan, the Leafs have a pipeline of tweener wingers, and not one single goalie option other than Hutchinson. We’re left hoping Pittsburgh really wants one of our AHLers to turn into the next guy that makes everyone say, “Who the hell is that?” just as he scores on a sweet feed from Crosby or Malkin in order to get whichever of their extras they might want to part with. And it won’t be the right one.
There’s other options out there, but Chris Johnston lands on Jarry as well, and why would a serious, hard core contender even entertain this idea unless the Leafs are filling a greater need on the Penguins?
The best potential option under that number [$800,000] is Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry, but general manager Jim Rutherford will drive a hard bargain in trade talks.
When you try to sell from a position of weakness, no one will buy — they’ll just wait for you to waive both your extra backups, and there goes Curtis McElhinney. When you need to then buy from a position of weakness, you pay extra. It’s hard not to see the path Kyle Dubas chose to this day as one he should have stepped off of long before now.