Goalies. Every year it’s goalies. The single biggest thing the Tampa fanbase has going for it isn’t the Cups, the great team, the coach or any of that, it’s that the only goalie conversation they ever have to have is which comically bad veteran, good-in-the-room backup will they sign this year. For the rest of us, it’s goalies all the way down, every summer.
Before I start my annual look at goalie choices for the Leafs, I think I should lay out my history of success, or lack there of, in o-pining about goaltending. Things I’ve thought have included:
- Calvin Pickard was going to be excellent
- Jhonas Enroth was a good idea as a backup
- Michael Hutchinson would be a better than average backup*
- Garret Sparks was not it
- Antoine Bibeau was not it
- Playing Kasimir Kaskisuo in the NHL was abusive
- Joe Woll was not it
- Ian Scott would be better than Woll
- Erik Källgren would flop**
- Frederik Andersen should be traded in the 2020 offseason***
- Linus Ullmark isn’t all that hot
- Alexandar Georgiev is a good bet
- Signing Petr Mrázek would be a mistake***
- Darcy Kuemper was not worth his ask
You get the picture. It’s hard to predict goalies, but there’s some things to learn from this list of wrong and right opinions.
* Michael Hutchinson, once he’d come back and played more games after his first season, nets out on the Leafs as 92.4 Fenwick Save % (% of all unblocked shots that aren’t goals) on an expected of 93.6, or an okay backup. (Evolving Hockey’s Expected Goals Model)
** Erik Källgren has been very interesting to watch and learn from. He had no track record at all that said he could handle NHL hockey, because he had topped out as an SHL backup, and all talk of championships misses this point. His final results, however, are 92 FSv% on an expected of 93.5, or worse than Hutchinson’s Leafs career.
*** Both of these takes might look correct in hindsight, but they both relied on an unstated other move to fill the net for the Leafs. Which makes it easy for me to say, and maybe impossible to do at the time.
Standard disclaimers: On anything I write about goalies, I have to explain two things: I never use standard all-situations save % for NHL results, and I think the “goalies are voodoo” line is nonsense because difficult to predict is not the same as unknowable.
As you know, the Leafs have Petr Mrázek, Erik Källgren and Joe Woll under contract. The latter two are on inexpensive backup deals and both are waivers exempt next year, making that part of the Leafs situation a miraculous achievement.
Mrázek has two more years at $3.8 million and has a 10-team no-trade list. The deal is backloaded and therefore expensive to buyout.
Jack Campbell is a UFA who the Leafs have reportedly made a lowball offer to of $2.75 million, and then showed no interest in negotiating in-season.
note: the Evolving Hockey contract prediction model, which is very good, is a pro-level subscription feature. I’m going to use that information over this offseason, but I’m not posting the numbers and busting their paywall.
Campbell would get something in the $5 million range on the open market. He is 30, or the same age Andersen was in 2020. He has a career FSv% over expected of exactly zero. Mrázek’s is one one-hundredth below zero, and Andersen’s is 0.37. They all have career expected numbers in the 93.4 to 93.8 range, with Campbell having the highest because of his easy ride years in LA.
Why exactly should anyone expect Campbell to be better next year than this really rather dreadful year? The answer, of course, is injuries and the example of Andersen attempting to play though pain is right there to see. So is the example of Andersen getting knocked out before the playoffs after his spectacular season.
The Leafs can pay Campbell whatever will get him to sign with the Leafs, something that would likely need a lot of term to get the AAV down, and then they’d need to trade Mrázek, possibly at a cost, but you never know — he’s got a history that has a lot of good seasons in it along with the terrible ones, like most other goalies. Someone could be very interested.
Or the Leafs can just let Campbell walk, and make a decision about Mrázek based on who they get on the open market. There’s going to be options. St. Louis is expected to shed one of their goalies, there are free agents out there, there will be goalies moved when teams sign or trade for a goalie. Georgiev is available again as an RFA with arbitration rights. He could likely be had for the lowball they threw at Campbell plus the trade cost.
The first choice is about Campbell, though, and how much the Leafs would be willing to pay him. My take is simple: if they wouldn’t pay Andersen $5 million at age 31, they aren’t going to go there with Campbell. I wouldn’t. I would choose not to re-sign him, because he needs to be in a tandem, and you can’t tandem a $5 million goalie unless you have an ELC prospect ready to go or you cheap out on your skaters. The Leafs, as we all know well, cheap out on their skaters to pay for other skaters, not a pile of goalies.
A long term contract for Campbell is also an exercise in scheduling a buyout in the future. Anyone who thinks the Mrázek lightweight deal is an albatross should consider the later years of a $5 million deal for a goalie over 35. Mrázek, by the way, is one month younger than Campbell.
There is a non-zero chance that the Leafs goalies next year will be Mrázek and someone new with Woll and Källgren available as backups, emergency recalls, emergency starters whatever. The opportunity to make a deal at the deadline if it’s necessary will be there as plan B.
I think the chances are very good that’s what happens. But goalies are nearly always tradeable at Mrázek’s AAV, and the more expensive mistakes that get bought out nearly always re-sign at $2 million or so. The Leafs have more flexibility than it seems they have even if salary retention is the cost to trade Mrázek.
How you feel about this might depend on how you feel about the players involved. Mrázek, after all, hasn’t done anything good for the Leafs. Campbell is super nice and gives emotional speeches accepting blame for losses — fans eat that up. Andersen was cold and remote and liked to deflect questions by saying he wanted to see the video first.
Which goalie you like as a person is a bit like asking who’s your favourite Star Trek character — Spock, McCoy or Scotty. Who you like as a goalie should be a totally separate question, but entire episodes of Star Trek have illustrated that most people don’t make that distinction.
What’s Dubas going to do? Is he going to walk away from a guy in Jack Campbell he’s known since he was a teenager and roll the dice on a fresh, new face? We will see where it goes.
Will the Leafs re-sign Jack Campbell