2012 NHL Offseason: Fixing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Part 2: Goaltending
"The Leafs blew up." "They collapsed." "Ran a tractor trailer off a cliff." Insert other often-used cliches in here. The Toronto Maple Leafs let what was assuredly going to be their first postseason berth in what seems like half a century (note: seems like it, but it has only been seven long years) slip away.
What seemed to be a simple shopping list of adding a few pieces to a playoff core only a month or two ago has rapidly grown to missing players at almost every position. Leadership, veteran presence, scoring, defence, goaltending—all of it went straight down the tube.
This article is Part 2 of a series dissecting what I think is wrong with the current roster, suggesting players (and their cost) that might be able to right the ship, getting the Leafs into their first playoff spot since the lockout. The series is an in-depth breakdown of the four biggest problems the Leafs faced last year during the 2011-12 NHL season:
1. Lack of a True Number One Center
2. Good Goaltending
3. Better Team Defence and Size
4. Character/Leadership in the Top Nine.
This article (Part Two) will focus on problem No. 2: the lack of quality goaltending.
As always, feel free to comment below and tell me how wrong I am or how much you'd like to see a certain player in a Leafs' jersey. Maybe I left someone off my lists that should be there. I'd love to hear your arguments for Player "X." I always try to respond, and I love a good hockey debate.
What the Hell Happened?
The goalie carousel for the Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the main reasons the Leafs just couldn't lock down that elusive playoff spot this season.
Everyone has a different opinion and reason as to why Toronto goaltending fell apart, ranging from goalie coach Francois Allaire's teaching being outdated (with all 4 Leafs goaltenders having the same issues there certainly may be some truth to this), to the fact that two young goaltenders--Reimer and Gustavsson--can't handle the pressure of the Toronto market without a veteran mentor type backup.
People have claimed that Burke completely misread Reimer and that he played over his head at the end of last season and won't ever be a number one goalie. Others have said that Wilson's consistent lack of confidence in either young goalie and subsequent pulling of them each time one had a bad game (instead of just running with one guy or the other) resulted in shell shocking the confidence right out of BOTH of them. There are a million theories, reasons and possibilities as to why the goaltending situation failed the Maple Leafs this season, but one thing is certainly clear: it needs to be fixed before next season.
Based on Burke's end of season support of Allaire--we are going to ignore all the rumours that Allaire might just retire to avoid the whole situation--we'll say he stays. Since Wilson is gone and considering Carlyle's penchant for running with one guy for a stretch of games (good or bad results as long as the guy is fighting for it), we'll cross off that problem as well. So based on these reasons, as well as his season ending press on conference stating his continued belief in Reimer, we'll say that Burke is going to run with Reimer, and that Gusty is a goner. We are also going to assume that Burke is going to go out and try to get a veteran Number 1 guy that Reimer can learn from and who can stabilize the blue paint for Toronto while playing 50-60 games.
The goalies that played for the Leafs this season:
James Reimer - (6'2, 208lbs, 34GP 14-14-4, .900%, 3.10GAA)
Started the year off on fire, got "whiplashed" by an errant elbow by Brian Gionta and just wasn't the same once he returned. Burke still believes in the guy, and he certainly has all the tools and drive to be a solid starting NHL goalie. A veteran mentor would do wonders for his development, though.
Jonas Gustavsson - (6'3, 192lbs, 42GP 17-17-4, .902%, 2.92GAA)
The Toronto situation has clearly ruined Gusty, at least as far as Toronto is concerned. In his time here, both his parents have died and he's had 2 major heart surgeries to go along with seasons of ridicule and failure. Definitely some positive lasting memories of TOR for Gustavsson. He doesn't gel with Allaire's style and just needs a fresh start somewhere else where he will turn into a solid backup and borderline NHL starter.
Ben Scrivens - (6'2, 192lbs, NHL 12GP 4-5-2, .903%, 3.13GAA, AHL 39GP 22-15-1, .926%, 2.04GAA)
Young guy has been lights out all year for the Marlies and looked good in two call ups by the Leafs, currently leading the Marlies into round 2 of the AHL playoffs--wait, a Leafs' player that knows what the playoffs are?!?!
Jussi Rynnas - (6'5, 205lbs, NHL 2GP 0-1-0, .825%, 4.24GAA, AHL 22GP, 11-9-1, .910%, 2.55GAA)
A big, big goalie with a ton of talent. Injuries have derailed the last two seasons of his development and in his one game call up, the Leafs D just absolutely abandoned him and he got lit up for 7 goals. Needs some time to continue to develop in the AHL.
In System and Free Agent Options
Possible players in system:
Ben Scrivens - (6'2, 192lbs, NHL 12GP 4-5-2, .903%, 3.13GAA, AHL 39GP 22-15-1, .926%, 2.04GAA)
He won the Harry "Hap" Holmes Award (it's the equivalent of the William M. Jennings award in the NHL) for allowing the fewest goals in the regular season . Besides having a five hole that "you can drive a truck through" (Kyle Magas,goalie scout), Scrivens has fantastic positioning and a calming influence that he extends outwards to his team.
He does a weird thing with his glove where, in a ready position, he holds it perpendicular to the ice and tries to almost bat the puck away. This tends to leave holes both above and below his shoulder and causes him to give up more juicy rebounds than most goalies.
Most pundits believe this to be a direct influence of Francois Allaire (the Leafs goalie coach) but regardless, his glove hand, rebound control and five hole all need to be fixed before he's a realistic option at the NHL level. He had a great showing at the end of the season when called up by the Leafs, but it wasn't his skill that helped the Leafs to play better; it was that unlike Reimer and Gustavsson, at that point Scrivens actually had confidence in himself and that confidence spread to the team.
He's still 2-3 years away from being a legitimate NHL goalie (if he can even reach that status) but is a more than capable call up to cover for injuries.
Jussi Rynnas - (6'5, 205lbs, AHL 22GP, 11-9-1, .910%, 2.55GAA)
He's a big, Finnish, diamond in the rough and possesses all the tools (especially the physical ones, he's a big big guy) to develop into a more than capable NHL net minder; whether he actually does remains to be seen.
If Scrivens does indeed move on to the NHL (with the Leafs or another team) Rynnas would be given the keys to the Marlies and be expected to run with it. That would be the best thing for his development as he needs to get in something more along the lines of 40+ games before the Leafs will really get a sense for what they have in him.
He also needs to prove that he can be more reliable injury wise, as he's had several broken or sprained fingers that have kept him out of games and reduced his playing time. He's at least 2 years away from really challenging for an NHL job.
Possible Free agent options:
Tomas Vokoun - (UFA) (6'1, 210lbs, 48GP, 25-17-2, .917%, 2.51GAA)
Same kind of deal with this veteran goaltender, who can be a positive mentor for Reimer and be good in the room while helping to secure the Number 1 role. With Vokoun, based on what we saw of him in Washington, it is unlikely that we can ask 60+ games of him anymore, so if he is signed it'll be more of a 50-32 game split between him and Reimer or perhaps more of an even 42-40 split. He's still a borderline elite goaltender however and his addition would go a long way to improving the Leafs playoff chances next season.
(Probable cost: 2.5-3M for 2-3years)
Josh Harding - (UFA) (6'1, 197lbs, 34GP, 13-12-4, .917, 2.62GAA)
Bringing Harding in is asking for trouble for Burke. The reason is that Harding is a young guy who hasn't had the role of a starter in the NHL or any significant game time (he has only played in 117 NHL games; for point of comparison, Gustavsson has played in 107).
Bringing in another unproven young guy to either backup, share or take over starting duties from/with Reimer is literally what just happened for the Leafs this year, and it is a formula that doesn't work in the media hurricane that is Toronto. Harding also has a history of injury ... man, is it just me or does this really not feel exactly like we're talking about Gustavsson here?
No dice. He's a solid guy, but with the fact that he played in a much more defensive system in Minnesota, the injury history, the youth, and lack of experience it just makes it insane (note: definition of insanity is doing the same damn things over and over again and expecting a different result). The only way Toronto grabs Harding is if none of the other trade options mentioned here pan out and all the other veteran goalie options are snapped away annnd if Ben Scrivens is deemed not quite ready for NHL duty. That is a lot of "ands".
(Probable cost: 1.2-1.8M for 2-4years)
Carey Price - (RFA) (6'3, 219lbs, 65GP, 26-28-11, .916%, 2.43GAA)
This is just a crazy idea, but hear me out anyways. Carey Price is an RFA and has had a lot of spats with the media and fans and the pressure cooker that is Montreal. Maybe after everything the organization has put him through he'd be willing to accept an offer sheet with the Leafs or force a trade to them; going to Toronto would really be the ultimate "Suck It" to Montreal fans and management.
Now from Burke's angle you have a chance to either get a top 5 goaltender who is only 24 and would instantly stabilize your back end for the next decade, or if Montreal matches the offer sheet, you have a chance to seriously affect a divisional and longtime hated rival's cap structure. It's a win-win situation that Burke would at least have to consider attacking, regardless of his feelings on offer sheets and RFA's.
Carey Price would be a major investment, but we already know that he can handle high stakes pressure (see WJC Gold Medal and Calder Cup) and high pressure media situations (Montreal and hockey is like a bull in a china shop: every issue involving the Canadiens' organization gets blown up to epic proportions).
(Probable cost: Offer Sheet - 45.5M over 7 years aka 6.5M for 7 years /
Trade route - Reimer, Gunnarsson, Colbourne, Scrivens, 2nd 2012, 1st 2013...and take Scott Gomez)
Chris Mason - (UFA) (6'0, 195lbs, 20GP, 8-7-1, .898%, 2.59GAA)
Consummate professional, great locker room presence and teammate. He may have lost a step or two and definitely isn't the NHL starter he used to be for Nashville and St.Louis back in the day but Mason has proven himself to be a capable backup and great mentor figure to Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec. Burke could do a lot worse than this all around good guy.
(Probable cost: 1.5-2.0M for 1-2years)
Trade Candidates: The Big Three Goalies This Summer
Possible players that Burke can trade for:
Roberto Luongo - (6'3, 217lbs, 55GP, 31-14-8, .919%, 2.41GAA)
Some people might be shocked to see Lu's name here and automatically take it as a sign to disregard everything I've said and will say in this article, but hear me out. When Alain Vigneault decided to start Cory Schneider in Game 3 and then again in Game 4, it said volumes about the Canucks' goaltending situation going forward.
With Schneider playing out of his mind and winning game 4 for the 'Nucks, it pretty much sealed him in as the goaltender for both the future and the now, and with him becoming an RFA at seasons' end and expecting (and deserving) a raise, there just isn't room for Lu anymore. Now, Lu does have a NMC (No Movement Clause), but he also still wants to be the Number 1 goalie on his team, that just clearly isn't going to happen with the Canucks, and because of his massive contract, his trade market is rather limited.
Rumours (courtesy of Darren Dreger and TSN) point to only a handful of teams being interested, including Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida, with the Florida teams holding a slight advantage due to Luongo having family there. The Panthers have Clemmensen and Theordore to hold the fort until Jakob Markstrom is ready to assume his throne, however, so it will most likely come down to Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Here is an excellent article for those of you who think Luongo can't handle the "pressure" of the Toronto market: http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=43973&blogger_id=3
(Probable cost: Gunnarsson, D'amigo, 2nd 2012, Armstrong. If you think that this is too low a deal remember how massive Luongo's contract is and then reconsider 10 years of a 5,333,333 salary cap hit on the books left.)
Miikka Kiprusoff - (6'1, 185lbs, 70GP, 35-22-11, .921%, 2.35GAA)
When he's on his game he is arguably one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and has won far too many games for Calgary by himself. One of his problems in Calgary (besides never getting scoring support and having suspect defence on occasion) was that they never brought in a competent and trustworthy backup, which meant Kipper played 7 straight seasons of 70+ games. You can't ask your number one guy to play that many games and still be rested and ready for the playoffs or the stretch drive.
The reason Calgary is going to seriously consider trading him is that the Flames have wallowed through hockey's no-man's land of "too good for a high draft pick but too bad to be a playoff contender" for too long and their penchant for trading away picks for overrated players has caught up with them, leaving them with no pipeline and only one blue chip prospect. They need to rebuild and they need to do it now while they can still get decent value for Iginla, Kipper and Bouwmeester along with other vets.
Kipper would provide Reimer with the elite goaltending mentor that he needs, and he would only have to play 50-60 games, leaving him more than well-rested for a potential playoff run.
(Probable cost: Scrivens, Bozak, McKegg, Percy, 2nd 2012)
Tim Thomas - (5'11, 201lbs, 59GP, 35-19-1, .920%, 2.36GAA)
The Bruins most likely won't want to move Thomas, who still has (in my estimation) another great season and 2 more good seasons left in his tank. But with all the dressing room distractions he caused with the "White House Incident" and Tukka Rask's clear desire to assume the number one mantle much sooner than later, the Bruins hand may be forced.
It is extremely unlikely that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli would deal Thomas to a division rival where he could come back to bite them 6 times a year for a few seasons, but stranger things have happened. Thomas is a consummate professional and a self-made man who had to take a very long and roundabout path to the NHL. That kind of stuff gives players credibility in a dressing room and would be beyond useful for the young group of guys gathered in the Toronto room.
(Probable cost: Gunnarsson, 2nd 2012, Frattin, Armstrong)
Recap and Wrap Up
Brian Burke is clearly going to have options for once, something that has been non-existent for him in recent years. Whether he is able to do anything remains to be seen, but it will not be for a lack of options. One thing is abundantly clear, however: the Leafs need to let Gustavsson go and bring in a veteran guy to either mentor or backup Reimer. Regardless, if Luongo, Kipper and Thomas hit the market, then Burke has to at least kick the tires and explore those options. It will be an interesting off season for Leaf fans everywhere; that is for certain.
Let me know if you think I missed someone or if I've laid out the best options. Or maybe you hated every word that you just read and are even now seething and slipping into an uncontrollable rage, at which point you grow 10 times your normal size and turn green... or maybe you just write a comment. Who knows, but I love a good hockey debate, so whether you think I'm right or wrong, it doesn't matter, let me know. I always reply.
Watch for Part 3 - "Fixing The Blue Line" later this week.
Here's a link to Part 1 - "Finding a No.1 Center"
And a link to "Brian Burke's NHL Draft Game Plan"