Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Goaltenders They Need to Pursue This Offseason
Jonas Gustavsson's contract is up, and there is little doubt he will be getting a change of scenery this summer. Once thought to be the potential savior in goal for Toronto, Gustavsson joins the ranks of mediocre netminders who have not gotten the job done for the Leafs.
As Burke looks to move the team forward this offseason, he will find the market for goaltenders is running dry. The pickings in free agency will be slim, as is the case on the trading block. Also, the Leafs will be competing with the likes of Chicago and Columbus, teams whose situation in net is just as much a question mark as Toronto's.
With that in mind, Burke must line up his prospective targets and be prepared to fight for any and all of them. Here are five guys who ought to be on Toronto's radar.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Any conversation on the Leafs' goalie search this summer must start with the best on the market, Roberto Luongo.
Between his massive contract and his tendency to come up short in the playoffs, Luongo wore out his welcome in Vancouver last season. The Canucks benched him in favor of upstart Cory Schneider in the postseason, and Luongo expressed a desire to be traded soon after.
If Burke wants to pick up the best goaltender he can get, he should look no further than Bobby Lou.
For all his inconsistencies, real and perceived, Luongo never deviated much in recent years from his career numbers. Burke could rest assured his goalie would post about a .919 save percentage with a 2.52 goals against average, statistics that make Luongo a perennial Vezina candidate.
But, as the Toronto Sun points out, Luongo might not be an ideal option if Burke is still interested in James Reimer as the goalie of the future. With Luongo locked in to a 10-year contract, Reimer would have little chance to ever see the ice in Toronto.
Additionally, Luongo's deal comes with a yearly $5.3 million cap hit until he is 43 years old. So while Bobby Lou might be the best goalie available, he does not come without long-term baggage for Burke and the organization.
Harry How/Getty Images
An alternative to Luongo on the trade market is another onetime goalie of the future in Jonathan Bernier.
The Los Angeles Kings have been grooming Bernier since they drafted him 11th overall in 2006. But that plan was put on hold when Jonathan Quick made the leap to elite goaltender this season. It is safe to say that Quick is pretty good at his job, and Bernier will be an also-ran in L.A. for the foreseeable future.
Bernier is a lesser-known commodity than the seasoned Luongo, but Craig Custance of ESPN has laid out a number of teams that are interested in the young goalie's potential.
But as good as Bernier could be, it does not appear as though Toronto is the place for him. Custance points out that Leafs' goalie coach Francois Allaire is a butterfly specialist, but that is not Bernier's style.
If Burke is willing to orient the team's future around Bernier in goal, it would require more than just a trade to get him to fit. But regardless of what technique he employs, Bernier rivals Luongo as a long-term option for the Leafs, and they have to take a look at him.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
If Burke decides to rely on free agency to pick up a new goalie, Josh Harding must be the first target in a weak market.
Harding's 13-12-4 record last season does not do him justice. The anemic Minnesota Wild offense limited the impact of Harding's .917 save percentage and his 2.62 goals against average. With a Phil Kessel-led offense in front of him, Harding would likely pick up some more tallies in his win column.
The worry with Harding, however, is that he is relatively inexperienced for a five-year pro. He missed the entire 2010-2011 season with torn ligaments in his right knee, and he has never played more than 34 games in a single season.
Similarly to Bernier, Harding would provide Toronto with more potential than proof of what kind of starter he would be. But Harding is also the best goalie in a scarce group of free agents, and will attract a number of suitors. It remains to be seen whether Harding's price tag will overshadow his ability.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
If the Maple Leafs pass or fan on Luongo, Bernier and Harding, Burke will have few attractive options for a long-term solution in goal. Rather, the Leafs would be better off looking into veterans who could bridge the gap for Reimer.
Enter Martin Biron. The 34-year-old has starting experience, but he spent the past two seasons as Henrik Lundqvist's backup for the New York Rangers. In spelling Lundqvist in 48 games as a Ranger, Biron has 2.32 goals against average to go along with a .917 save percentage.
So while ESPN's Katie Strang reports that Biron and the Rangers are negotiating a multi-year extension, perhaps Toronto could lure him north with the prospect of a starting job.
Biron would be a step up production-wise for the Leafs in goal while also allowing Reimer to gain experience as his backup. And should Reimer surpass him at some point, Biron has demonstrated a willingness to play a smaller role in order to win.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
While Biron would be an able mentor for Reimer, it is contingent on him choosing to test the waters rather than re-sign with the Rangers. Additionally, he would have to pick the bigger role in Toronto over perhaps a better chance to win elsewhere.
But if Burke really wants to help Reimer develop as a goalie, he has to at least take a look at Dominik Hasek.
The Dominator is a six-time Vezina winner, but he is also now 47 years old. However, age is only a number for Hasek. He is coming off a season with Spartak Moscow of the KHL in which he saved .915 of shots he faced and posted a 2.45 goals against average.
Maybe the aged Hasek can still get it done in the NHL. After all, he helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008 at the age of 43. But if he can even simply perform in a timeshare with Reimers, Hasek should be a great influence on the young goalie's career arc.
Then again, maybe Hasek is finally too old, but Burke has to hope this isn't the case. If Burke wants to bolster his team's situation in goal, he will need to bring in one of these five players.
Otherwise, the Maple Leafs will move forward with Reimer in net and uncertainty abounding.