Toronto Maple Leafs: Goaltending Situation Looks Very Familiar

Rob EllisCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2008

It's just past the quarter mark in this Leaf season and the team's biggest problem seems to be the one thing that we all thought was going to be its biggest strength: goaltending.

Whether it's the inconsistency of Vesa Toskala or the flat-out horridness of Curtis Joseph's appearances, this team is clearly suffering between the pipes.

I have been a Leaf fan since birth and I can't help but see the similarities between the current netminding "crisis" and the one that occurred quite a few years ago.

In 1992-93, the Leafs began the season with 30-year-old Grant Fuhr as the starting goaltender and an aging 33-year-old veteran named Rick Wamsley as the backup.

On the farm, a highly touted 21-year-old prospect named Felix Potvin began the season with the St. John's Maple Leafs.

This season, the Leafs began with 31-year-old Vesa Toskala as the starter with an aging 41-year-old named Curtis Joseph as the backup.

On the farm, a highly touted 22-year-old prospect named Justin Pogge lies in wait with the Toronto Marlies.

At this point, 16 seasons later, the two situations sound pretty similar, right? So let's go back to 1992 and see what happened next.

Early in the season, Fuhr was inconsistent and Wamsley was struggling in a backup role. After just five games in St. John's, Potvin was brought up even though his numbers (3.50 GAA and an .894 save percentage) were nothing to get excited about.

It wasn't long before he shared the starter's role with Fuhr and not much longer until it was clear he was ready to play the majority of the games.

Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher realized he had an asset to use as trade bait. On February 2, 1993, he pulled the trigger and sent Fuhr to the Buffalo Sabres for sniper Dave Andreychuk, goaltender Daren Puppa, and a first-round draft pick.

Andreychuk helped the Leafs into the playoffs by scoring 25 goals in the final 31 games. He scored another 12 in the playoffs, helping the Leafs reach the conference finals.

Puppa played eight games as Potvin's backup and went 6-2 with a 2.25 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Later that year, Fletcher used the first-round pick acquired in the deal to select young Swedish defenceman Kenny Jonsson.

Potvin went on to be the Leafs starter for another five seasons before a guy named Curtis Joseph came to town.

Now back to the present.

This season, Toskala, like Fuhr in 1992, has been inconsistent. Joseph, like Wamsley, is showing signs that he may not "have it" anymore.

Justin Pogge is playing the majority of the games with the farm team and boasts better numbers than Potvin did when he was called up 16 years ago (2.86 GAA and an .894 save percentage).

By now, I think you know where I'm going with this. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but it might.

We have a new GM in town who doesn't have many assets of value to deal but I definitely think Toskala is one of them. I'm not going to try to convince you that Toskala would bring the same value that Fuhr, a four-time cup winner, did all those years ago. He would fetch a prospect or two, though.

Many fans have preached the importance of having Pogge play as the starter with the Marlies for this full season and I will admit that I was one of them. However, this Leaf season has not gone the way that I, or anybody else, thought it would. This team is supposed to be well below .500, fighting with Atlanta to get out of the basement.

Matt Stajan is not supposed to have 21 points.

Mikhail Grabovski is not supposed to be this good and neither is Niklas Hagman.

Nik Antropov is not supposed to be able to score without the aid of Mats Sundin.

We're supposed to be booing Jeff Finger for making too much money, not admiring his awesome open-ice hits.

Mike Van Ryn was the salary we had to take on to get rid of McCabe and he was quietly our best defenceman before getting injured.

The things that are supposed to be happening, such as above-average goaltending, are not!

So why not continue this pattern and bring Pogge up to the big club? A look back at 1992-93 shows it might not be a bad idea.


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