This is the first of a three-part feature on the Toronto Maple Leafs 2013 June roster at all three positions: goaltending, defense, and forwards. It will look in-depth at their current cap situation, considering who to let walk and who to sign, as well as possible trades that management might want to consider. It will give each current roster position a letter grade, and then in September, the “re-tooled” roster will be re-evaluated and given new grades.
Goaltending. The most important position in hockey. Well, depending on who you ask that is, but in my humble opinion, you don’t win a championship without good goaltending. For those who want to bring up Antti Niemi and his 2010 performance for the Blackhawks, I first off would like re-iterate that I use the word “good”, and not “stellar”. You can’t put a slouch in goal and win 16 playoff games, and Niemi was better than mediocre. If you’re still not convinced about good goaltending then I would calmly like to turn your attention to the current Stanley Cup Playoffs where (until two days ago) the goalies with the top two save percentages in the playoffs had their teams in the finals (Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford were 1,2 until Crawford’s game 4 performance). Still, the teams that made the final four all had a goalie with a SV% in the top five this post-season (Rask, Quick, Vokoun, Crawford). If you still think I’m full of crap, then too bad because I must get on with the article.
The Main Roster
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As you can see from the chart above, Toronto has relatively no salary committed to it’s two goaltenders, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. Though this looks good now, it also means they are possibly due for hefty raises next year, assuming they perform as expected.
Reimer had a breakout season last year as he went 19-8-5 with a 2.46 GAA and .924 SV%. More accurately, he broke out in the playoffs, as he pretty much stole games 5 and 6 on his own. Though he (along with his teammates) had a MELTDOWN in the final 10 minutes of game 7, he undoubtedly solidified himself as the No. 1 guy in Toronto.
There are rumours out there that the Maple Leafs are interested in backup Jonathan Bernier, who is looking beyond L.A. for a starting gig (he recently fired his agent) but, as Jon Reid of the Bleacher Report already pointed out, it makes little sense to acquire an unproven “starter” when Reimer is just breaking out. Also, both Leafs goaltenders are on one-way contracts, so Scrivens would be forced to stay in the AHL all season long, which makes little sense.
If Reimer retains his role as the starting goalie, he will most likely be seeking a long-term contract next summer. If the Leafs make the playoffs and he plays well again, he will want to be paid like a number one, which will likely be somewhere between $4-$6 million per year. Clearly next summer is a big one, as MLSE will have to decide for good if Reimer is their guy.
The 26-year-old split time this past season between the Marlies and Leafs, and although his save % was very similar (.915 at NHL, .917 at AHL), his GAA and win-loss record differed greatly. He was 14-7-1 for the Marlies with a 2.22 GAA yet 7-9 for the Leafs with a 2.69 GAA. Perhaps this is telling about the team in front of him, as it appears Leaf’s goalies need to play spectacular in order to win games (re: Reimer game’s 5 and 6). The point is the 20 NHL games Scrivens played were vital for his development after a stellar college career followed by a Calder Cup run. He is certainly ready for a full-season as an NHL backup, and that will be key as Reimer has never played more than 37 games in an NHL regular season. Scrivens will be a UFA after this year, and in his current backup role he is certainly playing for his next contract. If he posts similar numbers next season to the ones he just posted, expect a marginal raise.
WHAT TO DO:
If I’m Dave Nonis, I go with the one-two punch of Reimer and Scrivens and, assuming the Leafs don’t falter early on, I try and sign Reimer to an extension during the season to get it over with. If he feels that may be too distracting then it wouldn’t necessarily be a drawback to wait until the off-season as Reimer is only an RFA, not a UFA. Scrivens upcoming UFA status actually isn’t a bad thing either, as this year can determine whether he can stay on as a reliable backup to Reimer. If he falters, I would go out and sign a veteran backup next summer (something Nonis may be contemplating now). The lockout season taught Leafs fans a lot, most notably that Reimer wants the number one job. Don’t go out and sign another guy and hurt his confidence and certainly don’t give up assets to acquire one via trade (ahem Bernier not a good idea…). This will likely be the last year any team is paying their NHL goaltenders a combined salary of $2.225 million.
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It appears Jussi Rynnas has played his way out of Toronto. Inconsistent play, combined with an inability to stay healthy resulted in the Leafs signing soon-to-be 30-year-old Drew MacIntyre earlier this month to a one-year deal, who started for the Marlies in the latter half the AHL season and then in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Rynnas, meanwhile, is set to become a UFA July 5.
MacIntyre is a journeyman AHL goalie who found a home in Toronto in February 2013 and played his way into the starting gig. He finished the regular season extremely strong with a 13-5-3 record, 1.83 GAA, and .931 SV%. He then started for the Marlies in the playoffs, playing great while disposing of Rochester but then falling to eventual Calder Cup Champions Grand Rapids. He went 5-4 with a 2.85 GAA and .913 SV%. The Leafs signed him to a one-year, two-way contract in June, meaning he is guaranteed to be back this fall.
Sparks is a younger goalie who will likely turn pro this year after two seasons of starting in goal for the Guelph Storm (OHL). This past season he played very well, posting a 36-17-4 record in 60 games, along with a 2.65 GAA and .917 SV%, which is very solid in a league where a lot of goals are scored. He turns 20 next week, so if he is returned to junior, he will count as one of three overage players each OHL team is permitted, making the decision a bit more complicated.
Owuya has served as the backup for the Marlies for the past two seasons. He has limited NHL potential and is also last on the depth chart.
WHAT TO DO
Four goalies here, and two under contract. MacIntyre right now slots in as the #1 for the Marlies and then the question becomes who backs him up? Sign Rynnas? Use a 20-year old rookie in Sparks? Re-qualify Owuya? Here’s the problem: the Leafs don’t have an ECHL team, so they either keep Sparks or send him to Guelph. If I’m Nonis, I give Rynnas one more chance (he also has more upside than MacIntyre, who’s not likely to get an NHL shot) by signing him to a one-year contract like MacIntyre, and then have them compete. This means I don’t qualify Owuya and send Sparks back down to junior (unless Toronto does get an ECHL affiliate, in which case he goes there).
The Leafs goaltending for the 2013-14 season: young but promising. Not much work has to be done here. There is no doubt there is a lack of a veteran presence in Toronto’s system but heck why change something if it worked well last year? Certainly there is the worry that Reimer has never played more than 37 games in one season, and that certainly hurts the grade. But, with both top guys having one year left on their contracts, there’s motivation for them to perform, they aren’t completely inexperienced and if it doesn’t work at least they don’t have guys stuck in stupidly long contracts. Reimer’s playoff play is a main reason for me giving the Leafs netminders a solid B- grade.