It’s far from ideal for any organization to be cornered into relying on goaltending support from anyone other than those they positioned as their No. 1 and No. 2 heading into the season. Yet, that’s precisely where the 2022-23 Toronto Maple Leafs currently find themselves, with both Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov now sidelined.
That replacements Erik Källgren and Keith Petruzzelli have such limited NHL experience, with Källgren starting less than 20 games to date and Petruzzelli yet to make his debut, it’s surely difficult for the franchise to maintain much confidence as they attempt to remain a contender.
It’s not to suggest that the two are incapable of surprising skeptics or that they aren’t due for their opportunity to progress their professional careers, but is now the best time for the Maple Leafs to weigh out the potential reward that aligns with such a risk?
Rhetorical or otherwise, it won’t do Toronto any good if Kyle Dubas overreacts in his effort to source an immediate solution. Regardless of the potential pieces that could be involved in a trade, or even if the Maple Leafs would appear to win the respective negotiation, they need to be more strategic in their search than simply looking up the biggest names available.
Even if it means prioritizing Källgren and Petruzzelli in the meantime, the Maple Leafs will be better off avoiding these three goalies at all costs. Despite any impressive notes on their respective resume, let alone familiarity with Toronto.
Regardless of John Gibson’s modified no-trade clause (M-NTC), which is currently in effect through 2026-27, that hasn’t stopped the former Jennings Trophy winner from continually being included in trade rumours that would see him starting in another city. Neglecting any rationalization as to why Toronto should be interested, Dubas needs to look the other way.
First and foremost, Gibson has put together a respectable career that includes a winning record, .914 save percentage (SV%), 2.71 goals-against average (GAA), and 23 shutouts. He’s earned accolades and all-star nods in the juniors, internationally, and as an NHL starter.
However, digging just a little deeper, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the 29-year-old may already be sliding down the wrong side of his peak.
It would be easy to explain away a bad season or two, especially as he’s been backstopping a struggling Anaheim Ducks squad. Unfortunately, though, it’s harder to excuse the fact that Gibson’s been anything but elite in his own regard for at least the past few seasons.
A far cry from living up to his $6.4 million per paycheque, Gibson’s best metrics within that span have included a .904 SV% and 2.98 GAA. Furthermore, through a rough start to 2022-23, he’s riding a 4.52 GAA, .887 SV%, and -0.761 goals saved above expected per 60 (GSAx/60). Metrics that have him near the bottom of the league in every regard.
Despite reports indicating that Gibson isn’t interested in becoming a Maple Leaf, it would be most logical for Dubas to simply avoid inviting him to Toronto in the first place.
Recent rumblings have suggested that James Reimer could be a good fit for the Maple Leafs. Perhaps due to his career’s resurgence in the years that followed his initial tenure with Toronto, let alone his familiarity with the city. However, when that relationship ended it seemed best that it be a permanent conclusion between the two.
It’s not that Reimer didn’t give his all while he was a Maple Leaf. Quite the opposite, really. Through six seasons in Toronto, he accumulated a .914 SV%, 2.83 GAA, and 11 shutouts, en route to a record of 85-76-23. Some of his best numbers to date, all accomplished on rosters that were far less competitive than today’s team.
Latest News & Highlight
Offering the 34-year-old an opportunity to redeem himself from being attached to one of the franchise’s biggest playoff disappointments in recent decades isn’t reason enough to plan a reunion, though.
“There’s no way to describe it,” he said of his emotions at the time. “Just an empty feeling really. It’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
While he has proven that he can maintain a solid presence wherever he plays and as he approaches his mid-30s, it’s important to point out that he’s mostly done so as a backup.
Although the Maple Leafs could easily find themselves in a position where they look to enhance their supporting cast if their current tandem proves incapable, their focus would then have to shift to finding a true No. 1 capable of performing as one for as long as is necessary.
As Reimer enjoys standing out for all the right seasons on a struggling San Jose Sharks squad, he simply wouldn’t fit into Toronto’s equation in the same manner at this point. Besides, rather than influencing any potential redemption, bringing the former Maple Leaf back could ultimately cause more harm than good for the reputation of both sides.
More so a hypothetical than a substantiated rumour that holds any weight, some are currently exploring a trade scenario that would see Jack Campbell return to Toronto a mere few months into his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers. Despite his early struggles in 2022-23 suggesting he may need a reset on the season, the Maple Leafs shouldn’t be so quick to offer their support.
After being acquired mid-way through 2019 to help enhance Toronto’s backup strategy, Campbell quickly began to steal the spotlight from then-starter Frederik Andersen. A reality that made it easier for the Maple Leafs to let Andersen walk in the offseason leading up to 2021-22, granting Campbell more of their crease as a result.
An instant fan favourite, Campbell seemed destined to be the answer to Toronto’s goaltending dilemma moving forward. Finally considered a No. 1, 10 years into his career, the former first-round pick did more than enough to prove he was worthy of the promotion.
Ironically, it was that very record-setting success achieved with Toronto that worked against finding a way to keep Campbell there. The peaks he was able to reach on those dominant Maple Leafs teams inflated his value to a level Dubas wasn’t able or willing to pay to re-sign him. An unfortunate ending to what could have been a fruitful relationship with years ahead of it to blossom, for all involved.
Edmonton, on the other hand, felt they had witnessed enough to secure Campbell for $5 million per year through 2026-27 with the hopes that he would become their answer to the same question he helped Toronto address. Yet, a start that includes a 4.20 GAA, .874 SV%, and -0.616 GSAx/60 seems less than likely to have solved Edmonton’s problems.
As the Oilers continue looking to their backup while Campbell regresses toward being one, there’s no reason for the Maple Leafs to pave him a path that leads back to the setup he left behind. It was his right to move on, but it’s also Toronto’s to avoid having him return.
Rather than seeming solely like a decision based on spite, the reality is that Campbell just isn’t currently performing in a way that would suggest he’s poised to take over as Toronto’s starter — again.
Maple Leafs Need More Than Luck in Net
Although the Maple Leafs couldn’t have initially anticipated a scenario in which a duo of Källgren and Petruzzelli were their go-to tandem, it’s on them as a collective to progress through this less-than-ideal scenario so they are still poised to compete when Murray and Samsonov return.
What’s more, it’s not as though a previously unknown netminder can’t rise through the ranks when presented with such an opportunity. It’s occurred before in this league, so why can’t Toronto be the place where it happens again?
Regardless of whether or not Dubas does seek additional support to bolster his goaltending depth, thus avoiding that very question, Toronto will require some better luck than they’ve experienced between their pipes so far this season. Especially if they hope to maintain any momentum gained of late.
Decision-making also matters, though, and the Maple Leafs choosing to avoid seeking assistance from Gibson, Reimer, or Campbell will help the franchise’s current outlook remain more clear than it would likely become otherwise.