For the last handful of years the focus in Toronto has been on the goaltending of Frederik Andersen. He’s led the Maple Leafs between the pipes since 2016-17 and until last year’s COVID-shortened season saw 60 games or more in each of his first three seasons with the team.
Even with the shortened season, Andersen played 52 games in 2019-20 and has already seen action in 23 games this season for the Maple Leafs prior to going down with an injury. Now, while the workload has fallen heavily on the shoulders of Andersen over the past five seasons, the majority of that has come with little faith in those backing him up over the years.
Curtis McElhinney. Antoine Bibeau. Jhonas Enroth. Calvin Pickard. Garret Sparks. Michael Hutchinson. Kasimir Kaskisuo. And Jack Campbell. Some have had better success than others, but none of them really stood out, instilled confidence in the team, or forced Andersen to compete for his starting job.
That was until the start of the 2020-21 season.
Maple Leafs Looking for Possible Replacement
At the end of the season, Andersen will become an unrestricted free agent, watching his five-year, $25-million contract come to an end. As of now, he’s had a relatively successful career with the Maple Leafs aside from the odd ugly goal and the lack of support come playoff time.
But when it comes to the regular season, Andersen has a 149-74-35 record in 267 games played to go along with a .914 save percentage (SV%), a 2.78 goals against average (GAA) and 13 shutouts. In today’s NHL, that’s similar to what you’re going to get for $5-million per season.
Still, he’s seen a steady decline in both SV% and GAA over the past three seasons and hasn’t found a way to steal a game for the Maple Leafs so far in 2020-21.
Add to that the injury and there are a lot of questions surrounding Andersen’s future with the Maple Leafs beyond the end of this season. In a way, the injury came at the perfect point for the Maple Leafs. Andersen was sporting a 2.91 GAA and .897 SV% and squeaky goals were becoming a regular occurrence for the netminder. So it forced the hand of the Maple Leafs’ staff – both coaching and front office – to figure out what could be a potential fix now and in the long-term plans if Andersen isn’t the guy entering the 2021-22 season.
Jack Campbell Making Argument for the Net
Now, remember the lack of production the Maple Leafs have had from their back-up goalies over the past four seasons. That’s not taking into account what they’ve been able to do so far this year.
From 2016 to 2020, the Maple Leafs’ back-up goalies combined for a 35-40-6 record over 88 games played during the regular season. While they had seven shutouts over that span, their numbers were otherwise unimpressive – or rather, average – including a 2.97 GAA and .907 SV%.
But this year, things seem to have turned around for the Maple Leafs with Campbell leading the charge. Instead, Andersen’s numbers have been subpar. In place of Andersen, Campbell has delivered for his team thus far with a 7-0-0 record, a .948 SV%, a 1.41 GAA and two shutouts.
On top of that, while he’s given up a few stinkers when it comes to goals, he’s also made some big saves to steal games for his club – giving a lot of the credit to the team playing in front of him.
While his record might not be sustainable for the entirety of the season, his play this season has reminded fans and those around the hockey world why he was seen as a first-round pick when he was drafted in 2010 by the Dallas Stars, 11th overall.
With Andersen out and a free agent at the end of the year, Campbell’s play has increased discussion amongst some around the game of a potential starting gig with the team in 2021-22 if Andersen doesn’t return.
We are, however, still quite a ways away from that being the final decision, but his play has increased the team and their fans’ confidence in their back-ups this season.
Even Hutchinson has been better since returning to the Maple Leafs this season. While he hasn’t put up an undefeated season like Campbell, his seven games have come with a 3-2-1 record, a .915 SV%, 2.49 GAA and one shutout as well.
A Goalie Controversy Brewing in Toronto
There’s no timeline for Andersen’s return to the lineup, but with Campbell playing the way he is and the team playing the way they are in front of him, it’s not farfetched to say that Campbell may have the net even with Andersen back to full health. It has to be considered, at least.
The Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas will likely consider running with the hot hand, at least until that run ends. Sure, Hutchinson will fall to the third-string spot on the depth chart, but holding Andersen out longer and letting Campbell run with it might be the best case scenario for the Maple Leafs heading into the playoffs. It not only builds the confidence they have and Campbell has in himself, but it will allow Andersen to remain rested ready for postseason action.
Regardless of how it plays out, it’s been a long time since the Maple Leafs have had a viable option as their back-up goaltender. While questions of his starting ability might still remain for some, his play this season has surely altered the perspective of the Maple Leafs moving forward – both this season and heading into Andersen’s free agency following the 2020-21 campaign.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.