The Toronto Maple Leafs have decided Matt Murray was ‘the guy’ as they went out and acquired the veteran netminder before even getting a chance to speak to other free agents. Apparently, contract talks over the weekend did not go well with Jack Campbell, and general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas decided it was a familiar face he’d like to bring in to be his starter next season.
The trade for Murray has been criticized immensely by Leafs Nation, in large part due to the Ottawa Senators only retaining 25 percent of the netminder’s contract. Toronto is on the hook for $4.67 million over the next two seasons, and it’s certainly a risky move for a goaltender who hasn’t had a strong season since 2018-19.
Regardless, here we are and the Maple Leafs now turn their attention to finding a veteran backup goalie they can afford as they currently only sit with $6.3 million in cap space with some unfinished business left to do. Here are three options Dubas and company should consider:
The Winnipeg Jets have Connor Hellebuyck as their starter and it looks like they’ve decided to move in a different direction for back up minutes, leaving Eric Comrie as an unrestricted free agent. The 27-year-old former second-round pick played his junior hockey in the Western Hockey League and has grinded his way to 28 NHL appearances over the past six seasons.
Comrie is still a bit of an unknown in the NHL ranks, however, last season was his coming-out party. The 6-foot-1 netminder posted a 10-5-1 record with one shutout, along with a 2.58 goals-against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage (SV%). Impressive numbers for a backup netminder on a mediocre team.
While it was only 19 games, Comrie’s SV% ranked higher than the likes of Campbell, Tristan Jarry, Ville Husso, Juuse Saros, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. With very limited experience at the NHL level heading into free agency on July 13, he won’t have a ton of negotiating power and is likely to sign on the cheap compared to Campbell or fellow free agent Darcy Kuemper.
The Maple Leafs likely want to keep their backup goaltender’s cap hit around $1 million at the high end, so we’ll see if Dubas and company can pitch signing a ‘show-me’ contract and agree with Comrie’s camp that if he shows something next season, a long-term extension could be in the cards.
There are only a handful of free-agent goaltenders with over 300 NHL games played and Thomas Griess is one of them. If the Maple Leafs want a cheap backup veteran option, the former Detroit Red Wing could be the perfect candidate. He’s coming off a season where he appeared in 31 games, posting a 3.66 GAA and a .891 SV%, certainly numbers that don’t jump off the page. But when you only have so many resources to allocate, this is the type of gamble you take.
Griess has been a starter in the past and is now best suited for a 25-game season and being solely a number two option. He’s 36 years old and while retirement could potentially be in play here, there’s been no indication of that to this point. The Maple Leafs could land the German netminder on a one-year deal at $1 million, without question. While last season was a bad one on a very bad team in Detroit, if we look back to 2020-21, he posted an impressive .912 SV% and a 2.70 GAA. While he’s certainly not the sexiest of options, this is the type of goaltender that’s available to the Maple Leafs who haven’t necessarily managed the salary cap perfectly up to this point.
Speaking of veteran options and some familiarity, Jaroslav Halak could be a target of the Maple Leafs once the free-agent market opens on Wednesday. Halak spent a few seasons with the rival Boston Bruins and last season finished up his contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Halak appeared in 17 games last season, posting a 4-7-2 record, along with a .903 SV% and a 2.94 GAA. It was the first time since 2017-18 that he didn’t finish the season with a winning record and with 39 games of playoff experience, he’s a reasonable option to pair with Murray, the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
With the 27-year-old Murray added to the mix, it feels like the Maple Leafs will turn to a veteran who’s been around the block, as the team also has youngster Joseph Woll as a viable option. To this point, it feels like Dubas is going to troll the waters to see what kind of proven talent is out there readily available on the cheap.
While these three targets make some sense in their own right, the likes of Kevin Lankinen and Martin Jones should get some honorable mentions, as they are goalies who have struggled in the past but have shown flashes of brilliance in their careers. Right now Dubas is hanging his hat on his ‘junior’ netminder who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2017-18. Hate to say it, but it sounds like he’ll fit right in.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween