The Toronto Maple Leafs are lucky to be heading into next season with a starting goaltending making only $1.65 million on the salary cap in Jack Campbell. General manager Kyle Dubas has some decisions to make over the course of the next few weeks as free agency begins July 28. There’s no doubt the Maple Leafs are going to take a long look at their options for a backup to Campbell, and while there’s a couple of names who are appealing from other teams, two of their best options are internal candidates.
Free Agent Netminders on Maple Leafs Radar
The forgotten David Rittich is actually younger than both Campbell and Frederik Andersen and could be brought back on a short-term deal. In the four appearances for the Maple Leafs, including three starts, he recorded a 1-1-1 record with an underwhelming .888 save percentage (SV%). The kicker with the Czech goaltender is the fact he’s still only 28-years-old and has a career record of 64-40-16 and a career mark of 2.82 goal-against average (GAA).
He’s coming off making $2.75 million last season, and while there’s still lots of potential there, don’t expect to see many teams breaking the bank, including the Maple Leafs. Perhaps a two-year deal that sees Rittich make $2 million per season makes sense for both sides. This would give Dubas a veteran backup should Campbell stumble in his first full season as the number one goalie, and it would give Rittich some job security for a couple of seasons. He is expected to hear from the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, who showed interest in him before the trade deadline.
Brian Elliott feels like the kind of goalie the Maple Leafs would sign, and Leafs Nation would go bananas, calling for Dubas to be fired. At 36, he’s certainly been around the block and on a bad team this season in Philadelphia, but he managed to record a 15-9-2 record in 30 appearances. While his career .910 SV% is impressive, considering his age as well, it’s dipped the last four regular seasons, going from .909, .907, .899, to .889 this season.
While Elliott’s best days may be behind him, in his last three postseason games, he’s been solid, recording a 2.15 GAA and a .911 SV%. The only thing is, it’s not the Stanley Cup Playoffs the Maple Leafs really need out of him, it’s 25-35 games in the regular season, and given his age, is he more likely to get injured with a bigger workload? The veteran is an intriguing option, but likely one Dubas and company take a pass on.
The Buffalo Sabres netminder is one of the biggest names on the free-agent market, and a lot of the hoopla has to do with his age and the fact he’s coming off a pretty good season on a really bad team. Linus Ullmark managed a 9-6-3 record last season, recording a 2.63 GAA and a .917 SV%. Belief is the Sabres have him very high on their priority list this summer, but given the fact general manager Kevyn Adams is occupied with trade offers on some of this team’s biggest stars, perhaps he puts the extension on the back burner.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Ullmark is extremely athletic and uses his leg strength to get side to side in a timely fashion. He’s progressed well from a one-time sixth-round pick to having three seasons in a row with a winning record in Buffalo. His SV% has climbed each of the past three seasons as he continues to develop and find his game. Ullmark is a great option for the Maple Leafs because instead of being a support system for Campbell, he can be there to push him for the crease and for starter’s minutes. Given this will be Campbell’s first season as the number one, perhaps this is exactly what the doctored order. This signing, like all of them, is going to come down to dollars and cents. If the Maple Leafs allocate somewhere near $3.5 -$4 million to their second goaltender, perhaps he heads north on the QEW.
Frederik Andersen Likely Returns for 1-B Role
While there’s a number of free agents who Maple Leafs’ management will contemplate, their best option may be bringing back their own free agent in Andersen. While half of Leafs Nation would love the move, the other half would point to the fact he hasn’t been able to win a playoff series since joining the team via the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17. However, you can’t deny the facts; the last time he appeared in the postseason, he posted a 1.84 GAA and a .936 SV%, including a shutout. Absolute lights out numbers, and it’s actually kind of strange he gets labelled with a lot of the blame.
Andersen battled a nagging leg injury this season, and while the team would have loved it if he stayed healthy and played 65 games, he didn’t, resulting in him not having a ton of leverage on his next contract. A down season has actually made him more team-friendly, and with some serious salary cap constraints for Dubas and company, that should be music to the ears of the Leafs’ brass. The team should considering signing him to a two to three year contract and give him a chance to stay with this Maple Leafs’ core, as the best is yet to come for this group.
As we’ve seen with Montreal and Tampa Bay this postseason, goaltending is absolutely everything. Considering the Maple Leafs know what they are getting with Andersen’s game, his character in the dressing room, and having a solid understanding of the gaps in his development, the Danish netminder still appears to be the logical choice as Campbell’s running mate next season. The two have formed a solid relationship and carry themselves with the same end goal, which is doing what’s best for the team. The free-agent market will have options for Toronto, but all signs appear to be pointing at Andersen. We’ll just have to wait a few weeks, or less, to see if Maple Leafs’ management agrees.
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 find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween