Maple Leafs’ Backup Goalie Situation Must Be Resolved

It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not been getting good production from their number two goaltending position. In six starts this season, Michael Hutchinson has gone 0-5-1 with a 4.55 goals-against average (GAA), and an .876 save percentage (SV%). His save percentage ranks 61st out of 62nd among goaltenders who have made at least five starts this season.

While you can argue Hutchinson was set up for failure under former head coach Mike Babcock, there needs to be accountability on the goaltender. Hutchinson played the second game of the back-to-back every time, and perhaps didn’t have the best defensive effort behind him. New head coach Sheldon Keefe attempted to break this trend and start him in the first game of a back-to-back vs. the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, but the results were no different.

Hutchinson allowed 5 goals on 35 shots, and posted an .857 SV%. Things were looking good early, as the Maple Leafs cruised to a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. However, the Sabres then exploded for four goals in the second period – exposing his glove side, where four of the five goals were scored. And while there were some bad giveaways, he was not there to make a big save.

Keefe consulted players prior to calling Hutchinson up again. Everyone felt like he deserved another chance, and that the team can play much better hockey behind him.

The sample size has been large enough now, and the Leafs must look elsewhere for answers. While you have to feel for Hutchinson, who works hard and is well liked by the team, there comes a time where you have to do what’s best for the organization moving forward. Allowing four-plus goals in six straight starts is unacceptable at the NHL level, and you need more out of the backup position for success.

Dubas Must Get Creative

The Maple Leafs are certainly in a tough spot. Their financial flexibility to deal with the issue is very limited, and general manager Kyle Dubas has his work cut out for him. With a fully healthy roster, the team has around $800,000 to spend on the backup position. This severely limits their options, and he may have to shed salary from the current roster to go for a higher-end goalie.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs Draft
Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One possible option for the Maple Leafs is to target the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Tristan Jarry. The price may be too high, however, as GM Jim Rutherford will not part ways with the netminder too easily.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun agrees that Dubas has left his team in difficult spot. He will be hard pressed for another manager to do his team a favour and provide him with a capable, inexpensive option. The hefty contracts signed by Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner over the last couple years have put the Leafs into a very tough spot financially and Dubas needs to take care of this situation sooner than later.

Backup Goalies: A Recipe for Success

The importance of a solid No. 2 goalie cannot be overlooked. When you look at the top of the Eastern Conference right now, it is evident how the backup goalies on the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders have played a crucial role.

For the Capitals, Ilya Samsonov has gone 6-2-1 record in nine starts, with a 2.58 GAA and a .914 SV%. The Bruins have gotten unbelievable goaltending from backup Jaroslav Halak. He has gone 6-1-3 with a 2.35 GAA and a .930 SV%. Both Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have performed admirably in a time-share, combining to go 17-5-2 this season.

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dubas and the Maple Leafs organization need to take this issue seriously. It can end up being the difference between making the playoffs or not, and it is big insurance to have a serviceable backup in case Frederik Andersen gets injured, which is always a possibility. Andersen has been simply remarkable this season, but to manage his workload and keep him fresh, the Leafs will have to bring in some help as soon as possible.