Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be in full panic mode of late. Their beloved Maple Leafs, who are once again picked as one of the favored teams to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the 2022-23 season, don’t even have an NHL goalie under contract.
To make matters worse, the goalies that are available are being scooped up faster than cheap TVs on Black Friday. On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Maple Leafs’ one last attempt to negotiate a deal with goalie Jack Campbell had failed. Campbell too now seems ready to jump ship in free agency,
In All the Angst, Kyle Dubas Seems to Remain Calm
However, the one person who isn’t panicking is Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas. He seems calm and cool when answering questions from the media – well, except when the subject of offer sheets to Rasmus Sandin comes up.
It makes us wonder if he has a plan. We also wonder if that plan might include the goalie that just hoisted the Stanley Cup, Darcy Kuemper.
If we look at the string of first-round losses the Maple Leafs have suffered in the past six seasons, one thing that’s a constant in each of those losses is they consistently get “out-goalied.” Whether it’s the Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby, the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask (twice), the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Joonas Korpisalo, the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, or the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, they always seem to come out on the losing end of the goalie competition.
How Can the Maple Leafs Overcome Their Goalie Issue?
How do the Maple Leafs finally overcome that problem? The team has a small number of choices. Currently, there are rumors that they are pursuing a trade for former Soo Greyhound goalie and former Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray. Perhaps that trade might happen soon.
However, another option might be signing a goalie who’s just won the Stanley Cup. It isn’t often the goalie on a championship team becomes available right after winning the Cup. Can the Maple Leafs take advantage of that opportunity?
Despite being up tight against the NHL’s salary cap and having numerous positions on the roster to fill, Dubas has stated a number of times recently that he feels he has more flexibility this season than he has had in the recent past.
After trading away Petr Mrazek’s $3.8 million salary cap hit the Maple Leafs have $10.2 million in cap space. By shuffling the deck a little, he could easily add another $2 million to that. Dubas also recently stated he is willing to move out more salary if necessary.
As for Kuemper himself, hockey insider tweeted that Kuemper is looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $6 million for six seasons.
Between Campbell ($1.65 million) and Mrazek ($3.8 million), the Maple Leafs had a total cap hit of $5.45 million wrapped up in goal last season. The team could sign Kuemper for $6 million x six years and then either let Erik Kallgren ($750,000) and Joseph Woll ($767,000) fight it out for the backup job or sign an older veteran backup on the cheap. That would still only give the team about $1.5 million more salary-cap space tied up in the net than they had last season.
Kuemper, at 32 years of age, is less than two years older than Jack Campbell. He also has a more impressive resume. He’s played over 300 NHL games in the regular season and playoffs, has a career .918 save percentage, and a goals-against-average of 2.48.
What is more impressive about Kuemper’s numbers is that 121 of his starts came with the lowly Arizona Coyotes. In fact, the Coyotes had winning records both seasons he was their starter. Kuemper posted a winning record when he was in Arizona (55-48-15).
The Risk of Signing Kuemper
Signing Kuemper to a six-year deal doesn’t come without risk. While he’s in his prime right now for a goalie, because they generally peak at an older age than NHL skaters, by the end of the deal he will be 38 years old.
However, the context is that the Maple Leafs are desperately in “win now” mode. As we wrote recently, Leafland will not take kindly to another first-round loss in the playoffs.
There are worse ways to finally get over that hump than having a proven Stanley Cup playoff goaltender between the pipes.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf