Perhaps it’s way too early to speculate about next season when the Toronto Maple Leafs still face the possibility of a long Stanley Cup run during the 2020-21 season. However, as I look forward to the roster changes that the team will face after this season, my logic tells me that new Maple Leafs’ goalie David Rittich is not a rental.
I like the addition of Nick Foligno and believe he will bring a lot to the team over the end of this season and into the playoffs. I also hope the organization guessed correctly and that Foligno jumps in to help push the Maple Leafs all the way to the Stanley Cup. However, when the ice chips melt on the 2020-21 NHL season, I’m putting my money on my belief that, when the two key trades Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas made at the trade deadline are assessed from the perspective of in Maple Leafs’ history, the trade for Rittich will stand as the more important trade.
Rittich checks off a lot of boxes the team needs to check off; and, as the Maple Leafs head into a 2021-22 NHL regular season where the salary-cap-flattening impact of COVID-19 on NHL revenues won’t yet have been vaccinated away, the team simply won’t be able to sign all 24 of their upcoming free agents.
The two main free agents on the team’s roster where decisions must be made are starting goalie Frederik Andersen and top-six winger Zach Hyman. Both will deserve salaries around $5 million and that simply seems impossible even with the magic that Assistant General Manager and salary-cap-genius Brandon Pridham can do.
My call is that Hyman will be prioritized over Andersen as a core to the Maple Leafs’ future.
That means the Maple Leafs will need another goalie and I believe Rittich will likely be the team’s choice. It also makes sense that the team would be able to sign Rittich to a contract that both fits into the team’s needs and plans as it attempts to limbo under the unchanged upper limits of a flat salary cap. Logic suggests that Rittich will sign again with the Maple Leafs and become either goalie 1A or 1B with Jack Campbell for next season.
Considering the Rittich Trade on Its Own Merit
When Dubas spoke about the Rittich trade, he noted that, given the uncertain injury status of Andersen, the Maple Leafs brought Rittich in to shore up their goalie corps and to help the goalies who had brought the team to where it stands today atop the current North Division standings.
To get Rittich from Calgary, the Maple Leafs moved a third-round draft choice in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Flames retained 50% of Rittich’s contract. That seems a good deal for the Maple Leafs, given their needs and the quality of goalie Rittich has been.
It’s probably a win-win trade for both Rittich and the Maple Leafs. Rittich had become the backup when Calgary signed Jacob Markstrom on a long-term contract as the team’s starting goalie. Still, Rittich has been a strong goalie. He’d been named to the NHL All-Star Game in 2020 and he’d been a strong starter for several seasons with the Flames.
Assessing Rittich’s First Game in a Maple Leafs’ Uniform
Given both the unusual circumstances and the scheduling context in which the game was played, Rittich played well for the Maple Leafs and helped the team hang in there for a single point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the team he had just been traded from.
In fact, physically moving to Toronto from Calgary was a bit of an odd adventure. Rittich took the Flames plane with the rest of his former teammates to Toronto so he could face those same teammates in his first Maple Leafs’ game.
As far as the game went, Chris Johnston was impressed with Rittich’s debut as a Maple Leafs’ goalie. Not only was it “unprecedented” for Rittich to fly into Toronto with his former team to join a new team, but the fact that he immediately played against his old team in the next game hadn’t happened in the NHL for 20 years.
Rittich also noted about how odd the situation was. There was a time during the game where he forgot which team he was on and he was startled by a Blue Jersey. He had no chance to stop Johnny Gaudreau’s great move in overtime. Still, given all the Rittich faced, he made some great saves in the third period and allowed the team to hang in there to get at least a point from the game they entered on a back-to-back and given some a tough travel.
Rittich himself noted how tough his first Maple Leafs’ start was and that playing his old teammates ”was tough. I’ve got some (life-long) friends there.”
In the end, it wasn’t the start either the team or Rittich had hoped for. On the season, Rittich record moved to 4-7-2 with a goals-against-average of 2.90 and a save percentage of .903.
What Happens for the Remainder of the Season and into Next Season?
Unless things go very wrong, in which case Rittich is liable to play more than expected, Maple Leafs’ fans should expect Rittich to act as Campbell’s backup until Andersen returns to the line-up. One should hope that Andersen would return during the regular season. Would the Maple Leafs let Andersen sit and then play him during the playoffs? That doesn’t seem logical to me.
Moving into next season, as I noted earlier, there seems to be little chance Andersen will be back with the team because I think the organization will trade Andersen’s salary-cap hit for the space to re-sign Hyman. Thus, the Rittich move might offer a hint into Dubas’ plans moving forward.
Rittich should get some playing time at the end of this regular season; and, if all goes well, there’s more than a chance he’ll be back next season. Is the Maple Leafs plan to go with Campbell as their starter (or even 1A) next season and re-sign Rittich as the backup (or even 1B)?
Given Rittich’s record this season and the impact of COVID-19’s flat salary cap on contracts, Rittich will likely not sign for for more than his current contract of $2.75 million. Could he sign a short-term, bet-on-himself contract with the Maple Leafs? If so, playing with a strong team like the Maple Leafs would allow him to put up solid numbers next season and get a higher contract somewhere should he choose when things calm down a bit.
I think Dubas sees Rittich as more than a rental. Even if I’m wrong, trading for Rittich this season was a good move for the organization.
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