The Toronto Maple Leafs have hit a rough patch recently, sputtering along at 1-5-0 over their last six outings. But even with the recent skid, they sit first in the North Division after 30 games played with 40 points and look poised to add an impact player before the April 12 trade deadline. There’s talk that the Leafs are in on several big names at forward and defence including Mikael Granlund, Filip Forsberg, Rickard Rakell, and Matias Ekholm among others.
Interestingly, though, there hasn’t been any word about an upgrade in net despite that clearly being the team’s weakest link over the past two seasons. With the combination of Jack Campbell’s injuries and Frederik Andersen’s career-worst performance to date, that weakness has been magnified even further over the past several weeks, costing Toronto multiple points in games they’ve dominated.
Despite the recent struggles in net, general manager Kyle Dubas didn’t seem too concerned about his goaltending situation during Tuesday’s press conference, suggesting that he has full confidence in his current trio.
But in a year where the Leafs are clearly going all in for the Cup, you’ve got to ask the question: can an elite roster win in the playoffs without exceptional goaltending? Let’s try to figure that out.
You Need Elite Goaltending to Win a Stanley Cup
Maybe this goes without saying, but you generally need to get exceptional goaltending in order to make a Stanley Cup run. There’s so much parity in the NHL these days that the only thing that separates good teams is, often, how many saves their goaltender can make, and if we look at recent Cup winners, that’s clearly been one of the main keys to success.
Looking at Stanley Cup-winning goalies over the last five seasons, they’ve averaged about 24 games played during their playoff runs coupled with an impressive .923 SV%. For reference, .923 is right around Vezina Trophy-level goaltending: Connor Hellebuyck posted a .922 in 2019-20, Andheri Vasilevskiy won with a .925 in 2018-19, and Pekka Rinne put up a .927 in 2017-18. Of course, it’s easier to play at a Vezina level over a 20 to 25-game span compared to a full season, but that’s still far from an easy feat.
Back to the Leafs: is there anyone in the organization that could give them that kind of goaltending over a long playoff run? Without any moves in net, that’s the big question.
Andersen Is No Longer Elite
Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here: Andersen is clearly no longer an elite goaltender. Over the past two seasons, the 31-year-old has put up a .907 save percentage (SV%), good for 44th of 75 goalies with at least 10 games played, or 28th of 43 goalies with at least 40 games played. According to goals saved above average per hour (GSAA/60), which adjusts for shot quality and quantity, the Dane once again finishes 28th out of 43 netminders with a slightly negative rating.
The eye test tells the same story: Andersen rarely ever makes the saves he shouldn’t, and sometimes struggles to makes the saves he should.
I’m a big Campbell fan but if your response is that backup can step up and carry a team on his own over an extended stretch, I think that’s very optimistic considering he’s 29, has just 67 games of NHL experience, and has never played more than 31 games in one season. Basically, it looks like the Leafs don’t have a reliable option in net for a playoff run this season unless someone can catch fire. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be completely out of the question.
Andersen Is Still Capable of Catching Fire
The silver lining through all of this is that Andersen is in fact capable of catching fire and he’s proven that in the past. He’s probably one of the streakier goalies in the NHL and it appears that Dubas is banking on his starter to rebound at the right time. The drawback, of course, is that his hot streaks have been quite inconsistent and historically haven’t aligned with the playoffs.
Here we can see all of Andersen’s hottest streaks over the past four seasons. You’ll notice a couple key themes. On the plus side, his streaks tend to be more than good enough to qualify for Stanley Cup-quality goaltending as he’s averaged a .928 SV% over the five runs. The big negative for the Leafs here is that Andersen hasn’t had a hot spell since January 2020, meaning he hasn’t shown that elite ability in well over a year now.
Looking at his playoff performance, Andersen’s averaged a .916 SV% over 25 games and four different series with the Maple Leafs. That’s actually surprisingly decent considering the amount of flak he seems to catch come playoff time, though the argument is that he’s consistently been outplayed by the opposition’s goalie, which is true.
Ultimately, if the Leafs are going to find playoff success this season, it’s going to come down to one of two things: either Andersen rebounds hard to find his A-game at the right time, or the team in front of him is so dominant that they can win with average goaltending like the Blues did in 2019. Based on what we’ve seen from Andersen in the past year and change, I wouldn’t bank on him returning to his prime form, which is partially why the pressure is on Dubas to go all-in at this year’s trade deadline.
With the new alignment and improved roster, the Leafs are certainly set up for playoff success this season. It’s just concerning to think that their fortunes will ultimately rest on the shoulders of the man between the posts.
Chris Faria is a contributor for The Hockey Writers with a focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs. A hockey player and self-proclaimed analytics nerd, his work aims to combine both stats and a deep knowledge of the game. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in sports journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.