After celebrating a flawless shutout victory over the New York Islanders this past weekend, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Michael Hutchinson now tallies his third win in a row as the backup goaltender under the coaching of Sheldon Keefe.
Considering that just a mere month ago, Hutchinson had no recorded wins at all under former head coach Mike Babcock, I think it is safe to say that the implementation of Keefe has played a vital role in seeing the once shunned netminder realize his full potential.
So, how exactly can a goaltender go from being on such a downward spiral into dawning a new beginning?
For such a perplexing issue to be solved with something as simple as a coaching change we need to take a look at how each coach deployed Hutchinson.
Hutchinson Under Babcock
When Hutchinson was first called up from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to replace Garret Sparks at the end of the 2018-19 season, there were high expectations that the Barrie, Ontario native would provide the Maple Leafs with a meaningful presence in net, so that starting goaltender Frederik Andersen could gain much-needed rest come time for playoffs.
Fulfilling the role of a competent backup goaltender is something that the Maple Leafs desperately lacked during their time with Sparks and so, the pressure was immediately on Hutchinson to perform well.
Despite all his efforts, Hutchinson would fall victim to the same backup goaltending plague that has riddled the Maple Leafs in recent times and while under the coaching of Babcock, he posted a dreadful 0-4-1 record to begin the 2019-20 season.
This record, however, is tainted under the guise that these losses were all Hutchinson’s fault, most of which they definitely were not and the true reasoning lies in the coaching decisions of Babcock.
You see, Babcock would only ever use Hutchinson following a back-to-back in relief of Frederik Andersen. This may seem like a small act but it has dire repercussions. Most notably being that the team itself is likely fatigued due to the doubleheader which means the game will more heavily rely upon superb goaltending.
When such pressure is mounted onto Hutchinson, it becomes less unreasonable that he might not have the best showing. You can’t allow your goaltender to be hung out to dry defensively, especially when they are your backup and this is exactly what Babcock did by only playing him as a means of relief.
Hutchinson Under Keefe
By mid-November, it seemed like the days of playing in the NHL were over for Hutchinson and following a fifth straight loss, general manager Kyle Dubas placed him on waivers and the team would call up the Marlies’ Kasimir Kaskisuo to serve as a replacement.
Shortly thereafter, Babcock was relieved of his coaching duties by the Maple Leafs’ organization and Keefe was named as the new head coach. He would call up Hutchinson once again after Kaskisuo’s one game in the NHL, where he suffered a six-goal meltdown in a downright despicable loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Giving the disgruntled goaltender another chance would prove to be a smart move for Keefe and Hutchinson has only one loss under his coaching. The way Keefe has introduced Hutchinson has allowed the netminder to gain a solid footing in the crease to make him more comfortable in the net.
By giving some starter privileges, I believe it has really boosted the confidence levels of Hutchinson which were clearly not present under Babcock’s reign. When the Maple Leafs are spending more time at the other end of the ice scoring goals and taking away scoring chances in the defensive end, your goaltender will be able to more easily transition into the new element that is the NHL.
You can listen to Hutchinson’s thoughts about his NHL progress in the post-game discussion following the team’s win against the Islanders in the video below.
Hope for Maple Leafs in Hutchinson
If the Maple Leafs can finally solve their backup goaltending issue, they will become a dramatically bigger threat come playoff time. Andersen looked exhausted toward the end of last season and rightfully so. If he is to be healthy come playoffs, the Maple Leafs will need to win games with their backup goaltender and Hutchinson may very well be the answer.
Time will tell if he can continue on the path he is right now, but I personally think he has it in him to be the saving grace for the Maple Leafs who now boast a second seed in the Atlantic Division and are six points behind the struggling Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings.
Let us know what you think of Hutchinson’s road to redemption in the comment section below.
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San Jose Sharks writer @TheHockeyWriters
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