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The Curious Case of Maple Leaf Goaltending

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Matt Di Nicolantonio – www.leafswire.com

Some of you will argue it’s not very curious. It’s just plain bad.  At this moment, it’s difficult for me to present a strong argument against that.

The Leafs miss the calming, steady hand of their number one guy, James Reimer. There is no question about that.  Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens are simply not cutting it right now.  Just take a look at the stat lines.

Gustavsson:  .878 save percentage, 3.78 goals against average

Scrivens: .867 save percentage, 4.07 goals against average

Of course, there is one adjective that comes to mind for Leafs fans when you bring up numbers like that: Toskala-esque. That seems to be the kiss of death for a goalie wearing blue and white. You get compared to that guy, and it’s pretty much over for you and the fan base.

I don’t think Ben Scrivens is in that category just yet.  He’s only had three NHL games (two starts), and he didn’t get a whole lot of help in his appearance on Saturday against Boston. For that reason alone, I think he’ll get the start Thursday in St. Louis.  The Leafs still want to see what he has to offer, especially bouncing back after an ugly start.

However, just keep this in the back of your mind.  On December 22, 2008, Justin Pogge stopped 19 of 21 shots for his first NHL win. He did not record another win, and has not appeared in the NHL since that 08-09 season. He’s a lifetime 1-4-1 with a .844 save percentage and a 4.35 GAA.

I’m not saying that Scrivens is the next Justin Pogge. I think he’s just had the misfortune of playing in two of the Leafs’ worst games this year. What he brings to the table Thursday (if he starts) will be a true test of his talent and character.

That said, I’m still not positive that him and Gustavsson are capable of shouldering the load for this team over an extended period. Reimer hasn’t been on the ice since Thursday of last week, and nobody seems to have any clue as to when he’ll return from his “concussion-like symptoms.” If Reimer is going to miss an extended period of time, I think it’s time for the Leafs to start considering bringing in a veteran goalie. They need a guy who can put up decent if unspectacular numbers for the next few weeks while Reimer is out, and serve as the backup when Optimus Reim returns.

I say that, because I believe Gustavsson’s days here are numbered. It’s highly unlikely he’s claimed on waivers if they try to get him to the AHL (Columbus is the only team that comes to mind as a team that might want him). He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and he’ll need a very dramatic turnaround to convince Brian Burke to bring him back into the fold.

Last night on Twitter, I threw out two names the Leafs might want to consider: Marty Turco, and Evgeni Nabokov.  The response was pretty mixed.  Today, I decided to look into it a little bit more, and see who might be available for the right price.

Marty Turco,  free agent, .897 save percentage / 3.02 goals against average / 29 games (2010-11 season)

Turco spent last year with Chicago and lost his starter’s job to Corey Crawford.  He didn’t fare all that poorly considering he was in net mostly while the team was getting used to each other after a dramatic overhaul. I’m not sure any goalie would have put up better numbers.

He’s currently training with the Soo Greyhounds in his hometown, but it would take a few practices to bring himself back to NHL speed, I’m sure.  This would be the best option in terms of cost.  The Leafs wouldn’t have to give anything up, and he would come at a very cheap price. At age 36, he might not have much left in the tank.

Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders, .911 save percentage, 2.81 goals against average / 5 games

Nabokov has been slowed by a “lower body injury” this year, but he’s been impressive in his return to the NHL. Quite clearly auditioning to be the starter for a team not located on Long Island, he’s done fairly well. Would be the perfect fit for Toronto because he wants out of New York, and he’s in the final year of his contract. He would serve as a very competent and competitive backup once Reimer is back in action.

Availability: Probably high. He’s the odd man out with the Islanders, since Al Montoya is playing well, and Rick DiPietro isn’t going anywhere any time in the next decade.

Ray Emery, Chicago Blackhawks, .890 save percentage / 3.26 goals against average / 3 games

He’s seen very limited action this year, and the numbers are a bit inflated because he allowed 5 goals in one of those games.  I really liked what he did in Anaheim at the end of last season.  Like Nabokov, he’s only on the books for this season, and would challenge Reimer for playing time. Showed last year he’s capable of stringing some wins together. He’s only 29 years old, but his miraculously re-constructed hip might be cause for concern.

Availability:  It’s probably unlikely Chicago moves him, but they do have Alexander Salak signed to a one-way deal, which means they’re paying him an NHL salary to play in the AHL. Salak out-performed Emery in pre-season but got sent down anyway. I’m sure GM Stan Bowman can be swayed at the right price.

I originally was going to write more about three other options (Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and Scott Clemmensen), but upon further review, I think Burke & Co. would rather stick with Gustavsson and Scrivens than try any of those three.  They originally made the list because of possibility of being available. However, there’s a reason why their respective teams might want them gone, and for that, they aren’t likely to be useful in Toronto.

What do you think? Should the Leafs pursue Emery, Turco, or Nabokov? Should they stay the course and pray that Reimer returns sooner than later? Or is there someone I’m missing who you would like to see in blue and white? I’d love to hear back from you, either in the comments section, or on Twitter. I can be found @di_nic.

 

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