As the Crease Turns: A History of Leafs Goaltending Drama

 

Well it’s mid August here in the heart of Toronto, and with it comes the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The Ex is great, and not just because of the fried Mars bars, overpriced stuffed animals, and bushy mustachioed carnies. The grand carnival means that it’s time to ready your lucky underwear and rarely washed jerseys because hockey season is right around the corner!

And what better way to celebrate the Ex than by taking a closer look at the carousel that will be the Leafs crease this season (get it? It’s a carnival ride…I kill me sometimes).

The Leafs acquisition of Jonathan Bernier (and his $2.9 M salary) means that we have a legitimate goaltending battle on our hands, one that undoubtedly will be under tight scrutiny throughout the season.

Goaltending tandems are common place in the NHL, sometimes by design, and other times not so much.  Before we start panicking that the two Leafs netminders won’t be able to coexist, let’s take a look at the other notable duos to patrol the blue ice whilst wearing the Maple Leaf on their chest (it’s August, we need to write about something!).

1964-1965 Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk

In terms of Leaf goalies there is no better place to start than with the beloved Johnny Bower and the legendary Terry Sawchuk. After six strong seasons with the Leafs Bower was still a force to be reckoned with amongst NHL goalies in 1964, but with his advancing age (he was 40 at the time) the Leafs made the decision to jump on 3 time Stanley Cup winner Sawchuk when he was left unprotected in the intraleague waiver draft.

The two went on to split goaltending duties for the season with Bower playing 34 games posting a record of 13-13-8 and a GAA of 2.38, and Sawchuk going 17-13-6 and a GAA of 2.56. The pairing would go on to backstop the Leafs to the 1967 Stanley Cup two years later.

1971-1972 Bernie Parent and Jacques Plante

This pair is best remembered for their stellar careers in other cities, but for the 1971-72 season they shared the goaltending duties with the Maple Leafs. The Leafs acquired Parent from the Flyers midway through the previous season, which gave him the opportunity to join his childhood idol Plante.

In their only full season together the two combined for 33 wins 31 losses and 14 ties while posting a 2.67 GAA. The Leafs would be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 5 games by the Boston Bruins, who would go on to win the Stanley Cup.

2007-2008 Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft

After debating whether or not what Toskala and Raycroft contributed to the Leafs franchise could be considered ”goaltending”, the tandem from our nightmares joined the list of goaltending pairs  as the precautionary tale of what can go wrong with goalie platoons (especially if both goalies are really bad).

Coming off a team record 37 win season, the Leafs paired former Calder Trophy winner Raycroft with Toskala to start the 2007-2008 season. Toskala came to the Leafs in the offseason after two strong seasons splitting time with Evgeni Nabokov in the goaltending factory that was San Jose in the mid 2000’s. With hopes high for the pair to start the season they would go on to struggle for a combined record of 35-34-11 and an abysmal save percentage of .893

Raycroft struggled in the platoon system winning only 2 of the 16 games he played, leaving the Leafs the following offseason. To make matters worse, after his departure, Toskala struggled to adapt to the challenges of playing the bulk of an NHL season as a starter and saw his save percentage plummet to .891 the following season and even further to .874 in 2010.

Whether Bernier and Reimer can succeed with some friendly competition in the Leafs goal, or if they will become the next goaltending horror story to come out of Toronto is yet to be seen.

But hey, it worked for us in the 60’s and 70’s that’s gotta count for something right?

Topics: James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs

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