Toronto Maple Leafs: The Goaltending Problem

Dec 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) pushes Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry (10) into the net as goalie Frederik Andersen (31) blocks in the third period at Air Canada Centre. The Ducks won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) pushes Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry (10) into the net as goalie Frederik Andersen (31) blocks in the third period at Air Canada Centre. The Ducks won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

A lack of right-handed defencemen and a lack of centres, unfortunately for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the problem continues on to goaltending.

After a memorable season like what the Toronto Maple Leafs had, all you would want to do is just focus on the positives. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello, and Mike Babcock constantly talk about building a team with continuous success. If that is going to happen, then the organizational problems will have to be addressed and fixed.

This will be the third post in my “problems series.” I’ve already discussed the lack of right-handed defencemen and centremen in the organization and now it’s time to talk about the lack of goaltending.

In the past, Leafs fans would spend their summer trying to figure out who the number one goaltender would be. In the 2015-2016 season, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier split the job. Bernier started the remainder of that season. It wasn’t until this season that the Leafs would have an actual number one goaltender.

The Leafs traded for then Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen last June. Although it cost two picks, the organization was confident he would be the future and signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal. The beginning of Andersen’s season was rough and saw him with one of the worst save percentages. After adjusting to the new system and sticking to his style, Andersen slowly became the shutdown man Leafs fans needed him to be.

Similar to the centres, the problem is what the Leafs don’t have coming up.

Who Do They Have?

The Leafs don’t have a good history with drafting goaltenders. Either the goalies they select don’t end up making it, or they would be traded before they had the chance to develop in the organization.

The Leafs have drafted seven goalies since the 2004 NHL Draft:

Pogge and Rollheiser didn’t have much of an NHL career. The story behind Rask is common knowledge around Toronto as his rights were traded to Boston for Andrew Raycroft. As I mentioned earlier, Reimer was thought to be the Leafs top goaltender from 2012-2016. Unfortunately, he was never able to play more than 40 games for the team.

The possible future of Leafs’ goaltending lies in Sparks, Bibeau and Woll. Kasimir Kaskisuo can be added to that group as well as he was signed from the University of Minnesota-Duluth last year.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Apr 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks (31) stands in net moments before the start of their game against the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Garret Sparks

For the longest time, it was a battle between Sparks and Bibeau. The two would split starts with the Toronto Marlies and put up decent numbers. Many thought Sparks was in the lead, however, after being called to back-up in the 2015-16 season. Sparks played his first NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers where he became the first goalie in Leafs history to get a shutout in their debut.

The rest of that season didn’t go as well for Sparks. He shared the net with Bernier after Reimer was traded and finished with a .893 save percentage. We’ll forgive him for that one as the Leafs were in full tank mode at the time.

Sparks has continuously been one of the top goaltenders in the AHL. He played 21 games and finished with a .928 save percentage in 2015-16 and 31 games with a .922 save percentage this season. His main problem has been his health. There have been many times where Sparks has missed large amounts of time dealing with injuries. Some of which have caused him to lose his job in net.

More from Tip of the Tower

Despite the injuries, it’s special when a seventh round pick has the potential to turn into something. Looking around the league, current goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne were eighth round picks themselves. Sparks is an RFA this offseason, but with his play in the AHL and NHL experience, he has the talent to be the Leafs’ full time back-up next season.

Antoine Bibeau

If you want a living example of a roller coaster, look no further than Bibeau. Consistency has always been the thing that has kept him out of the NHL. Bibeau saw most of the net with the Marlies during the 2015-16 season. In 40 games, the former sixth round pick went 28-9-1 with a .909 save percentage. This season started out great for the Marlies goaltender going 5-0-1 in October. Bibeau was named AHL Goalie of the Month after finishing with a .944 save percentage.

December wasn’t as great for Bibeau, but it was good enough to get called up by the Leafs (it also could’ve been because Sparks was suspended by the team at the time but who knows). Bibeau’s stint in the NHL lasted two games with a .927 save percentage. Not bad when you look at the stats itself, however it was the goals that he was giving up and his positioning that seemed to bother Leafs management.

Bibeau’s play continued to get weaker after being sent down. The majority of games played had the young netminder either under or a little over .900. He eventually lost his job playing his last regular season game March 18th with only one playoff appearance after Kaskisuo was pulled.

The Leafs have taken their time seeing what Bibeau is. He is also an RFA this offseason, and it may be safe to say that he is done with the organization. Unfortunately he hasn’t done enough to prove that he is worth investing in long-term.

Kasimir Kaskisuo

Kaskisuo took advantage of his opportunities in his first pro year. He spent the majority of the season in the ECHL playing for the Orlando Solar Bears, but played significant games for the Marlies in April. With Bibeau’s poor play and another Sparks injury, Kaskisuo was given the bulk of the playoff starts. The .892 save percentage in 10 games doesn’t look pretty, but Kaskisuo was one of the main reasons why the Marlies were able to last as long as they did.

The 23-year-old has definitely earned himself a full-time role with the Marlies next season. Whether it’s as the starter or as the back-up, time will tell.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs /

Toronto Maple Leafs

Joseph Woll

Woll is where the heart of the Leaf’s goaltending issue is. He is their top goalie prospect not in a pro league. Additionally, he is their only goalie prospect not in a pro league. Woll has finished his first year out of Boston College. The third round pick went 17-13-3 with a .913 save percentage. His play was good enough to receive an offer to the 2017 IIHF World Jr Championships. Despite only playing two games, Woll had his athleticism on display which is great to see for a goalie his size.

How To Fix It?

Similarly to the right-handed defencemen and centre problem, drafting is the best way to go. Woll was the Leafs’ first goalie draft pick in three years, which is not good enough for an organization that is lacking. In the Leafs’ case, there’s no time like the present to start.

You rarely see teams use their first round pick on a goaltender, but perhaps there are some in the later rounds worth looking at. The two top ranked goalies in this year’s draft are Jake Oettinger (Boston College) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (HPK Jr.). The Leafs are in a good enough position where they could use their second round pick on either of them if they’re available.

Next: Is Kyle Dubas on his way out?

Yes, Andersen is the number one goaltender and will be for another four years. Woll committing to his four years at Boston College gives him time to develop. Additionally, other goalies drafted within the next few years will have their time to grow.

We all know the joke that goaltenders are voodoo and you never know who is going to pan out. In the Leafs’ case, its best to do the same thing that they’re doing with defencemen. Add them from wherever you can. You never know how good a goaltender will be.