Toronto Maple Leafs should consider resting Frederik Andersen more

TORONTON, ON - JANUARY 6: Frederik Andersen
TORONTON, ON - JANUARY 6: Frederik Andersen /

Using history as an example, we explain why the Toronto Maple Leafs should look at playing Craig McElhinney more between now and the end of the regular season.

You only have to look back through history, to get a good idea of how the Toronto Maple Leafs should handle Frederik Andersen for the remainder of the regular season. During the 1995-96 campaign, a 33-year-old Grant Fuhr played in 79 games for the St. Louis Blues.

It was the most games the five-time Stanley Cup Champion would play in a single season over his entire career. In fact, it was the most games played by a goaltender in a single season, ever.

There have been many that have come close to the mark. Martin Brodeur was likely the most famous work horse in NHL history, totaling 70 or more seasonal appearances 12 times in his legendary career.

The last time Brodeur would reach over 70 games was during the 2009-10 season.

Since then, it’s hard to find a large array of teams who had to rely on a goaltender that often. Most organizations make sure to have a solid option as a backup, in order to avoid wear and tear on the starter over the grind of a full 82 game schedule.

Despite this, you don’t have to look far to see the last goaltender that did shoulder the load for his team.

Last season, Cam Talbot played 73 games for the Edmonton, going 42-22-7 with a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

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That worked out well for the long-suffering Oilers, as they won the Pacific Division and made it to the second round of the playoffs.

It’s not a blanket fix to play a star goalie more and it will garner better results. Which brings us back to Leafs’ starter Frederik Andersen.

The Danish goaltender hit his career high in appearances last season, with 66 games played in his first year in Toronto.

So far this season, Andersen has 42 games played through the All-Star Break. With 31 games remaining in the 2017-18 season, it’s more than likely he will break his career high in starts, that is, of course, if he avoids any setbacks.

There are legitimate questions as to whether Andersen should be trotted out as frequently, with the Toronto Maple Leafs having a playoff spot seemingly locked up.

Curtis McElhinney has remained the backup throughout the season, although the veteran has only featured in eight games with the team. If it’s not the second half of a back-to-back game, McElhinney isn’t seeing the crease.

Including Wednesday and Thursday’s series against the Islanders and Rangers, the Leafs have four sets of back-to-backs from hereon. So that’s likely only four starts for McElhinney through the next 31 games. That is a lot to ask of your starter down the stretch.

On Tuesday, Postmedia and Toronto Sun Hockey Writer John Matisz joined Sportsnet 590. He discussed the situation in the Leafs’ net going into the playoffs:

"“I think this is this time where you go ‘Freddy, you’ve had a fantasic year. You’re continuing to have a fantastic year but we’re going to try and switch things up away from the plan because we’re going to need you come playoff time. That’s what I think they should do. Whether they do it is another thing.“There comes a time where there’s diminishing returns. If you’re throwing him out there for 70 games over a season, is it really worth it over 65? It’s a tough call but it’s definitely something to watch.”"

The Leafs also have to look toward the future and what they have in net. The team has great goaltending depth in the minors, with both Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard playing on top of their respective games for the Marlies.

It looks like unless an injury occurs to one of the Leafs’ goaltenders, both will remain in the AHL for the rest of the season.

The Leafs have a lot of matchups with teams sitting well outside playoff spots, including all four games against the Atlantic-worst Buffalo Sabres taking place down the stretch.

Why not give McElhinney a few extra games to preserve Andersen for the postseason? If he ends up running out of steam or tweaking something in a meaningless game, the Leafs are in a world of trouble.

Next: New lines show Babcock is willing to adapt

It took this long for Mike Babcock and co. to make key changes to the lineup, so Andersen sitting out isn’t likely. Hopefully, he can continue his strong play and push the Leafs into the playoffs with a strong finish to the year.