Monday, 20 June 2016

The New Savior?

There has been a vast number of people who have lamented the goaltending situation in Toronto over the last couple years with most pointing the finger directly at Jonathan Bernier. It was expected that the Leafs would continue the slow build as they looked to find some magic in the NHL Entry Draft and on the free agent market, but GM Lou Lamoriello decided to pull the trigger on a major move when he acquired Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks in a rather surprising trade, and then followed it up by signing the restricted free agent to a five year, $25 million contract. After having brought in goaltenders of all types and abilities in the last decade, is Frederik Andersen the long-awaited answer in between the pipes for the blue-and-white?

The move, on the surface, made little sense once Andersen signed the contract to make him a Leaf for the next five seasons. The Leafs already had a goaltender making $4.15 million per season who was eating starter minutes, but it was clear that head coach Mike Babcock wanted more out of Bernier last season who, in his defence, played behind a fantastically horrific defence. It appears that Bernier will become the most expensive backup netminder in the NHL this season with this move which may have left a few people scratching their heads.

This move seemed rushed in a rebuild that was promised to be long and hard for fans to stomach. The Leafs, despite their best efforts, will not win a Stanley Cup next season and may not even qualify for the playoffs. This is a franchise that has run through names like Raycroft, Toskala, and Reimer with no success despite these goalies' previous successes in various forms, and Bernier can be added to that list. However, Toronto hasn't iced a team with a solid blue line for a few seasons now, and it could be argued that they haven't had a legitimate top pairing of defencemen since the turn of the millennium. It's hard for the last line of defence to be stellar when they are often the only line of defence keeping the Leafs in games.

Andersen will certainly see a different type of game in Toronto after coming out of Anaheim where he found success under Bruce Boudreau's system. Anaheim is putting their stock into John Gibson at this point, and carrying two young goalies who both want starter minutes is a difficult situation when it comes to free agent value. The easiest thing for Anaheim to do was to move one of their young netminders, and Andersen was the piece that deemed expendable. That's entirely their choice, and Toronto was able to pry Andersen away from Anaheim for less than a king's bounty.

In Toronto, however, the Leafs will pose a major problem when it comes to Andersen's stats. They are, statistically, on the lower echelon of NHL teams, and we saw Jonathan Bernier's stats fall from where they once were in Los Angeles. I'd expect the same trend to happen with Andersen for the next few seasons until the Leafs have cobbled together a half-decent set of defencemen who can actually defend fairly well.

The other odd thing that this trade presents is that the Leafs will have Andersen under contract and, presumably, protected once the Las Vegas expansion draft gets the green light. Bernier, though, becomes a free agent in the summer of 2017, though, meaning he can't be the goaltender that the Leafs expose to the Vegas NHL team when the draft takes place. That means that Antoine Bibeau or Garret Sparks would be exposed, and that makes little sense when one considers that those two are the future netminders of the Leafs... or so they thought. So why make this deal for Andersen now when it seems there was no need for it at this juncture?

"The opportunity of acquiring him came now," Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello told Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star. "This will help the growth of our young players with the tandem of Freddie and Bernie."

"Help the growth"? Is that for real? After all the whining and crying over how poorly Bernier seemed to play last season, this is the line that Lamoriello delivers as his justification for making what seems to be a rather unnecessary move at this point in the rebuild?

He then went on record and anointed Andersen the starting netminder for the Maple Leafs. "I think that he has to know that he's our No. 1 goaltender and that the support is there, the confidence is there and the commitment's there," Lamoriello said on the conference call.

Geez, no pressure there, eh?

As it stands, Andersen will fall into one of two buckets when all is said and done. The first contains names like Joseph, Belfour, Bower, and Sawchuk. The other contains the names of Toskala, Raycroft, Fuhr, Ing, and, as of now, Bernier. The former are the guys whose play between the pipes elevated this team to higher ground than they would have reached without them. The latter are those who were thrown to the wolves with little protection and asked to deliver salvation for 50 years of failure.

Welcome to a whole new world, Frederik Andersen.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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