A pretty strong indicator was sent at the end of last season that Garret Sparks future with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization would be short. After losing eight of his last 10 games, finishing with an under .500 record, a save percentage barely over .900 and a goals-against over 3.00, head coach Mike Babcock opted to go with veteran Michael Hutchinson to backup Frederik Andersen in the playoffs and not the 25-year-old who won every AHL goaltending award and the Calder Cup in 2018.
The report from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun this week that Toronto is looking to move Sparks is because it is unlikely that Babcock will choose him as the #2 out of training camp taking into consideration the need to lighten Andersen’s workload next season and have a backup that can handle 30 - 35 games.
With a one-way deal at $750,000 before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, Sparks would be a low-risk and likely waiver claim for another NHL club hoping that a change of scenery would bring about better results. If he did clear waivers, it would complicate the Leafs developmental plan for young goalies Joseph Woll and Ian Scott, who should get the lion’s share of starts for the AHL Toronto Marlies and ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers next season.
With the NHL buyout window beginning this weekend and a number of free agent goaltenders hitting the market on July 1, GM Kyle Dubas will have a number of options to address his backup quandary (including re-signing Hutchinson for a year), but he will have to find someone who can provide much better results, a heavier workload and at a salary close to or under $1 Million.
Here are five potential options:
Keith Kinkaid - The 29-year-old played five seasons in New Jersey as a backup, but stepped up and won 26 games in 2018 after taking over for the injured Corey Schneider injured and getting the Devils into the playoffs, The club had problems with injuries and generating offense last season and Kinkaid could not repeat his 2018 performance, so he was dealt to Columbus at the deadline. At something slightly less or equal to his $1.25 Million salary last season, the Long Island native could be an upgrade as a #2.
Mike Condon - Condon was on the Leafs radar two years ago after playing well for 40 games in relief of Craig Anderson in the wake of his wife’s cancer diagnosis, but he opted to re-sign with Ottawa for three year, $7.2 Million contract. Last season he played just two games because of a hip inflammation, but stem-cell treatments cured the issue and he was practicing at the end of the season.
With Craig Anderson and newly signed Anders Nilsson the tandem for the Sens and prospect Filip Gustavsson likely to get a heavy workload in AHL Belleville, Ottawa may be willing to retain salary to give Condon an opportunity elsewhere.
Mike Smith - After splitting duties with David Rittich in Calgary last season and playing well for the Flames in their playoff loss to Colorado, it is unlikely that an NHL club will go with a 37-year-old as a starter. The Kingston, ON native is excellent helping out his defense handling the puck behind the net and might be perfect as a backup handling a heavier workload.
Curtis McElhinney - The trust level, familiarity, and chemistry between McElhinney and Andersen makes bringing the 36-year-old back a no-brainer, but unless Carolina owner Thomas Dundon continues his penny pinching ways, he will likely get a substantial raise after winning 20 games and splitting time with Petr Mrazek during the regular season and playoffs.
James Reimer - This would be a dream scenario for some Leafs fans, as Reimer is still extremely popular in Toronto, but it would almost completely rely on Florida buying out the final two years of his five-year, $17 Million contract. That is possible based on the rumors of the Panthers being interested in signing free agent Sergei Bobrovsky and with Roberto Luongo still under contract.
If bought out, a one-year deal in the range that Toronto is looking for is possible, but even Florida retaining half of Reimer’s salary would make him expensive as a backup at $1.7 Million AAV for this and next year.
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