ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun is reporting that Brian Burke has been kicking the tires on a more adequate back-up for Vesa Toskala than Leafs’ current incumbent, the antiquated Curtis Joseph. What was initially tabbed as win-win move has proved to be a misstep engendered by nostalgia. The mandate wasn’t overly demanding for Joseph as the logic was that Vesa Toskala, coming off an impressive first year as a full-fledged starter, would only require relief for 15 games on the season. This hasn’t worked out for two reasons – Curtis Joseph has not proven adequate enough to play at a passable level for 15 games on the season (4.12 GAA, 0.843 SV%) and Toskala hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been the unquestioned starter he was last season.
The rumour that’s circulating in Leaf circles is that Joseph is aware that his time has expired and that he would be accepting if Brian Burke were to decide that he wants to import a new back-up. Joseph may assume a coaching position whenever he decides to call it a career, and there is speculation that the possibility has already been discussed between the involved parties. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the gracious retirement Joseph would have envisioned for himself, but it would be more tactful than waiving the revered netminder and sending him to the Marlies.
So what possibilities could Brian Burke be exploring in terms of a back-up? Burke could either be looking for a stop gap back-up that can provide Toskala with better relief this season or, more likely, looking for a back-up that can give him the confidence to trade Toskala should the right deal come along in the next few months. In the latter case, the back-up would likely split time with youngster Justin Pogge for the rest of the season.
When Burke went searching for a back-up for J-S Giguere, he went looking in Europe and found Jonas Hiller of Switzerland’s HC Davos. Since signing in 2007, Hiller’s provided a very formidable relief option for the Ducks, averaging a .929 saver percentage in his NHL career thus far. Hiller recently tied an Anaheim record for saves in a game with 51 stops in a shootout win December 20th. Burke may again pore over the European market for a back-up as he did successfully in that instance.
Domestically, there is definitely deal potential in Vancouver. Gus Katsaros interestingly speculated that Vancouver could use Tomas Kaberle’s puck-moving ability and offensive touch from the blue-line to bolster their middling powerplay and overall offensive production. With the addition of Mats Sundin for one-year, Vancouver is certainly thinking Stanley Cup this season. True, Mike Gillis is a careful calculator and is likely to keep both the short-term and long-term effects of any potential deal in mind, but he’ll also see there is expendability in the goaltending department of his depth chart and the potential to markedly enhance his current team by capitalizing on that expendability. Dealing from a position of strength to balance an area of weakness is an oft-repeated general manager’s mantra for building a championship-calibre team. In this instance, with the best goalie in the game in Roberto Luongo only 28 years of age, and with Curtis Sanford providing a supportive back-up presence in the instances when Luongo is in need of a break or is injured, Gillis has a postion of great strength. It’s hard to envision where 22-year-old netminder Cory Schneider, the Nucks’ 26th overall pick in 2004, comes into the picture. Sanford could be moved, and maybe that’s an option for Burke, but Schneider would then be looking at a back-up’s role for the first half of his career. It makes a lot of sense for Gillis to move Schneider for assets that will be more useful towards realizing the Stanley Cup goal. Schneider, prior to being recalled after Luongo’s injury, was believed to be the best goaltender going in the AHL. He had posted a 10-1 record and a .945 SV% for the Moose. Schneider deserves the opportunity to come into his own as an NHL starter. For both parties, it makes a lot of sense.
The Maple Leafs’ future between the posts is far more cloudy. Justin Pogge has performed well in a few appearances for the big club, but it can’t be stated with any surety that Pogge is going to be the long-term solution. Schneider appears to be much closer than Pogge, and far better suited to backstopping the club through its re-building years. Best case scenario, the Leafs end up with an effective 1A-1B situation, creating a competitive atmosphere in which both young goaltenders can prosper. The addition of Schneider would go great lengths in making the future between the Leafs’ posts much clearer.