Before Dave Nonis pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade that brought Roberto Luongo to Vancouver, he thought about a conversation he once had with Lou Lamoriello.
He asked Lou what it was like having Martin Brodeur in net. The response was that he can sleep well every night. “Lou calls Marty at night and asks, ‘Everything OK? Good.’ Then he goes to sleep because he knows his team is going to be in every game,” said Nonis at the time. “I’d like to sleep at night.”
Nonis took that story to heart and finalized a deal for the star goaltender. When he came to Toronto, he remembered that feeling and sought it again, this time making a trade for Jonathan Bernier.
Promptly acquiring Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks and signing him to a five year, $25 million deal, this move marks the first significant outside addition to the team’s core since Brendan Shanahan arrived.
The annual average of $5 million will make Andersen the 17th highest paid goalie league. Combine that with the $4.15 million cap hit on Bernier’s deal, and the Leafs have the third highest paid goalie tandem in the league right now.
NHL Team's Goaltending Combined Salaries
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|Detroit Red Wings
|Los Angeles Kings
|New Jersey Devils
|New York Islanders
|New York Rangers
|Marc Andre Fleury
|St. Louis Blues
|San Jose Sharks
|Tampa Bay Lighting
|Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season, the Leafs were tied for 23rd in team save percentage. While Lamoriello didn’t make note of that in his press conference, he did speak of his belief of needing a good goalie to help your team grow.
I think we all know how important it is to have, in our opinion, a number one goaltender. We feel that, when you have that, he can help the people grow in front of him without question. Freddie, in my conversations with him, knows the situation he’s coming into, wants to win, and certainly wants to be part of the process that we have here.
The question for the Leafs is, how good is he?
As Rob Vollman noted on Twitter, his numbers have not been spectacular over the last three years:
That's a lot of $ for Andersen. Over 3 yrs, ranks:
13th by Quality Start Pct%
23rd by SV%
25th by Adj SV%
26th by home plate SV%
26th by xGS
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) June 21, 2016
He has also battled injury problems the last two seasons, having missed time with six minor injuries (seven if you include the flu). Andersen has also battled weight issues and has worked to drop 30 pounds since entering the league. With only 114 starts to his name, and having only played over 50 games in a single season once in his entire professional career, Andersen is going to need to prove he is durable enough to be a starter year-in and year-out as well.
The good news for Andersen is that, under Mike Babcock, that doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of games played. Not including last year with the Leafs, Babcock’s starting goalies have only averaged 53 starts per season throughout his career:
Mike Babcock Starting Goalie Games Played
“I like one guy to know he’s the guy and basically what you tell him is that ‘I’ll tell you when you’re not starting”
Babcock said of how he likes to handle his goaltending platoon. That doesn’t appear to mean an extremely heavy workload, though. If you’re hoping for the next Eddie Belfour or Curtis Joseph, he’s most likely not even going to be put into a position to be that guy.
So, while Bernier might be the most expensive backup this year, it’s going to be an important position for the Leafs moving forward, be it him or someone else. With Andersen being a middle of the pack goalie in terms of salary, the Leafs can afford to pay a little extra to a potential veteran backup, similar to the Islanders situation with Halak ($4.5M) and Greiss ($1.5M).
Andersen played less this past season and put up better overall numbers than the previous year, and this was after a rough start (he began the year 0-6-1). Lamoriello noted his strong play in the playoffs a few times, so like every other Leafs goalie gamble of the past few years, there’s a leap of faith being taken that he can grow into the role.
“What I like most about Freddie Andersen is his desire to get better. I know that kind of sounds like an intangible almost. How do you measure that? To me, I measure that based on what I’ve seen him do over the past couple of years with his offseason to make sure he is getting better every time. We talk about the skills about Freddie Andersen. What else does he having going? He’s got the size. He’s a big body. That technical ability allows him to put that body in position more often than not.
But what I really like about Freddie are the things he does. The Anaheim Angels baseball team — going and meeting with their hitting coach and learning what they do from a vision science perspective to get their hitters to be able to read the seams and read the spin on pitches, and seeing how he can apply that to his own game in order to read the puck and be able to track the puck better. That’s one example.”
He’s a big goalie that cuts down angles well and will be playing in a system that can limit shots and high-end scoring chances. There is also connection with the head trajectory technique that the Leafs have invested in. In 125 NHL games total, he has a .918 save percentage; there’s an argument to be made that if the Leafs are going to be in a competitive battle for a playoff spot if they get that out of him as a starter over 55+ games next year. All of those seem like reasonable projections and within the money that he’s making.
There’s some eyebrow raising to the overall acquisition too, though. The price itself was a little higher than what we have seen recently. Ben Bishop was traded twice, once for a second round pick and for Cory Conacher (a reasonable scoring prospect at the time) along with a fourth round pick. Martin Jones was traded twice last summer, once in a package with a first round pick for Milan Lucic, and then again for a first round pick and Sean Kuraly (a reasonable prospect that was a fifth round pick). Eddie Lack went for two third round picks. Jonathan Bernier cost the Leafs Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a second. Based on recent moves, the Leafs paid an above market price.
At 30th overall, the Leafs traded a pick with a roughly 38 percent chance at playing at least 100 games in the NHL. The second rounder can be anywhere from 28-39 percent. Combining the two picks in a package is a pretty strong return.
The goalie market is also quite clearly a buyer’s market at the moment. With a looming expansion draft and multiple teams boasting two good goalies, players are primed to get squeezed out of organizations for pennies on the dollar. There’s no rush for the team to be good next season (although I wonder if they are using this acquisition as part of a sell job on a certain free agent *cough*) and they could have easily justified signing a cheap backup and giving Bernier another shot (he has a career .915 save percentage compared to Andersen’s .918). He’s been good before, so what’s the worst that could happen? The team loses games 5-3 while the young kids rip it up and they get another high pick to draft a defenseman?
Acquisition cost and timing of the deal aside, it is the five year extension that is most surprising. A long-term commitment to an unproven commodity at by far the most fickle position in the league was not expected.
“Commitment is a good word for this. You can’t hide a $5-million goaltender that can’t perform. The league is littered with Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard and Kari Lehtonen types on bloated deals they can’t live up to and that are essentially untradeable. No NHL asset is more toxic than a bad goalie asset because where will you shelter them? A bad goalie is a net negative, no matter what.”
This is the first big gamble of sorts under this management team. It’s one thing to hack and burn the roster down, regardless of return, and it is another thing to start adding pieces to the core and signing them to immediate long-term extensions. Drafting goalies is an absolute crapshoot and it was an organization-wide weakness most of the year, so it was always expected they would eventually acquire an NHL goalie. This type of commitment to a player still proving himself and this soon were not, though. Now we really get to start seeing what this management is made of.
As for Lou Lamoriello and the management group? They are hoping they can sleep well at night.