The Toronto Maple Leafs and goaltender Garret Sparks have come to terms on a one-year, two-way contract. The contract is worth $575,000 (league minimum) at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level.
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 15, 2016
Sparks’ qualifying offer was worth $703,500 in the NHL and $70,000 in the AHL. He accepted this deal instead knowing he’s likely AHL bound for a good portion of the season, so this will give him a raise over last season’s $70,000, with $150,000 guaranteed in 2016-17. It also makes him a very cheap option in NHL call-up situations as far as the Leafs are concerned.
Sparks is waiver exempt for another season, comes in at league minimum $575k. Conducive to call-ups if need be, while he gets AHL raise
— Alec Brownscombe (@MapleLeafsHS) July 15, 2016
The Illinois native bounced between levels last season, with his development fluctuating rather than following a steady upward curve. Either excellent or a liability (with the Leafs or Marlies), this was no better encapsulated than in the AHL postseason when he began with a shutout in a reliable half game in relief before his next three outings were poor to say the least.
Sparks filled the void for the Leafs once James Reimer was traded and Jonathan Bernier wasn’t performing, and was clearly over his head in at the NHL level to the tune of a 3.02 GAA and a .893 save percentage (17 games). His situation didn’t always feel fair last season, so there’s something to be said for the way Sparks stood in and battled when the Leafs didn’t ice their most competitive team down the stretch.
With uncertainty at the backup position presently, and the option to send a goaltender to the ECHL if necessary, this is a consolidation move regarding the Leafs’ bank of goaltenders. It should ensure there is some pro-level organizational depth at the position. Having just turned 23 a few weeks ago, Sparks’ NHL potential isn’t certain but his AHL numbers were good last season (.928 save percentage over 21 games) and he is still considered relatively young as far as goaltenders are concerned.
With the Leafs expected to add a veteran goaltender at some point before the season starts (either through FA, trade, or a waiver pickup) to back up Frederik Andersen, Sparks is likely going to be battling Antoine Bibeau and Kasimir Kaskisuo for starts with the Toronto Marlies to start 2016-17.