The Toronto Maple Leafs have claimed veteran goaltender Curtis McElhinney off of the waiver wire on Tuesday.
On the heels of their loss to the New York Rangers last Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets recalled 24-year-old Anton Forsberg from the Cleveland Monsters and installed him in the place of the 32-year-old McElhinney as the team’s backup.
On the face, McElhinney’s numbers behind the league-leading Columbus Blue Jackets are solid this season with a 2.39 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. He was lit up for five goals in his most recent start against the Rangers, but prior to, McElhinney turned aside 44 of 46 shots in a win over Los Angeles and 32 of 34 in a win over Arizona. He’s started only five of 39 games, while entering two more in relief, which puts Sergei Bobrovsky on pace for 71 starts this season.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen dismissed the idea that McElhinney was waived based on only one game in conversation with Aaron Portzline yesterday:
“It’s not based on one game. McElhinney played a few excellent games. He played extremely well and got us a few points. There were a couple of games where he wasn’t as good. They all go into the evaluation, where we feel he’s at with his career, and where we feel our other goalies are with their careers, the future of our goaltending. Mac is a great pro and a great person. It’s a hard decision, but I think it’s necessary to make a decision at this point. We’re going to see what Forsberg can do at this level.”
Likely a factor in the goalie swap, in addition to Forsberg’s strong play in the AHL this season (.930), is that Forsberg will lose his waiver exempt status next season, and the Blue Jackets want to find out what they have in the former 2011 seventh round pick.
McElhinney has local ties as a London native and has the size that Mike Babcock covets between the pipes (6’3, 205 pounds). Over the course of his career, McElhinney has posted a .905 save percentage and a 2.96 goals against average. His quality start percentage – a measure of how often he provides league average or above goaltending – stands at just .440 over his 154 NHL game career (the league average is .530).
Those are the numbers of a below-average NHL backup, but the Leafs have little choice but to continue to experiment at the backup position. With 10 more back-to-back sets to follow on top of the eight they’ve already played (three of which Frederik Andersen played both of), the coaching staff was clearly overtaxing Andersen in the first half of the season after Babcock lost trust in Jhonas Enroth and AHL PTO signing Karri Ramo wasn’t fully healthy. After the February 28th trade deadline, the Leafs will play 12 games in the last three weeks of the season, which is the most in the league.
Andersen is currently on pace to start 69 games against a career high of 54 – well above the workload Babcock and Lou Lamoriello planned for him in the offseason.