The Toronto Marlies struggles to start the season came to a head during the recent 8-1 home loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

Tampa Bay’s farm team exposed a plethora of issues the Toronto Marlies are attempting to correct this season, the most pressing of which is goaltending (or lack thereof).

The much-publicized loss of Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney via waivers and Garret Sparks’ promotion to the NHL left a sizeable hole in the organization at the netminding position to begin the season. The Jeff Glass experiment then badly backfired, with the veteran netminder posing a .849 save percentage in 10 games. In his last act as a Marlie, he lasted half a period after allowing three goals against in nine minutes.

With Glass shipped off to San Diego for future considerations, the Marlies are down to Kasimir Kaskisuo and Eamon McAdam, with the latter originally penciled in as Newfoundland Growlers starter to begin the year.

An early season injury has restricted Kaskisuo to just nine outings, and he appears to be suffering from a crisis of confidence since returning to action in mid-November. Having allowed 18 goals in his last four games, the Finnish native has posted a brutal .828 save percentage in that span and looked totally out of sorts in the Syracuse loss after being called into relief action.

McAdam has fared a little better — he’s been responsible for half of the 12 Marlies victories to date despite posting a below-par .889 save percentage. As his previous AHL numbers suggest (.900 SV% through 36 games before this season), McAdam is largely inconsistent at this level and hasn’t marked himself as a goaltender that Toronto can place much faith into long-term.

A pair of victories against a badly-struggling Manitoba team this past weekend is no indicator that the corner has been turned, so will Toronto stick or twist at the goaltending position?

We know that a winning culture on the Marlies is highly valued, as is giving prospects a taste of playoff hockey. The Toronto organization has also already shown it’s happy to make moves to turn things around immediately, with the aforementioned Jeff Glass shipped out and Adam Cracknell traded to Anaheim in exchange for defenseman Steve Oleksy in a move to address the right side of the defense with Timothy Liljegren out injured.

There is no obvious help coming from within the system despite the promise of a few netminding prospects. Joseph Woll and recently-signed draft pick Ian Scott are in the pipeline, but both are at least a year away from turning professional. Other goaltending options are pretty thin on the ground if an alternative between the pipes is considered an immediate requirement, but the following options represent some possible avenues that Marlies GM Laurence Gilman could be looking into.

In the system

Michael Garteig was acquired by Newfound Growlers on an ECHL deal to initially serve as the back-up. However, with McAdam’s enforced promotion, Garteig has taken on the extra workload for Newfoundland with great success.

The 27-year-old leads the league in wins (13) and is tied for eighth in save percentage (.910) among all goaltenders who have played 10+ games. What makes his numbers more impressive is that Newfoundland is a young (albeit skilled) team that has had to endure an ever-changing blue line cast this season, with 14 defensemen already dressing this year.

Garteig was signed to an AHL contract by Toronto as recently as December 11 and made his debut this past weekend in Manitoba. The Prince George native picked up his first ever AHL victory with a poised performance, posting 26 saves in a 5-1 Marlies win.

Expectations should be tempered by the fact it was just one game against a team struggling through injuries and call-ups, but it would be of no surprise to see the goaltender given another opportunity to further his case before Newfoundland’s next outing on December 29.

Trade Options

The Maple Leafs could make a trade in the vein of Cracknell for Oleksy (essentially an AHL swap) or attempt to make a claim on waivers should Pickard (or an alternative) be waived, but there is the also the option for the Toronto Marlies to make an AHL deal.

Skaters currently on AHL deals include defensemen Frank Corrado, Sam Jardine, Vincent LoVerde, Stefan LeBlanc and forwards Rich Clune, Colin Greening, Morgan Klimchuk, Chris Mueller, Derian Plouffe, Josh Kestner, Matt Bradley, Zach O’Brien, Hudson Elynuik, Emerson Clark, Griffen Molino, Scott Pooley, and Ryan Moore.

It should be highlighted that this group includes some players the Marlies would not be prepared to trade at any cost and not all of the aforementioned would be of interest to AHL teams.

There also isn’t a plethora of goaltenders on AHL only contracts currently plying their trade at that level, but there are three that might be piquing the Marlies’ interest:

  • Jeremy Smith is an AHL veteran with over 300 games to his name. Formerly a 54th overall pick in 2007 by Nashville, Smith’s NHL career has added up to just 10 games.
    However, in the American League, the 29-year-old has proven himself a reliable performer with a career .915 save percentage and a winning record (153-116-25). He’s currently splitting the starts in Bridgeport with former Marlie Christopher Gibson.
  • Chris Driedger was playing with Springfield Thunderbirds this season until his recent demotion to their ECHL affiliate in Manchester. A former Ottawa Senators prospect, Driedger put up reasonable numbers (combined .911 save percentage in 82 games) behind a very average Binghamton Senators team for three seasons before being sent to Brampton Beast for the majority of the last campaign followed by a release this past summer. The 24-year-old isn’t having the greatest of years to date (2-2-1, .901 SV%, 3.28 GAA), but he has regained some confidence in the ECHL and is certainly a goaltender the Marlies would have a handle on from his time playing for a divisional rival.
  • Jamie Phillips is on an AHL contract with Charlotte Checkers, but he has only seen action in the ECHL with Florida Everglades this season. Originally a Winnipeg prospect, Phillips played just 27 games in two seasons for the Manitoba Moose, posting a combined .909 SV%. This year, the 25-year-old is ranked second in wins (11 in 15 games) and is sporting a .920 SV%, although he does face a lot less rubber than many of his peers at an average of 27 shots against per game.

ECHL Options

The risk attached in attempting to find gold in an ECHL netminder is negated by the fact that the Marlies are able to sign them to a try-out contract and neither party is locked in if it doesn’t work out.

There are three names — of which one is familiar — that are viable options:

  • Evan Buitenhuis was signed to an ATO by the Marlies late last season but did not feature in a game. The Burlington native is enjoying his first real taste of the professional game with the Worcester Railers, posting a 5-5-3 record through 11 games with a .929 SV%.
  • Adam Carlson is reaping the benefits of a more settled campaign after playing for four teams with mixed fortunes last season. Six of his games through 2017-18 were with Hershey, his first experience in the AHL, and he posted a .901 SV%. After getting released by the Washington Capitals, the 24-year-old signed for Rapid City Rush, with whom he’s won 10 games and posted a .930 SV% this season.
  • Tomas Sholl is perhaps the most interesting of this small group, having only turned professional last season — in the SPHL of all places. Once he received an opportunity in the ECHL, the California native hasn’t looked back with a combined .941 SV% in 31 games. Currently signed with the Idaho Steelheads, Sholl has already piqued the interest of AHL teams with a try-out for the Texas Stars in September.