The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson on waivers as of Noon ET on Monday.
It’s possible the Leafs have a separate move lined up here to add a backup via trade, but it looks like they’re going to give Marlies starter Kasimir Kaskisuo a shot at claiming the second-string job before they look for outside help (again).
Like Jhonas Enroth and Garret Sparks before him, there is no doubting Michael Hutchinson got a bit of a raw deal in terms of the challenging circumstances of his starts and the defensive play of the team in front of him in said starts, but ultimately, the consistent theme is that he did not come up with any saves when the team needed it most.
Hutchinson had everyone’s sympathy in the first period against Chicago last night, but as the team was in full-court press mode and all over the Blackhawks in the third period, the Hawks generated a rush the other way and he couldn’t come up with the stop the team needed to keep them in the game. That was something of a theme with Hutchinson in his five starts — the record (0-4-1) and numbers (.879 save percentage) are one thing, but the inability to come up with those key saves at critical junctures in games was ultimately his undoing.
It’s something Kaskisuo has done well on the Marlies, whose 8-2-2 record is a little deceiving in how much they’ve relied on goaltending to start the year.
“Goaltending was great for us in both games this weekend… That continues to be a strength for us… Goaltending has given us a chance to come back and earn points.
– Sheldon Keefe
Of course, pretending we can safely project AHL play onto the next level is a foolhardy endeavour at the goaltending position. But after a really tough first half to last season, Kaskisuo has strung together a very solid past 35 starts between the end of 2018-19, the 2019 Calder Cup playoff run (.927), and the first eight starts in 2019-20 (.928). Even when the nights have gotten a little sloppy and high event this season, such as the Marlies‘ 7-4 win against Belleville the other week, Kaskisuo has shown an ability to battle through and keep his team in games.
We’ll find out soon if the plan is to give Kaskisuo a shot; the Leafs will play their next back-to-back this Saturday in Pittsburgh.
The difficulty of the backup role in Toronto has now claimed another victim on a list that includes Jhonas Enroth (2016-17), Garret Sparks (2018-19), and now Hutchison (2019-20), with only Curtis McElhinney showing an ability to meet the demands of a tough job description that involves starting primarily in tired situations for the team.
Ultimately, Kyle Dubas has to take responsibility for his bungling of the backup situation to date; he mistakenly moved on from the goaltender who proved he could actually handle the role and he hasn’t yet found an adequate replacement. The team’s record in back-to-backs in the calendar year 2019 is now 2-9-1. It played a role in why the Leafs fell short of home-ice advantage last Spring, and it again is a major contributing factor to the team’s 9-6-4 record so far this Fall.
However, there is also something to be said for Mike Babcock needing to set these backups for success better than he has. The priority has clearly lied with keeping Andersen in his rhythm — and there is nothing wrong with that — but everyone knows Andersen is going to need to rest more than 14 times this year (the Leafs‘ number of back-to-backs). It is worthwhile throwing the backup the odd cushy start against a bad team at home with the team fresh to at least get the second goaltender’s confidence up. That has not happened as of yet despite ample opportunity to do so.