The Toronto Maple Leafs have added an experienced third-string NHL goaltender to their depth chart, signing 31-year-old Aaron Dell to a one-year, $800k contract.

The undrafted Dell made his first NHL start in the San Jose Sharks’ net at age 27, appearing in 20 games in 2016-17 and posting an impressive .931 save percentage in his debut season. He started in 24 (.914), 22 (.886), and 30 games (.907) in the three subsequent seasons, averaging a .908 over 107 career NHL games to date.

Last season, the 6’0, 205-pound Alberta native was the Sharks’ best goaltender statistically, starting a career-high 30 games in the truncated 70-game season in behind a badly-struggling Sharks team. Dell finished 29th in the league among goalies (minimum 30 GP) with a .908 save percentage and was also inside the top 30 in the league in Goals Save Above Expected (+1.1). He was 20th in the league in Save Percentage Above Expected (+0.07).

Goals Saved Above Expected

Aaron Dell appears in the “positive performance, more danger” quadrant for 2019-20

Save Percentage Above Expected

Aaron Dell is in the positive in save percentage above expected for 2019-20

After the coaching change in San Jose in mid-December 2019, it became an open competition for starts between entrenched starter Martin Jones and the 31-year-old Dell.

“I’m not anointing anybody a number one at this point,” Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said in January. “I need both of them down the stretch. And Dell, right now, is winning games for us.”

Following the coaching change on December 11, Dell made 22 of the remaining 52 starts and posted a .912 in those games, winning nine and collecting points in 11 of the 22, compared to Jones’ .901 mark. That said, Jones finished stronger and largely took the net over in the final stretch of games before the pandemic hit, posting a .927 in his final eight starts of the season.

Goalie Comparison: Martin Jones vs. Aaron Dell (2019-20)

In terms of the quality of shots he was seeing behind the 29th-placed Sharks, Dell faced 9.74 high-danger shots against per 60 minutes, which ranked top five in the NHL among goaltenders with more than 1,000 minutes played. While he finished 33rd in high-danger save percentage, he made more high-danger saves per 60 minutes than all but five NHL goaltenders last season.

With Devan Dubnyk acquired from Minnesota this offseason and Jones signed at $5.75 million for the next four years, Dell lost his previous #2 position in the Sharks’ depth chart despite a decent season. San Jose is also high on young Russian goaltender Alexei Melnichuk, who they signed last May out of the KHL, and they have AHL starter Josef Korenar signed for another year.

We may well see special taxi-squad rules implemented for the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season that will allow a third goalie to remain on a team’s de facto NHL roster without cap implications, especially with the possibility of a regional bubble setup. Dell gives the Leafs an insurance policy in the #3 spot on the depth chart.

If there is an AHL season and the circumstances allow for it (including clearing waivers), Dell could also be a major help to the Marlies. The Leafs let Kasimir Kaskisuo walk this offseason and had second-year pro Joseph Woll in behind Jack Campbell as the team’s #3 on the depth chart before this addition. In such a scenario, Dell would give the Marlies a veteran netminder who could split starts with Woll and Ian Scott, who missed all of the 2019-20 season due to injury, in what will be a congested AHL schedule (they may well add an AHL veteran anyway if the season goes ahead).

With a compact NHL 2020-21 schedule all but guaranteed, a third NHL-calibre goaltender was a priority for the Leafs front office even more than most years. They did not want to be in a position where an injury to Jack Campbell or Frederik Andersen necessitated going backup-goalie hunting again in the middle of the season or thrusting Woll onto the Leafs bench. With the added competition, Dell should also keep the incumbent #2 in Campbell on his toes.

Based on his recent career averages and experience, Dell gives the Leafs a competent #2 who should serve as a good #3 on the depth chart.

Offseason Move Grade: A

Grabbing a solid insurance policy for 50k above the league minimum is just what the doctor ordered for the Leafs’ goaltending depth chart. The Leafs’ depth behind Frederik Andersen is in much better shape than it was prior to the 2019-20 season.

Grade the Aaron Dell signing below

Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltending Depth Chart

GoalieAgeNHL Contract Status
Frederik Andersen31$5 million, 2021 UFA
Jack Campbell28$1.65 million, 2022 UFA
Aaron Dell31$800k, 2021 UFA
Michael Hutchinson30$725k, 2022 UFA
Joseph Woll22$800k, 2021 RFA
Ian Scott21$805k, 2022 RFA

Aaron Dell Statistics

2005-06Airdrie Lightning U18 AAARAMHL203.05.920
2006-07Airdrie ThunderHJHL212.86-
2007-08Calgary CanucksAJHL233.13.891
2008-09Calgary CanucksAJHL512.53.924
2009-10Univ. of North DakotaNCAA51.81.897
2010-11Univ. of North DakotaNCAA401.79.924
2011-12Univ. of North DakotaNCAA332.67.900
2012-13Allen AmericansCHL442.30.916
2013-14Utah GrizzliesECHL292.14.920
Abbotsford HeatAHL62.29.922
2014-15Worcester SharksAHL262.06.927
Allen AmericansECHL122.84.902
2015-16San Jose SharksNHL0--
San Jose BarracudaAHL402.42.922
2016-17San Jose SharksNHL202.00.931
2017-18San Jose SharksNHL292.64.914
2018-19San Jose SharksNHL253.17.886
2019-20San Jose SharksNHL333.01.907