Man plans, the hockey Gods laugh.
The Leafs’ robust strategy for addressing their goaltending depth throughout 2020 —acquiring Jack Campbell from LA last February with good early returns, and signing Aaron Dell, who started 33 games for the San Jose Sharks last season (.907), to be their #3 this past offseason — has been undermined, at least for the next several weeks, by a collection of conspiring forces: injuries, lack of cap space, and a waiver claim.
Jack Campbell is out for weeks with a leg injury, according to Sheldon Keefe. Michael Hutchinson is the #leafs No. 2 for the forseeable future.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 26, 2021
The Leafs are now left with Michael Hutchinson in the backup position again just seven games into the 2021 season — at least while Jack Campbell recovers from his leg injury sustained in Calgary.
To recap the timeline:
- After the botched Curtis McElhinney – Garret Sparks decision in October 2018, the Leafs were left to scramble for backup help and ended up acquiring Michael Hutchinson in December 2018 from the Florida Panthers. Hutchinson recorded a .887 save percentage in nine appearances that season while passing through waivers once. The Leafs re-signed him the following offseason.
- After bringing Michal Neuvirth to camp on a PTO in hopes he could grab the backup reins only for Neuvirth to bail to Europe, Hutchinson entered the 2019-20 season as the Leafs’ backup and posted a .888 in 16 appearances.
- The Leafs acquired Jack Campbell in early February of 2020. Hutchinson was waived and sent to the minors a week later, then traded to Colorado in the deal for Calle Rosen at the trade deadline.
- The Leafs signed Aaron Dell as their #3 before signing Hutchinson, who had made his playoff debut in the Avalanche crease for three starts in the playoffs (winning Games 5 and 6 but losing Game 7), as the Leafs’ #4 in October of 2020.
- An injury to Nick Robertson forced the Leafs to expose Aaron Dell to waivers earlier than they would’ve hoped due to cap constraints (though it was somewhat inevitable this would occur at some point this season). Dell was claimed by New Jersey. Hutchinson was called up to the taxi squad.
- Jack Campbell went down to an injury versus Calgary in game #7 of the 2021 season, returning Hutchinson to the backup position for the next several weeks.
It’s not how you would’ve drawn it up in a year where the games are coming fast and furious and more rest for Frederik Andersen was a clear priority entering the season. But them’s the breaks.
The good news for the Leafs is that they do not have any back-to-backs until February 17-18 against the Ottawa Senators. That means they can roll with Andersen if they’d like for the next 10 games without starting him two nights in a row, and the next back-to-back comes against the worst team in the division. They also don’t have another two-games-in-two-nights after the Feb. 17-18 games versus Ottawa until March 13-14. They could still look to give Hutchinson a softer-looking start — the Leafs are an improved defensive team so far this season, and Hutchinson was competent in the playoffs — at some point in the next 10 games to give Andersen a breather.
The Leafs could also keep an eye on the waiver wire in the next few weeks, although knowing the above about the schedule, they could just ride this out with Andersen and Hutchinson. Cap wise, the Leafs are already into LTIR with the Joe Thornton and Nick Robertson contracts, and they can move Campbell onto LTIR now as well, giving them the ability to add another option if they would like.