The Maple Leafs may be in the market for a goaltender over the next two weeks.
Jack Campbell, who has an .883 save percentage since the start of the new year, has given up four or more goals in eight of those 16 games. Petr Mrazek has posted an .894 save percentage during that time period, and unlike Campbell, he wasn’t great in the first half of the season, either. Even if Mrazek heats up, it’s difficult to count on him staying healthy over an extended playoff run.
There aren’t many good goalies available on the trade market. Marc-Andre Fleury, who could end up costing an acquiring team a first-round pick, is a 37-year-old who has had his own struggles as of late with a save percentage of just .904 in the new year. Giving up six goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
The Leafs‘ goaltending need also extends beyond this season. Toronto spent less than $6 million in cap space on their goalie tandem for this season, and their budget for next season probably isn’t much bigger. Every additional dollar they spend in the net comes out of the forward and defense budget, so the Leafs might not be able to sign Fleury to an extension even if they did trade for him. They’ll need to acquire at least one cheap option, especially if they plan to move Mrazek and his $3.8 million cap hit at some point.
One goalie who could be a terrific target is Anton Forsberg of the Ottawa Senators. The 29-year old isn’t exactly a household name, but he’s been playing outstanding as of late. He carries a .920 save percentage in 26 games this season, including a .932 save percentage in 13 starts since the start of the new year. He practically stood on his head recently against top teams like Vegas, Florida, Minnesota, Boston, and Washington.
Forsberg is a pending unrestricted free agent, and Ottawa is already paying Matt Murray a $6.25 million cap hit over the next two seasons. Perhaps the Sens could extend Forsberg, but Murray was playing well before his recent injury, and they could use picks or prospects to help their rebuild. Forsberg would certainly cost far less to acquire than Fleury.
Getting To Know Anton Forsberg
AHL Track Record
Forsberg, a seventh-round pick back in the 2011 NHL draft, is about 11 months younger than Jack Campbell. After playing in Sweden for two seasons, he made his AHL debut for Columbus’ affiliate in Springfield, where he immediately posted good numbers. He excelled in his six-game AHL tryout in 2014 and followed that up by posting a .927 save percentage in 30 games in 2014-15.
His AHL save percentage was strong year after year. He posted a .914 save percentage in 2015-16 and then led his team to a Calder Cup Championship, going 9-0 with a .949 save percentage, including a 1-0 shutout victory in the clinching game. You would think that would have been enough to earn him a NHL job, but he played just one game for the Blue Jackets the following year, returning to the AHL to post a .926 save percentage over 51 games.
Forsberg finally received a legitimate NHL opportunity in the 2017-18 season, when he was included in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad trade. He played 35 games for Chicago and posted a respectable .908 save percentage, although he was a little bit below average by Evolving Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). After he was demoted to Rockford the following season, he was again a top-flight AHL goaltender over 32 games.
He spent the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, where he posted a mediocre .905 save percentage in 27 games. I’m not entirely sure what happened that season, but it was the first time that he hadn’t excelled at the AHL level. He’s played just one minor-league game since then. All told, he boasts a career save percentage of .920 at the AHL level over close to 200 games.
NHL Track Record
Prior to his time in Ottawa, Forsberg’s one season with Chicago made up the bulk of his NHL experience. Other than that, his career-high in NHL games played was five. While he did struggle in the majority of his NHL opportunities, we’re talking about a few three-to-five game auditions in which one bad start can crater his numbers. Given his performance at the AHL level, it’s surprising he didn’t receive more NHL opportunities prior to joining the Senators.
In eight games for Ottawa last season, Forsberg performed okay, posting a .909 save percentage and grading out slightly above average by GSAA. He’s finally gotten another extended opportunity this year in what is the second time in his career that he’s played more than 10 NHL games in a season. His .920 save percentage in 26 games is equal to his career numbers at the AHL level, and he ranks 12th out of 59 goalies in GSAA.
If you look at GSAA over a per-minute basis, Forsberg ranks eighth of 59 goalies behind only Igor Shesterkin, Ville Husso, Frederik Andersen, Jeremy Swayman, Juuse Saros, and Jacob Markstrom. He’s about tied with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Having watched him play against the Florida Panthers on March 3rd, he was the sole reason that the Senators kept it close in that game. The Panthers held a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes despite owning a 37-11 shots on goal advantage, and the only goal against Forsberg came when his own player pushed a Panthers forward into him.
I also went and watched every goal that he’s allowed in 2022. He’s allowed just 27 goals since then, and the vast majority have been next to impossible to stop. The Senators are giving up over 40 shots quite often — including in his last three starts — and he’s been hung out to dry a few times. For context, Campbell has given up 27 goals in his last seven starts.
Forsberg’s Goals Allowed in 2022
|Vegas||2||Eichel scores on PP from Ovechkin spot after good puck movement.||No, not really.|
|Florida||1||Goalie interference, but own player pushed him in. Not on him.||No|
|Florida||2||3rd chance goes in, puck bouncing around as team can’t clear rebound.||No|
|Florida||3||Saves high danger chance, but it squeeks through him.||A bit|
|Minnesota||1||Nice shot after good puck movement. He had little chance.||No|
|Minnesota||2||Spurgeon jumps into rush and snipes.||No|
|Minnesota||3||Perfect shot- picks corner.||No|
|Boston||1||Debrusk bats it out of mid air- no chance.||No|
|Boston||2||Weird bounce off Sens defencemen, puck goes right to Carlo.||No|
|Boston||3||Pastrnak perfect shot- no chance.||No|
|Washington||1||Stops Ovechkin on power play, Backstrom gets rebound.||No|
|Carolina||1||Second rebound goes in.||No, not really.|
|Carolina||2||Point shot well placed, tons of traffic- never saw it.||No|
|Carolina||3||Trocheck picks top corner with extra skater on ice. Maybe could have had.||A bit|
|NY Islanders||1||Power play - puck bouncing everywhere. He was standing on his head prior.||Meh|
|NY Islanders||2||Point shot tipped in.||No|
|NY Islanders||3||Barzal one-timer well placed. Maybe could have had.||Meh|
|NY Islanders||4||Nice goal, nice cross-ice pass in front, nice move.||No|
|Anaheim||1||Rakell dekes around, sneaks through Forsberg’s pads.||Yes|
|Anaheim||2||Terry walks in and picks the corner.||No, not really.|
|Columbus||1||A+ puck movement, no chance.||No|
|Pittsburgh||1||Simon scores off post and in, perfect shot.||No|
|Pittsburgh||2||Point shot gets redirected, saved, but Malkin on the doorstep.||No, not really.|
|Buffalo||2||Breakaway. Great move.||No|
There haven’t been many soft goals, especially as of late, but that’s probably what we expected given that he owns a .932 save percentage in the new year. There’s little question that he’s on a great run right now with the 370 saves he’s made over this stretch.
Like Campbell prior to his time with the Leafs, we don’t have much of an NHL track record to go off of. The Leafs would be acquiring a goalie who has been hot as of late with the hope that his recent success will continue. He posted a .926 save percentage in seven games in December as well, so we’re looking at an excellent 20-game stretch here.
Anton Forsberg’s Fit in Toronto
Since Forsberg’s cap hit is just $900k this season, the Leafs would have plenty of options here. They could choose to keep Mrazek and have three goalies on the NHL roster, rotate them in, and go with whoever plays the best. It would give them added insurance if someone fell injured, and having three goalies who could potentially heat up is better than two. Unlike Campbell and Mrazek, Forsberg has actually had a fair amount of success in 2022, so there are plenty of reasons for optimism right now.
The Leafs could also choose to trade Mrazek in order to open up some cap space for other moves. If they’re planning on giving up picks or prospects to secure salary retention in other deals, perhaps trading Mrazek saves them from doing that. I think there’s a real chance that the Leafs trade Mrazek this offseason to create cap room; doing it now could help them get started on creating extra space for this offseason.
Given his short track record, it shouldn’t be overly expensive to extend Forsberg. Chris Driedger earned himself a three-year deal at $3.5 million per season last offseason, but he posted terrific numbers in 38 games to that point, and it hasn’t exactly worked out well in Seattle. You might be able to extend Forsberg for a reasonable cap hit right now, and if so, I’d be interested in doing that.
If Forsberg keeps up this level of play, he could provide excellent value over the next few years. If he struggles, he might end up as a fairly-paid backup that fits in Toronto’s price range. If he’s completely terrible, they can bury just over $1.1 million of his cap hit in the AHL; they should be able to get out of that deal for a Nick Ritchie type of trade.
There’s little risk and plenty of potential reward here. If Forsberg struggles, the Leafs can simply run Campbell or Mrazek in the playoffs, which is exactly what they’re doing as of today. Unless Fleury is available for a reasonable price, there aren’t many other quality options — not to mention Forsberg has outplayed Fleury by a significant margin as of late.
A mid-tier prospect plus a third-round pick might be enough to bring Forsberg to Toronto. He might even be worth a second when we consider the low cap hit implications and the possibility of extending him to a team-friendly contract.
Forsberg is a 6’3″ goalie who looks awfully composed in the net right now. Watching him stand on his head against top teams as of late has piqued my interest. Perhaps this will end up being the best 20-game stretch of his career in hindsight, but he’s been all over the highlight reels as of late for much different reasons than Toronto’s current goaltending options.
G-love that save from Anton Forsberg! ? #NHLFaceOff
?: @Sportsnet ?? https://t.co/uEVY6yXLpz #NHLonSN pic.twitter.com/RY5aZHdP40
— NHL (@NHL) October 17, 2021