The Maple Leafs are once again bound to add a goalie this offseason, whether through free agency or trade.
After signing Petr Mrazek to a three-year deal at a $3.8 million cap hit last year, there’s certainly room for improvement this time around. Toronto is one of few true contenders with major questions at the game’s most important position, and there’s a good chance that they acquire more than one goalie.
With just three picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, the free-agent route is an attractive option for the Leafs. They’ll need to move picks or prospects in order to trade Mrazek, and they’ll want to save some draft capital to help them at next year’s trade deadline. Perhaps they add one goalie through trade and another through free agency, but it does seem fairly likely that at least one player on the free-agent list ends up on the Leafs next season.
I wrote about the free-agent goaltending options last year here. The options were a complete mixed bag; players like Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, and James Reimer look like smart signings, while others like Mrazek and Chris Driedger struggled. Choose your goaltending target wisely!
There are nine free agent goaltenders who played in 10 games last season while posting a save percentage greater than .900. We’ll focus on those nine options here.
2021-2022 Statistics: 49 GP, .914 sv%, -8 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 48 GP, .912 sv%, -0.7 GSAx.
Campbell will be looking for the first major payday of his career at the age of 30, as Cap Friendly lists his estimated career earnings at just under $5.8 million. Put another way, Marc-Andre Fleury has made about 14 times as much over his career. While Campbell would likely choose Toronto if presented with two similar offers, he’s not exactly in a position to turn down millions of dollars.
The former 11th overall pick set a career-high in games played with 49 this season and added seven playoff games on top of that. His previous career-high was 31 back with the Kings in 2018-19, so he’s not exactly proven as a durable starter. He’s been rather consistent in terms of year-over-year save percentage as a member of the Leafs, but Evolving Hockey’s GSAx didn’t love his play this year, particularly at 5-on-5.
Given he’ll be 31 by the time next year’s playoffs roll around, it’s tough to see him fetching a five-year deal. A four-year deal seems likely, but he may need to sacrifice in terms of AAV or structure the deal so that his team can get out of it. I don’t think signing a 30-year-old goaltender to a four-year contract makes a lot of sense for rebuilding teams, and there are only a few playoff teams who will be in the market for a $4M+ goaltender.
My guess is that he’ll price himself out of the Leafs‘ comfort zone, as it only takes one team to overpay. The Devils, Oilers, Capitals, Wild, and Red Wings look like the best fits.
Other Starting Options
2021-2022 Statistics: 57 GP, .921 sv%, 16.2 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 56 GP, .919 sv%, 7.4 GSAx.
The Colorado Avalanche gave up a first-round pick, prospect Conor Timmins, and a conditional third-round pick last offseason for one season of Kuemper’s services. After posting great numbers while handling a starter’s workload this year, he’s now the #1 option on the free-agent market. While he’s struggled at times in this year’s playoffs, he was ultimately good enough to win the Cup and carries a long track record of success at the NHL level.
Over a four-year sample, he ranks fourth in GSAx behind just Igor Shesterkin, Connor Hellebuyck, and Robin Lehner. His biggest issue has been staying healthy, as he played just 27 games in 2020-21 and 29 games in 2019-20. He’s bound to carry a fairly significant cap hit, so if the Leafs did sign him, they’d almost surely have to pair him with a cheap backup. Should they put all of their eggs in one basket?
Kuemper just turned 32 and is almost two full years older than Campbell. He’ll be 33 during next year’s playoffs. I figure he will sign for at least four years, which is a pretty significant gamble knowing his durability issues in the past.
While the Avalanche could look to re-sign him, they have Pavel Francouz as an option and other free agents like Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, and Josh Manson to worry about. They also have to give Nathan MacKinnon a hefty raise in a year, and they let their former starter walk last offseason in Philipp Grubauer.
It’s tough to see Kuemper getting a five-year deal at 32. If he signs for four years, I’d want to front-load his contract so that it’s easier to buy him out or trade him down the road. He does seem like a good fit for the Leafs — few rebuilding teams will want to sign a 32-year-old goaltender to a long-term deal and most contenders already have their starting goalie — but signing him is quite risky.
The Avalanche, Leafs, Oilers, Capitals, and Devils seem like the best options here. I’ll guess he ends up with the Capitals, as they’ll likely be in a full rebuild in a few years anyway, so the tail-end of this contract won’t hurt them as much. A four-year deal would only make sense for the Leafs if they can easily get out of it after year two, but I do believe that he’ll be on their shortlist.
2021-2022 Statistics: 56 GP, .908 sv%, -11 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 85 GP, .915 sv%, 7 GSAx.
The first question with Fleury: Does he want to play here? He’s made about $81 million over his career, so an extra $500k probably isn’t going to sway his decision. The Leafs could offer him a great opportunity to start for a contender, but he can pretty much play wherever he wants at this point, so don’t expect a bidding war.
Fleury did not have a strong season in terms of save percentage or GSAx. He’s still carrying a starter’s workload, but he’ll be 38 in November, so you better have a strong 1B option behind him. He’s just one season removed from winning the Vezina with Vegas, but his drop-off was significant this year and might be the sign of what’s to come.
The Leafs could promise him plenty of playing time, and they’ll be interested in players who aren’t laser-focused on maximizing their pay cheque. Maybe the chance to start for a contender will intrigue him, but I’m counting on him heading to a team like Washington or Pittsburgh if he doesn’t go back to Minnesota. If he does sign in Toronto, he’d probably be half of a timeshare rather than a true starter.
2021-2022 Statistics: 40 GP, .919 sv%, 13.4 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 17 GP, .894 sv%, -6.4 GSAx.
Husso is coming off of a breakout season where he finished seventh in GSAx behind only Igor Shesterkin, Frederik Andersen, Ilya Sorokin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Darcy Kuemper, and Jacob Markstrom. However, he struggled in seven playoff games and posted a .893 save percentage in 17 games in 2020-21. He was terrible in the 2018-19 season at the AHL level and good but not great there in 2019-20.
His career earnings sit at just $2.26 million, so like Campbell, we can expect him to take the biggest offer. At 27, he’s young enough to interest rebuilding teams like Buffalo and Detroit, and a team could give him significant term if they truly believe in him as a number one option. He reminds me a bit of Chris Driedger, who signed a three-year deal with Seattle last offseason with less than 40 career games under his belt.
Teams like Buffalo and Detroit often have to pay a premium to sign players; Husso is not in a position to turn down one of those premiums. Both teams want to take a step forward next season and don’t want to watch their top young talent like Owen Power, Rasmus Dahlin, Dylan Cozens, Moritz Seider, and Lucas Raymond lose 50 games. Husso won’t be an option for teams with high-end goalies like the Lightning or Rangers, but he could make sense in a platoon role on teams like the Flyers, Devils, Oilers, or Capitals.
He’s a complete mystery box at this point due to his short track record, but his 2021-22 performance should get him a three-to-five-year contract. If his deal comes in just north of what Driedger and Mrazek signed for last offseason, the Leafs could be interested. If a team like Buffalo offers him a huge deal, they’ll likely be out of any bidding war. The Blues appear to be interested in bringing him back as well, so the Leafs will be in tough here.
2021-2022 Statistics: 19 GP, .920 sv%, 9.9 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: Four games played.
Comrie has been claimed off waivers twice in his short career and is now a group six free agent at the age of 26. This reminds me of Michael Bunting’s situation last offseason; they both had a short 20(ish) game sample of success the prior to hitting the market at a young age. He’ll be looking for the best offer given that he’s made under $3 million in his career, but he’ll want to get out of Winnipeg to get more of an opportunity away from Connor Hellebuyck.
The Leafs could certainly offer him plenty of playing time. While there’s too much riding on next season to make him the clear-cut number one starter, they’re not going to have a Vasilevskiy or Shesterkin on their roster, so he’ll get plenty of playing time if he looks somewhat competent. The Leafs might be his best option if he wants to play for a playoff team. His hometown Oilers could be a fit as well.
Comrie, who had some pedigree as a prospect, carries a fairly strong track record at the AHL level. He’s only 6’1″, which isn’t overly big for a player at his position, but something was clearly working for him last season. A team like the Sabres or Coyotes have far more cap space at their disposal for a one-year “prove it” contract, but the Leafs could be competitive if his best offer is around $2 million or less.
2021-2022 Statistics: 24 GP, .913 sv%, -0.9 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 69 GP, .895 sv%, -22.1 GSAx.
Holtby was horrendous by the numbers in his previous two seasons, but he bounced back nicely with the Stars this year. Unfortunately, it was only a 24-game sample and his .913 save percentage was his best since Matthews’ rookie season. Holtby will be 33 in September, so a one-year deal seems likely, especially given how much he struggled back in Vancouver.
He’s made over $43 million in his career, and I don’t see any team throwing a big offer his way. My guess is that he avoids the rebuilding teams and signs with a playoff contender. He’ll probably look for a chance to be a “1B” type rather than a true backup. Teams like the Oilers or Wild make sense, but I wouldn’t completely rule out a return to Washington as well. He probably won’t get much playing time behind Jake Oettinger if he stays in Dallas, but I suppose there’s a chance that he really likes it there.
The Leafs could be interested in him as a backup if he’s willing to take a discount, as they need every discount they can get at this point. However, they can’t possibly count on him being the clear #1 starter. He’ll have plenty of backup opportunities to choose from.
2021-2022 Statistics: 37 GP, .910 sv%, 1.4 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 16 GP, .900 sv%, -6.1 GSAx.
Wedgewood doesn’t have a strong track record; he struggled in New Jersey a year ago and put up a .893 save percentage in 26 AHL games back in the 2019-20 season. However, he got a fair amount of playing time between Arizona and Dallas this season and made the most out of the opportunity. His career earnings sit just north of $3.2 million, so you can expect him to take the best offer out there.
The big question: Did he figure something out? Or will that be the best 37-game stretch of his career? He’s from the Greater Toronto Area, so if he can’t find a better offer, perhaps he’ll prefer to sign with his hometown team. If he struggles, the team could promise to trade him to a place where he’ll get a better opportunity, and they have a good track record in that regard with players like Josh Leivo, Mikko Lehtonen, and Alexander Barabanov.
My guess is that he’ll get a one-year “prove it” contract, but the Leafs could easily offer him a multi-year deal if the cap hit is under the $1.125 million bury-threshold. If worse comes to worst, Toronto won’t mind having a highly-paid AHL goalie as long as he doesn’t count against the cap. Heck, the Leafs could offer him multiple years at that $1.125 million threshold and have no risk from a cap perspective. Would he turn down the guaranteed salary?
Given his short track record, the Leafs will want to add a fairly clear #1 starter if they sign Wedgewood. I’m not sure I trust him to be a 1B in a 1A/1B split situation. They’ll also want to have another decent option in the AHL level in case Wedgewood isn’t working out.
2021-2022 Statistics: 26 GP, .914 sv%, -1.4 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 20 GP, .912 sv%, 4.1 GSAx.
DeSmith underwent successful core muscle surgery back in early May but owns a career save percentage of .916 in 97 career games. He did post a mediocre .905 save percentage in 41 AHL games back in the 2019-20 season, but his NHL numbers are fairly comparable to Jack Campbell’s, albeit in 45 fewer games. He’s only a few months older than Campbell and seems destined to earn less in terms of both cap hit and term.
DeSmith was arrested back in 2014 on domestic assault and resisting arrest charges. He’s almost certainly going to play in the NHL next season, but some teams may not have any interest in signing him. If the Leafs do choose to pursue him, they’d likely be paying him at the rate of a solid “1B” option rather than a true backup. The “add a 1B option with injury concerns” strategy didn’t exactly work out great for them last offseason. I’ll be surprised if DeSmith signs with Toronto.
2021-2022 Statistics: 17 GP, .903 sv%, -0.7 GSAx.
Previous Two Seasons: 50 GP, .914 sv%, -4.1 GSAx.
Halak is now 37, which is particularly concerning for a smaller goaltender who relies on his strong athleticism. He was good for Boston back in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but he has hovered around a .905 save percentage in each of the past two seasons. He’s also played in under 20 games in two straight years.
If Halak doesn’t retire, he’ll likely only cost close to the league minimum. Signing him would allow them to spend more elsewhere, and they could use every additional penny that they can get in order to sign a starter. However, he’ll be 38 by the time next year’s playoffs roll around, and I don’t think the Leafs would trust him to take on a starter’s workload if their other goalie gets hurt. We can probably rule him out.