After Tuesday night's debacle against the Devils, Toronto Maple Leaf's fans screaming for goaltending. Jonas Gustavsson gave up three incredibly soft goals in a 4-3 loss, including the overtime winner on a 60-foot shot that was going wide before he deflected it into the net.
The loss was just the latest reminder of the main thing standing between Toronto and the playoffs, a solid goaltender.
They currently sit in a tie for eighth place with the Winnepeg Jets at 65 points with 22 games left to play, but their 184 goals allowed is the third most in the entire league. Even if they did make the playoffs as currently constituted, they would probably be bounced very quickly in the first round. Leaf's general manager Brian Burke knows this, he told the Montreal Gazette as much two weeks ago.
I'm not paid to get in the playoffs, Burke said. I want to win a championship here. Getting into the playoffs ... we could have done that last year. We could have traded our young players and gotten in last year for a couple of 30-year-olds. We could have gotten in the year before, too, I believe, if we traded all the kids.
I'm not interested in making the playoffs and getting our asses kicked in the first round ... I've done that, he added. It's not much fun. I'm interested in getting in with a realistic, reasonable chance to win or bloody someone's nose doing it and use that round or two rounds or whatever we can do as a building block for a championship team.
Burke has also shown himself to be trade deadline averse. He has said numerous times that he thinks that bad deals are made at the deadline and that in the long term they don't help teams much.
Not to mention his available options are not pretty at this point. If Burke wants to make a deal that won't cost him major pieces of his team, his options are limited to rental backup players like Evgeni Nabokov, Dwayne Roloson, Josh Harding, Curtis Sanford, J.S. Giguere, Anti Niittymaki and Scott Clemenson, or completely unproven guys with high upside, like Ben Bishop or Brad Thiessen, both of whom have been excellent in the AHL but neither of whom has any real NHL experience.
In theory players like Anders Lindback and Cory Schneider are available, but both Vancouver and Nashville know that they have a very valuable chip in their backup goaltender and both players are restricted free agents at the end of the year so neither team will be motivated to sell for what Burke will be offering.
Of the available vets, Nabokov, Roloson and Giguere have been the man in deep playoff runs, with Giguere even winning a Conn Smythe in the 2003 playoffs and a Stanley Cup in 2007. But all three are way past their prime, Giguere is 34, Nabokov 36 and Roloson is 42. None of these guys are getting younger, but maybe they have one more run in the tank.
Bishop and Thiessen were both excellent goaltenders in college with Thiessen being one of three finalist for the Hobey Baker award in 2008. They have both been starters in the AHL All Star game and been recognized at the AHL level with many awards. But neither has any NHL experience to speak of (Bishop has played 13 games, Thiessen none) and so making a move for either, and hoping they will be an improvement over the Leaf's current stable of players is a crapshoot at best.
So, much as it may pain Leaf's fans to hear it, and though it may keep Toronto out of the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year (eight if you include the 2004-2005 season when the lockout cancelled the whole playoffs) the right move for Burke to make goaltending-wise is probably no move.
There are some intriguing options that could come available this offseason depening on what happens with their current contracts, or maybe Burke would swing a blockbuster move involving picks around the draft as he did when he acquired
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