Ah, the roller coaster that the waiver wire provides. Hours after Calvin Pickard went unclaimed by all 30 other teams in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs stepped in and decided to trade for him, sending Tobias Lindberg and a 6th round pick the other way.

Now, you might be sitting here asking yourself a few questions. Why Pickard? Why not just claim him? What’s going the other way? 

Calvin Pickard

If we’re being honest with ourselves, Calvin Pickard isn’t a franchise-altering goaltender. The 25-year-old has played five full seasons of professional hockey to date, and outside of a couple of sheltered stretches as Semyon Varlamov’s backup in 2014/15 and 2015/16, he hasn’t put up particularly lights out numbers. His best season as an AHL starter saw him place 16th in save percentage and his only season as an NHL starter, albeit with a horrifically awful Avalanche roster, saw him finish 28th in save percentage among thirty 41+ game netminders.

He is likely, at his most, a bubble backup that got overworked last season. But that’s completely fine for a team looking for low-cost support. Not only did the Leafs not give up a ton to get him, they also don’t pay him a ton of money; Pickard, who is an RFA at the end of this season, has a cap hit of just $1 million.

Needless to say, it’s not shocking that a somewhat younger goaltender with slightly above average AHL numbers, okay-ish NHL numbers, and capability to at least not be embarrassed in starter’s minutes would be intriguing to a team. No wise team would rely on him to be their starter at this stage, but the idea of him as a fallback is certainly intriguing given Toronto’s current situation.

Not to mention, while he isn’t 6’3 every day, 6’1 should be enough to satisfy Mike Babcock and company.

Avoiding The Wire

Naturally, many are wondering why you wouldn’t just claim Pickard off of waivers for free if you wanted him on your team. That’s a fair question, but it discards the concept of clearing increasing his value.

Right now, Curtis McElhinney is the no-contest backup. I have a lot of personal reservations about that decision, given McElhinney’s track record, but he performed well for Toronto down the stretch, made a save that immortalized him in Game 81, and in pre-season play, he didn’t quite have a game that would’ve cost him the position. I don’t think that Leafs management is super attached to keeping him as their #2, with this trade or without it, but given what he’s contributed to them since coming to the team last year, it’s unsurprising that he has to play himself out of his spot.

With that in mind, claiming Pickard now would have forced McElhinney out, which is likely a non-starter conversation for now. Trading for him gives them two fallbacks (Garret Sparks being the other) if things go south, without having to make a decision probability, rather than result. Not that I personally wouldn’t make one on probability, but given the situation, that’s a tough sell in this market.

As well, Leafs now have 30 days or 10 games where Pickard can come up and down without hassle. Should Frederik Andersen or Curtis McElhinney get injured, they can bounce Pickard up and down without much concern. That’s not a huge deal, but its a nice sweetener for the next month.

The New Depth Chart

With Pickard coming in, the organizational goaltending depth chart now looks something like this:

Frederik Andersen Garret Sparks Kasimir Kaskisuo Joseph Woll
Curtis McEhlinney Calvin Pickard Cal Heeter Ian Scott

That’s… not that bad for a team that’s supposedly lacking between the pipes. Again, it relies a lot on the idea of McElhinney becoming a legitimate goalie out of nowhere in his early 30’s, but even if that doesn’t work, swapping him out with one of Sparks or Pickard still looks like gives you three very solid tiers. Toronto greatly overperforms the AHL average with their duo, as they do with two AHL-quality goaltenders playing for the Solar Bears in Kaskisuo and Heeter.

The battle between Sparks and Pickard for the Marlies job is going to be particularly interesting. Pickard has 100 or so games of NHL experience in his past three years to leave as his resume, but Sparks has outperformed him by a fair margin (0.922 career vs 0.914) in the AHL and has more familiarity with his teammates. Not to mention, he’s a year younger and has a contract beyond this year, which would lead you to believe that the Leafs have reason to give him priority between the two if push came to shove.

Vegas Bound

Going the other way are Tobias Lindberg and a sixth round pick. Again, more than the zero of a waiver claim, but it creates a wash in the committed contracts list, and probably doesn’t make a huge dent on the Leafs in the long run.

I had Lindberg ranked 31st on my personal, 39-player list of Leafs prospects (which you can read as a subscriber to the site, though I’ve unlocked Lindberg’s as a free post). He’s a pretty intriguing player, given his age and his defensive ability, but in a system like Toronto’s, he was bound to be lost in the depth chart. The Marlies didn’t list him in their opening day roster today, which, unless they were that  sure of this trade, hints that they planned on sending him to Orlando to start the season. Here’s how I concluded Lindberg’s profile:

I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lindberg once again be a trade chip down the line. He’s a prospect with tools that the traditional crowd loves, and while his numbers aren’t particularly inspiring, they’re still fairly decent for someone with two years of North American Pro under their belt in the role that he’s played. The Leafs likely have too many other options to ever give him a serious shot, though; even if he was willing to play on either wing, his only real potential spot to slide into is on the wings of the fourth line and based on how other players have been doing, it’s unlikely he’ll be the top candidate there for a few years.

You don’t groom a player for several years to maybe play on your fourth line, so his future is likely elsewhere.

Obviously, I didn’t think “down the line” meant seven days, but an opportunity came and the Leafs took it. Throwing in a pick is a little interesting because it’s always beneficial to have lottery tickets to play with, but your odds come the sixth round are extremely small. While Toronto has a few late-round prospects that look legitimate, the last one that has properly graduated into a full-time NHLer was Carl Gunnarsson in 2007. Even if you’re hitting one every 3 to 4 years, giving up a player that would never make your team and a 25% lottery ticket for a young player that’s already had a head is never a bad thing.

Obviously, one wishes the best for Lindberg, who now has a greater opportunity in Vegas than he ever had here. But Toronto fared well taking this approach; they didn’t lose a contract spot, they didn’t have to rush a backup goaltender decision, and they re-assigned depth. Pickard doesn’t have to be much of a success for this to be considered a worthwhile risk, but if he ends up being a hit down the line, they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank with this strategy.

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