When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded for Calvin Pickard last Friday, there was a very interesting quote that came from Mike Babcock:

“Once [Pickard] cleared waivers, it became a good move for us,” said Babcock. “We’re in a better situation because of it. Now with our guys in the minors, we gotta sort that out. We want them all to play in the American Hockey League, maybe someone’s looking for an American Hockey League goalie, and we’ll get that done as well.

Now, everybody’s immediate impulse was to assume that this meant a trade was bound to happen, and that the organization’s net goaltending depth was to remain the same. But here’s a thought: Why not loan one of their goaltenders to another team instead?

For now, veteran Cal Heeter is out of the question; the Marlies assigned him to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears yesterday. But that leaves three other goalies; Pickard, Garret Sparks, and Kasimir Kaskisuo, all vying for AHL time, with an expected hesitance to run a three-headed rotation.

Pickard won’t be going anywhere. He’s already been pushed around by one team, the Leafs are going to want to get an understanding of what he is, and there’s really no point of acquiring a game-ready guy mid-season solely to say that you, in theory, could use him eventually. Sparks is an unlikely bet as well; the team seems confident in him as their starter, they valued him enough to give him a multi-year deal with a one-way second season, and they also trusted him enough to have taken the chance on Pickard making through the wire before the trade.

This leaves Kaskisuo, who started in the ECHL last year, had an up-and-down playoff, and has shown just enough to keep the organization interested in how he develops. Given the late-season improvement, they’d probably like him to see AHL pucks, but he’s quickly gone from the backup option to the third string with this trade.

Even with waiver exemption, I’d be shocked if a team were willing to give up assets for him, a loan, though? It could be possible. Looking at opening day rosters and how goaltenders performed in their previous seasons, there might be a fit in, say, Bridgeport:

Goaltender Age 17 TM 17 LG GP W L OTL GAA SV%
Christopher Gibson 24 Bridgeport AHL 7 6 0 0 2.52 0.912
Eamon McAdam 23 Bridgeport AHL 26 15 8 0 2.9 0.897
Kristers Gudlevskis 25 Syracuse AHL 37 15 10 4 2.65 0.897

Or Cleveland, if the attempt to take a few USHL-playing youngsters for a spin backfires:

Goaltender Age 17 TM 17 LG GP W L OTL GAA SV%
Ivan Kulbakov 21 Youngstown USHL 52 30 16 1 1.93 0.919
Matiss Kivlenieks 21 Sioux City USHL 49 36 7 2 1.85 0.932
Brad Thiessen 31 Cleveland AHL 12 5 6 0 2.34 0.924

Or maybe Rochester, who could probably use some further payback after loaning Cal O’Reilly to the Marlies last year:

Goaltender Age 17 TM 17 LG GP W L OTL GAA SV%
Linus Ullmark 24 Rochester AHL 55 26 27 2 2.87 0.909
Adam Wilcox 34 Syracuse AHL 34 18 9 2 2.87 0.895

Iowa, Rockford, San Antonio, Chicago, Texas, and Tuscon could be teams to look out for as well. It might be a tough sell for any of the above, seeing as teams will always want to take a chance with their own guys first, but a few rough appearances can change minds quickly in this league.

October 8th Toronto Marlies Lineup vs Utica

Kerby Rychel – Miro Aaltonen – Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson – Chris Mueller – Nikita Soshnikov
Colin Greening – Adam Brooks – Trevor Moore
Rich Clune – Ben Smith – Dmytro Timashov

Travis Dermott – Vincent LoVerde
Andrew Nielsen – Justin Holl
Rinat Valiev – Timothy Liljegren

That leads to a bit of a further point, though. The Marlies, for all intents and purposes, are stocked much heavier than your average AHL team is right now. The above lineup would get decimated in the NHL, but as individuals, the majority of the players could earn a call-up as a support player on at least one team, which is impressive given how many of these players are on their first or second NHL contracts.

That’s before you include the scratches of that night (Jeremy Bracco, Martin Marincin, Mason Marchment and Michael Paliotta), a minimum three of which should be in an AHL lineup playing credible minutes every night, with Marincin being an NHLer on at least a roster or two.

It also doesn’t include prospects like Kristian Pospisil and JJ Piccinch, who are down with the Solar Bears, or regular AHLers like Max Novak, Mattias Cleland and Jean Dupuy who have joined them. It doesn’t include Martins Dzierkals, who is… somewhere, and Vladimir Bobylev, who is supposedly heading back to the KHL for this season after originally being sent to Orlando.

Again, it’s a big, big log-jam. In theory, Orlando would be the perfect home for this excess of talent, as Marlies GM Kyle Dubas originally planned a few years back:

“It’s a slow change,” said Dubas. “We would like to have it where first-year players start in Orlando and graduate to the Marlies and then to the Leafs. That’s going to take time for the buy in and the mindset for how people view pro hockey.” [via Kyle Cicerella]

The issue with that is that the buy-in has been nearly non-existent. The Leafs can believe in the idea of using Orlando as a development team all they want, but if the rest of the league still considers the ECHL to be a deathbed for prospects, competition will remain weak, the threat of lifers going after kids will remain, and there won’t really be much to gain outside of knowing what your coaches will attempt to teach your players.

For reference, the ECHL has only had 7 of its last 28 scoring titles won by drafted prospects. Not counting Scott Gomez, who played for his home state Alaska Aces during the lockout year after already having multiple 70 point NHL seasons under his belt, the only NHLer to win the scoring title or MVP award since 1989 is David Desharnais. Desharnais was undrafted due to his size and successfully used the league as an audition, but that’s an extremely rare occurrence.

Even if you use the most sure-thing honour the league has, its Alumnus of the Month award, you’ll find it to be flooded by goalies. A look at every winner since 2005/06 gives you just six skaters, with only one having spent more than a fraction of time in the ECHL compared to the AHL.

Player ECHL AHL NHL Player ECHL AHL NHL
Mike Hoffman 4 242 263 Dan Sexton 18 144 88
Shane Harper 63 398 14 Joe Corvo 5 266 708
Alexandre Bolduc 40 433 65 Kamil Kreps 12 175 232
Cory Conacher 3 224 152 Andrew Brunette 20 267 1109
Michael Ryder 25 180 806 Ruslan Fedotenko 8 104 863
Alex Burrows 134 107 845 Michel Ouellet 55 283 190

A lot of that comes from teams having space on their AHL rosters to develop all of their legitimate prospects, but the point is, you’re not facing a lot of talent the other way. It still beats the press box, but with the surplus Toronto has, you can argue that it could be worth loaning out a player or two that they perceive to be of lower developmental maintenance, be it to get that individual more ice time or to avoid leaving their teammates hanging.

In particular, I’d probably look towards older (but still prospect age) players that don’t still need internal organization grooming, have NHL upside, but aren’t expected to be absolutely vital to the team’s success; players like Kerby Rychel up front, or Rinat Valiev on the point. It doesn’t necessarily have to be them who depart, but I’d guess that both of players would be playing Top 6 / Top 4 minutes on most other teams in the league, and you can choose to either worry about the standings and speak with teams in the west, or do your best to not uproot their day-to-day lives and keep them within the division.

Ultimately, I don’t know if I’d bet on an arrangement like any of the above happening, if only because of the rarity of a younger skater going out on loan when a team has an affiliate to groom them on. But Toronto’s situation is pretty unique, so I wonder if it’s been at least considered. After all, if both they and the Leafs stay healthy, there are likely going to be a few players grinding their team for ice time, if not games played, and the alternative is a league that doesn’t seem to be evolving for prospects as fast as the front office would like it to.

Either that or they can hit peak insane billionaires and buy a second AHL team. There are worse ideas out there, right?

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