The Toronto Maple Leafs made a move today that has inspired panic in parts of the city, and relief in others, acquiring goaltender Michael Hutchinson from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in 2020.
The reason for panic? The move comes at the same time as the Maple Leafs called up Marlies goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo on an emergency basis, listing Frederik Andersen as out of the lineup with a day-to-day groin injury. As such, there is some concern that Andersen’s injury is significant, and that Hutchinson has been brought in with the NHL in mind. Others have pondered whether it’s performative insurance, given the debate that forever rages about Garret Sparks’ performance.
I don’t see the Maple Leafs being in serious consideration for this move. Reading the tea leaves would lead one to believe that Andersen’s injury isn’t too substantial; he was in good enough shape to dress as the backup goaltender last night, after all, which allowed Kaskisuo to dress as the backup for the Marlies in their Friday evening game against the Rochester Americans. With the Marlies not playing until Monday and the Leafs off until Thursday after tonight, this was more likely a way to give Andersen some precautionary rest while not making the Marlies scramble.
As for Sparks, his 0.910 save percentage and 0.813 record (6-1-1) aren’t as good as Toronto’s relief from Curtis McElhinney’s standout efforts last season, but the 25-year-old is still delivering above-average results – I doubt nine games of good enough (if occasionally shaky-looking) goaltending would shift their plan there.
(via the Marlies tracking project)
The likely reasoning for this acquisition comes in the Toronto Marlies’ performance. Despite being one of the league’s top-scoring teams, and despite encouraging underlying numbers (~57.5% Corsi through 32 games), the team is experiencing some of the worst team goaltending seen in the AHL’s modern era, after getting some of the best team goaltending in the modern era just a year prior. Toronto has followed up a 0.929 season between the pipes with a save percentage of just 0.877, unsurprisingly a league-low.
Jeff Glass was shipped out a few weeks ago after a ten-game showing that was beyond anyone’s worst expectations. Kaskisuo hasn’t looked the same since his early-season injury. Eamon McAdam has shown flashes of quality, but still appears to max out as an ECHL goaltender, and is likely overdue to return to the Newfoundland Growlers as originally planned. Michael Garteig was good in his single game with the team and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Growlers in McAdam’s absence, but it seems unrealistic to put the hands of a defending Calder Cup champion in a 27-year-old with no real track record of success.
Hutchinson, despite a down start to his current season, has been one of the AHL’s best goaltenders over the course of his up-and-down career. His 0.920 career save percentage in the league is 7th highest among goalies to play 100+ games in the Cap Era, and his 0.935 last season was second-best in the league (Sparks, coincidentally, sits atop the leaderboard in both stats). The 0.906 SV% he’s posted in eight games with Springfield this season is his worst since his rookie season, but even if he doesn’t trend back upward, that number is still above AHL league average and would have netted the Marlies 25 fewer goals against so far this year.
The one knock on an acquisition like this is the idea of giving up an asset for a 28-year-old AHL goaltender, with whom you likely see no opportunity for in the NHL outside of an emergency scenario (like Kaskisuo tonight). That’s not unfair, and I think that plays a big part in why it took so long to make this move; Toronto would have definitely preferred to re-claim McElhinney or Calvin Pickard off waivers on their second laps, but with the former establishing himself in Carolina and the latter being picked off by Arizona a few weeks ago, that dream had died.
Would it have been worth it just to hold steady? I don’t think so – there is a value in having your team’s AHL season last longer that goes beyond just “winning pedigree” and whatever other cliches might get spit out. Longer runs mean more game, more touches, more gym days, and more practices. It’s more opportunity to work with your amateur prospects when their season ends and they join the farm team. If you’re an organization that has a well-structured, comprehensive development program like Toronto’s, you’d probably prefer your players to stay involved in it for as long as possible.
Hutchinson should give them sufficient enough goaltending to turn some of these games back into wins and get the Marlies back into the playoff picture. Who know’s if that’s worth a fifth-round pick, but it’s probably worth something.