Let’s talk about Alexandar Georgiev
If you’ve spent any time paying attention to the Toronto hockey sphere of late, you’ve probably heard some degree of speculation about Alexandar Georgiev. Everyone and their extended family is dead set on acquiring the soon to be 24-year-old New York Rangers backup goaltender, and the frenzy has peaked over the past few days.
Part of that comes from Elliotte Friedman saying that the acquisition price for Toronto would likely be more than Jeremy Bracco, and Darren Dreger adding today that it could even be more than Kasperi Kapanen. But before we talk about that, let’s take a quick look at how we got here.
Before we talk about the numbers, let’s just start with stating the obvious – Georgiev is being billed as the solution to a problem that is a total crapshoot in solvability, and he is so because he is a recognizable name in this city. He is that because of an incredible performance that he put up against the Leafs last February, where he stopped 55 of 56 shots in a game that Toronto really should have won.
In other words, he had the best game of his career in front of his target acquiring audience. The game was such a dominant performance that it has a two-point impact on his entire career save percentage. That is to say, if you remove that game, he drops from a 0.914 to a 0.912.
In fact, he’s always been weirdly good against the Leafs, posting a 0.929 save percentage over 5 games played where the Leafs took an average of 44 shots on goal. It’s not his best save percentage against a team, or even against a team he’s played frequently, but the sheer number of pucks that have headed his way against Toronto make him feel more superhuman to the eyes of those who wish to acquire him.
That isn’t to say that the young netminder isn’t showing signs of being a good goaltender. Far from that – right now he looks very poised to be a good backup, or an alright 1B – though as we all know, goaltenders are voodoo and this could change to “elite starter” or “rent-a-goalie” at any given moment. The 65 game sample that we have on him is small enough to be skeptical of its findings, but also a very solid amount for a 23-year-old who wasn’t drafted to have under his belt. His career save percentage, even if you did that without the Leafs game thing, is still good, as is his quality start rate. He’s had a positive goals saved above average (GSAA) total in all three seasons.
Not to mention, the reason the Rangers want to move him isn’t that they’re “giving up” on him, which is also part of the reason why they are hesitant to sell unless they get a satisfactory return. It’s more a case of wanting to let franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist go out on his own terms, and having an even better prospect in the wings in Igor Shesterkin. Georgiev is simply the odd man out in the process, and should the Rangers want to make the tough emotional decision, they could also keep him and shrug off their King.
The Rangers have been in this situation before with Cam Talbot, who opened his career with an insane 0.931 save percentage, 62% quality start rate, and 27 goals saved above average in his first 57 games. Ultimately, though, they still were unsure of his ability to take over for Lundqvist, and moved him to Edmonton for a 2nd round pick, 3rd round pick, and a swap of 7th round picks.
This is notable because that return is one of the biggest returns a backup goaltender has pulled on the market in the salary cap era. One would be wise to remember too that the Oilers explicitly acquired Talbot to be their starter, playing him 56, 73, and 67 times in the seasons that followed, before cutting ties midway through last year (when he fell to rent-a-goalie levels). Talbot is now in Calgary, where he’s bounced back to an elite starter’s SV%.
When I wrote the Leafs goaltending situation in mid-2018, the list of goaltender trades from the summer of 2015 and beyond looked something like this:
- First Round Pick or Higher: Frederik Andersen (1st+2nd), Martin Jones (1st+Sean Kuraly)
- Second Round Pick Or Higher: Cam Talbot (2nd+3rd), Brian Elliott (2nd+Conditional 3rd)
- Third Round Pick: Petr Mrazek (Conditional 3+4), Scott Darling
- Fourth Round Pick: Anders Nilsson, Al Montoya (Conditional), Ben Bishop (Rights)
- Fifth Round Pick or Below: Calvin Pickard (6th + Lindberg contract), Scott Wedgewood (5th), Dustin Tokarski (Future Considerations), Tom McCollum (Cond. 7th), Mike Condon (5th), Jonathan Bernier (Future Considerations), Antti Niemi (7th, Rights)
- Skater of Then-Value: Ben Scrivens (Zack Kassian), Antti Raanta (Ryan Haggerty), Niklas Backstrom (David Jones)
- Skater as Contract Swap: Jack Campbell, Reto Berra, Dustin Tokarski (again), Anders Nilsson (again), Anton Khudobin
Here’s what we’ve got since (in cases where a goalie was the key piece, not just a token contract), in reverse order:
- November 30, 2019: Eric Comrie for Vili Sararijarvi
- November 1, 2019: Louis Domingue for a conditional 7th
- September 27, 2019: Antoine Bibeau for Nicolas Meloche
- July 30, 2019: Mike Condon + 6th for Ryan Callahan + 5th
- July 23, 2019: Garret Sparks for David Clarkson + 4th
- June 30, 2019: James Reimer for Scott Darling + 6th
- June 14, 2019: Connor Ingram for a 7th
- February 25, 2019: Keith Kinkaid for a 5th
- February 12, 2019: Marek Mazanec for a 7th
- January 3, 2019: Jared Coreau for Future Considerations
- December 29, 2018: Michael Hutchinson for a 5th Round Pick
- June 27, 2018: J-F Berube for Jordan Schroeder
- June 22, 2018: Philipp Grubauer + Buying Out Brooks Orpik for a 2nd Round Pick
- June 13, 2018: Peter Budaj for Andy Andreoff
I’ll leave it to you to decide where exactly Georgiev fits on this sliding scale. I’d say that with okay to pretty good numbers at the Liiga, AHL, and NHL levels, and his age, he lands higher than most of this group, but I have a hard time putting him above Grubauer, who was only a couple years older when traded, had 40 more NHL games played, and had a much better career save percentage and quality start ratio.
Grubauer required a hefty real-dollar cap dump to make a deal for a second-round pick happen, which makes you think that the Rangers can’t possibly ask for an asset worth more than that without shooting way above the market rate. More realistically, you’re probably looking at a third and an extra mid-late round pick as your average value for a netminder with Georgiev’s blend of age, experience, and talent.
As anyone rational would agree to, young, effective, locked-up at decent rate forwards like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson would easily fetch more than that on their own trade market, particularly the 23-year-old, routine 40+ point threat in Kapanen. To even include them in the conversation makes little to no sense.
The original Toronto rumour started with Jeremy Bracco as the price, and this makes a lot more sense. Bracco has been frequently connected to the Rangers as a risk-reward bet, due to the fact that the Rangers are in a position to take a lot of those, and the perk of him being a Long Island native. Bracco is a prospect whose name carries a lot of clout due to his AHL point production, and according to a report on Sportsnet’s Headlines a few weeks ago from Friedman, is likely on Toronto’s trading block.
As many of you know, I see Bracco as a strong offensive threat at the AHL level, but missing a lot of tools that he’ll need to transfer those scoring rates to the NHL, such as his foot speed, off-puck play, physicality, and general comfort with playing in situations where he isn’t the quarterback. I don’t see him as a necessary piece for the Leafs moving forward, and would look to move him for a helpful asset, which is why I took interest in this rumour to begin with.
I see Georgiev on the tier of risks where you give up an asset that you yourself don’t have a lot of trust in – a dice roll for a dice roll. He appears to be a safer bet than a goalie with none or very little NHL experience, and the possibility of him developing into a legitimate starter is enticing, but these types of trades frequently happen with goalies that are more proven and/or have higher upsides and still come in at a lower cost than what most are talking about here.
I also don’t think there’s an urgent need to make a move like this, certainly not as much as some would have felt a couple of months ago. I wrote about the pursuit of backup stability in December, and one of my closing points was that, while I had no long-term interest in Michael Hutchinson, he was going through a career-worst lull and would probably bounce back to a comfortable state of mediocrity.
Since that article, Hutchinson has gone 3-0-0 with a 0.945 save percentage in his starts. If you include the games where he relieved Frederik Andersen, he is a less impressive 3-2-0 with a 0.903, but one must consider that the Leafs were already out of life in both of his mid-game entries and that even if you want to cut him zero slack, a 0.903 for a backup is passable on a team that leans heavily into a starter. I am increasingly convinced that giving up assets to “solve the backup problem” is a fool’s errand.
Ultimately, I don’t think this speculation really goes anywhere if it wasn’t spawned from a perfect storm of gossip – a goalie known as a “Leaf Killer” is being shopped around, a New Yorker on in the Leafs is being shopped around, and that connection created viral momentum. Now that it’s crossed over into the real world and we’re talking about legitimate middle-to-top six forwards going the other way, though, it’s important to remember the more objective context of the trade value of goaltenders in general, let alone this one.
Should the price stay in this territory, there should be no discussion. Like, not even a single bit of entertaining the possibility.