What’s old is new again – the Toronto Maple Leafs added to their offseason moves on Friday morning, bringing back goaltender Michael Hutchinson on a two-year contract.
Per the team’s official press release, Hutchinson’s NHL average salary will be $725,000 – well below the “buriable threshold” and just $25,000 above the league minimum. It’s a two-way deal, though his AHL salary is yet to be disclosed.
Hutchinson played fragments of two seasons with the Leafs, joining the club midway through the 2018/19 season in a trade from the Florida Panthers, and departing midway through 2019/20 to the Colorado Avalanche. In a total of 20 appearances with the club, Hutchinson started 16 games, posted a 6-12-1 record, a 0.894 save percentage, a 31.3% Quality Start percentage, and saved approximately nine fewer goals than a netminder with a league average save percentage in that stretch.
That is to say, he wasn’t particularly good – especially in 2019/20, and especially prior to the coaching change. Hutchinson went 0-5-1 with a 0.876 under Mike Babcock, and 4-4-0 with a 0.898 save percentage under Sheldon Keefe. After moving onto the Avalanche, Hutchinson posted a 3-1-0 record and 0.915 save percentage in five regular season and playoff games.
This signing will no doubt be the subject of many arguments, due to his poor performances at the start of the season. All the same, the situation is much different now – rather than being the backup on an extremely irregular schedule, Hutchinson is the Plan D. Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell are locked in as starter and backup for the moment, and veteran Aaron Dell was signed earlier in the month to play the third-string role.
Dell, of course, has a stronger reputation around the league as a potential backup, and his one-year, $800,000 deal makes him prone to a waiver claim, if the league sticks with the traditional rules for those next season. Hutchinson’s second year and, frankly, lower pedigree makes him more of a financial risk for teams, meaning he is a safe bet to clear. The second year also gives the Leafs a veteran goaltender with a contract to expose for next year’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft, given that Andersen, Campbell, and Dell all lie in the balance.
The biggest loser here, in theory, is likely Leafs prospect and Marlies goaltender Joseph Woll – this move will likely put the 22-year-old’s minutes in jeopardy, which is particularly tough with how unlikely it is that the Newfoundland Growlers and the rest of the ECHL will play next year. With that said, one of Dell or Hutchinson getting claimed or staying up top mitigates that issue for him, and with near AHL-worst numbers in his rookie season, the team will likely be looking to lesson his workload as well.
All in all, this is a pretty routine signing for a club trying to secure their entire umbrella – few would be likely to even bat an eyelash if Hutchinson wasn’t a former member of the team. There still isn’t much reason to now – the odds of him getting a serious number of NHL games played next year, if any at all, is pretty low.