Hot off the heels of acquiring Nick Foligno this afternoon – a strong addition to the forward core at a steep price – the Toronto Maple Leafs have solidified their goaltending depth. The team announced on Sunday evening that they have David Rittich from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2022 third round draft pick.
Rittich, a 28-year-old pending UFA, is in the midst of his fourth NHL season, all of which have come with Calgary and two of which have come with 1A to Starters minutes. “Big Save Dave”, as he’s called by his fans, has played in 15 games this year, posting a 4-7-1 record, 2.90 goals against average, and a 0.904 save percentage, which is slightly below the league average of 0.908. Evolving Hockey has him as stopping -1.4 goals below league average in all situations, and -4.2 goals below expected based on shot quality. Over three years and 108 games, those numbers stretch to -6 goals below average, or -15.8 goals below expected.
That is to say, Rittich is a goaltender capable of playing a regular workload at a tick below average – about as mediocre as it gets. In a sense, though, what Toronto is trying to buy here is the workload rather than the talent level. Given the Leafs’ offensive talent, what Rittich gives the team is a goaltender who can play a steady supply of games at a replaceable, but not terrible level, hopefully coming out ahead on some 5-3, 6-4 type outcomes and maybe even having a big night or two down the stretch.
In a sense, he’s playing the role of relief pitcher for the remainder of the season. It allows the team to make sure that Jack Campbell, who has been incredible but a little injury-wobbly, doesn’t burn himself out before the playoffs. It allows them to give Frederik Andersen as much time to recover as possible – a move likely this likely comes in tandem with him sitting out the rest of the regular season. It allows for Michael Hutchinson to not have the type of pressure that greatly exceeds his workload from the previous year in change. It’s a safety valve move for a team that hasn’t quite clinched their playoff spot, but realistically isn’t in danger, and would like to be in the best shape possible moving forward.
For the most part, I like this decision for the Maple Leafs. While the shedding of even more draft picks is a little concerning, this one is at least punted to 2022, and is a reasonable cost for a goaltender with a history of playing 40+ games in a full season when you consider the 50% retention of his contract. I would have preferred to see them go after a netminder with more upside – Linus Ullmark was my guy back when I thought a blockbuster was possible – but this says to me that they think there’s a chance that Andersen comes back for the playoffs if Rittich doesn’t suddenly find a new gear.
Toronto still has a decent bit of flexibility after this move, somewhere in the $2.1 million range with all LTIR leverages in play. The addition of Foligno likely makes a forward expendable, and to deconstruct and alter a Lou Lamorielloism, “If you have cap space available, use it”. For now, the Leafs have eased a fair bit of uncertainty in their least certain position, which I would consider a win. So long as he stops headbutting walls.