Suppose, just suppose, the Leafs had a line on a goalie.
Not a kid, this guy is 25-years-old. He won 40 of 73 games at a big-time US college. Goalie X succeeded everywhere he played. He would test through the ceiling in emotional intelligence.
Your candidate was a Hobey Baker finalist and played a dozen NHL games without incident. Size isn’t a problem; he is six-foot-two. Did I mention he was the best goalie in the American League this season?
Oh, yes. He’s 7-1 in the post-season with a .944 save percentage.
Ladies and gents, please welcome Ben Scrivens.
Really. Please welcome him.
Of all the stories being written by members of the Toronto Marlies this season, the most compelling one deals with Ben Scrivens.
Scrivens is a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Maple Leafs control his rights and need only say the word to push him into the big leagues. He sure looks ready to me.
Problem: Leafs GM Brian Burke is naturally gun-shy after the team struggled so desperately with two young goalies. Neither Jonas Gustavsson, who is not expected to return, nor James Reimer could grab the number one spot in earnest.
While Reimer is confident of reclaiming his game after head and neck problems, he could be one hit away from long-term injury. Then again, who isn’t?
Were it not for last year’s late season freefall, the idea of two youngish goalies – Reimer is 24- would be palatable enough. The alternatives are positively frightening: a ten-year commitment to Roberto Luongo or exporting Tim Thomas via trade.
The Leafs could take a stab at free-agent goalies such as Minnesota’s Josh Harding (117 NHL games) or Nashville’s Anders Lindback (just 38). Now weigh in the contractual considerations; it would take a one-way multi-year deal and something of a financial commitment to bring in a new face via free agency.
Much managerial blood has been spilled over free agent goalies. Consider Cristobal Huet, gifted in 2008 with a four-year deal at $5.6 million per to jump from Washington to Chicago. And hey, how about that zany Ilya Bryzgalov.
In every city but Vancouver the only thing better than having one good goalie is having two. Historically goalies don’t fetch all that much in trade so it seems unlikely that the St. Louis Blues, to name a club, will divest themselves of Jaroslav Halak so they can put all their trust in Brian Elliott. Likewise the Los Angeles Kings who have a good young backup in Jonathan Bernier behind Jonathan Quick.
Throw in one more important consideration. A new goalie will need to steel himself for the hothouse that comes with playing net for the Maple Leafs. Say what you want about Reimer and Scrivens, they know what will be expected of them and from where the mortars will be fired.
So it comes down to a pair of scenarios.
One, the Leafs focus their resources on getting bigger up front and landing a genuine first line centre. That means entrusting their most important position to an untried goalie in Scrivens or Reimer – whose slim body of work can be divided between when he is healthy (good) and when he isn’t right (not great). That Gustavsson isn’t expected to stick isn’t necessarily a reason not to give Scrivens the same chance.
Two, the Leafs can angle for a blockbuster, perhaps nab Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller who may or may not be made available by the Ducks. Anaheim is expected to soon announce a commitment from 29-year-old Swedish netminder Viktor Fasth.
Mike Smith’s story – cut by the goalie-hungry Lightning and reborn in Phoenix- seems to prove the best way to get a good goalie is to keep the one you have.
The Leafs have dealt themselves a workable hand. Maybe it’s worth playing through.