I am 24 years old. Frederik Andersen is the best goaltender I have seen play for the Toronto Maple Leafs since I became old enough to stay up past the first period of Hockey Night in Canada.
He’s great. But it’s time for him to go.
Now, before you bury me in hurtful comments that I will undoubtedly take personally, I promise you this is not an Andersen hit piece. Rather, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the inevitable — a recognition that some partnerships are not meant to last forever. And after yet another first-round exit, this one, unfortunately, has met its end.
Luckily for the Maple Leafs, it happens to have come at the perfect time.
Take the temperature of the NHL’s back channels at the moment and one thing becomes clear: the league is on the cusp of entering what is perhaps the deepest goaltending market in recent memory. With names like Robin Lehner, Braden Holtby, Jakob Markstrom, Corey Crawford, Anton Khudobin and Tomas Greiss among others, general managers are about to engage in a gold rush of experienced net-centric options ripe for the picking.
The beauty of free agency, not to mention, is that each of those names can be had for free, at least from an asset standpoint, with no roster players or draft capital heading back the other way. All they cost is cold, hard cash, folks. Which should be perfectly fine, right? You’ve got to pay to win.
The only problem, however, is that the presence of a global pandemic that continues to ravage the world’s economy, hitting the bottom lines of industries reliant on mass gatherings particularly the hardest. And what has that left the majority of NHL organizations lacking in at the moment?
Cash, my friends. Of the cold and hard variety, making things a smidge more complicated.
Now, not every free agent netminder will command a Brinks truck on the open market. The wealth of options on display, naturally, lowers the average asking price of the middle class. But locking down a Lehner or Markstrom will still take a sizeable financial commitment, one that some teams may simply be unable to afford.
Suddenly, surrendering an asset doesn’t sound so bad.
So you wade into the RFA pool, which is positively brimming with its own host of talented, albeit risky, options such as Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry, Mackenzie Blackwood, Linus Ullmark and Alexandar Georgiev. Each of those intriguing young names — Murray and Jarry in particular — will require a package of draft picks and prospects in order to be had. Some teams won’t scoff at that. You’ve got to pay to win, etc. But others will. And given the NHL’s uncertain economic reality, one’s stockpile of picks and prospects — namely, the cost control they bring during their entry-level years — will become hockey’s version of hand sanitizer and lysol wipes from back in March.
Will a contending team in a midsize market be willing to surrender potential cap and financial flexibility for, say, Georgiev, who would be coming to them with a whopping 77 games of NHL experience under his belt? Again, it’s risky. And people aren’t usually inclined to take risks during an unprecedented global event.
Then there’s the age factor.
As talented as they are, the names atop the UFA goalie marquee are not exactly the freshest of faces. Khudobin is 34. Markstrom is 30. Crawford is 35. Greiss is 34. By hockey standards, that’s old. Like, “eat dinner at 4:35 p.m.” old. That normally doesn’t bother most teams. They love experience, particularly in net. But that attitude is beginning to change as more and more information becomes available, leading to somewhat of a market correction at the position. Suddenly, committing over $10 million per year to any goaltender on the wrong side of 30 — even one with two Vezina trophies decorating his mantle — is a move with potentially crippling consequences.
It’s not a coincidence that less than one unthinkably abysmal year into Sergei Bobrovsky’s new eight-year, $80-million deal, the Florida Panthers were reportedly looking to trim internal costs at a rate almost exactly equal to their prize big fish’s AAV.
Lehner and Markstrom are likely good enough for GMs to simply ignore the ticking clock if it means just squeezing one or two good years out of them. The rest, though? They might not be so lucky.
In a perfect world, then, what would a contending team needing an upgrade in net be searching for? You’d have to think it would be a goaltender with experience, preferably one with a top-10 track record in terms of performance who is also signed to a team-friendly contract that carries little to no long-term commitment in the event that father time comes to collect his inevitable reward.
If only there was such an option available!
[Billy Mays voice] That’s the power of Frederik Andersen!
Throughout his four years in Toronto, Andersen has been the definition of his nicknamesake: Steady. Last season aside, the Danish puckstopper has finished in the 10-13 range among NHL netminders with over 40 games player in both GSAA (goals saved above average) and strict save percentage. That, mind you, has been while playing behind a blueline composed primarily of Morgan Rielly and a loose ball of dryer lint.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that Andersen is good. But when it comes to leading the Leafs over the hump in the playoffs, “good” simply hasn’t cut it.
Sure, Andersen’s raw stats look positively dazzling on paper — he did post a .936 save percentage in the qualifying round versus Columbus, after all — but playoff rounds are typically decided by which side boasts the best goaltender, something which Andersen has never been in any of his four postseason appearances as a Leaf.
At a certain point, teams that play the way the Maple Leafs do need their goalie to steal them a series. Andersen, at this point, hasn’t been capable of doing that.
Not to mention, Andersen is on the dreaded dark side of 30. Bobrovsky at least boasted a pair of Vezinas on his resume to justify the ludicrous dollar figure Dale Tallon, he of disgraced GM fame, threw at him last summer. Andersen has no such hardware of his own and yet will likely command somewhere in the realm of $7 million-plus annually upon hitting free agency after next season.
The Leafs, naturally, will not want to pay that. But why should they let Steady Freddy walk out the door for free?
When it comes to potential trade cost, teams can conceivably have Andersen for less than what it would take to nab an intriguing RFA. As The Athletic’s James Mirtle reported this week, the main asset the Leafs are looking for in return for Andersen is cap space, and given his age and pending UFA status, Andersen will be looked at as a one-year rental, therein lowering his price.
For win-now teams like Calgary and Carolina, both of whom Andersen has been linked to in recent weeks, goaltending is more or less the Achilles heel withholding them from a true shot at hockey’s ultimate prize. Surrendering precious draft picks or prospects is a worthwhile endeavour if it means finding that one missing piece within your limited contention window.
And rather than going out and committing money that ownership might not have to the back years of a UFA’s prime, acquiring one season of a motivated Andersen who will be fighting for a new contract at the downright thrifty cost of $5 million seems pretty tempting.
In risk adverse times like these, Andersen carries perhaps the least of any goaltender who could become available when the market officially opens. And for the Maple Leafs, that couldn’t work more perfectly in their favour.
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