The Toronto Maple Leafs have completed a second trade in the lead up to the NHL's deadline, this time addressing the most pressing need: the club's uncertainty in goal.
Announced late Sunday night, the Leafs acquired netminder David Rittich from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2022. Calgary will retain 50 percent of Rittich's $2.75 million salary as part of the deal.
Rittich was handed a lesser role this season after the Flames won the Jakob Markstrom sweepstakes last offseason. He's won just four times in 15 appearances for the Leafs' temporary division rivals, maintaining an underwhelming .904 save percentage.
Ideally, Rittich is merely a depth piece for the Leafs, who entered the season with Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell working the crease in tandem. Injuries, though, have spoiled the best-laid plans from general manager Kyle Dubas, as the Leafs have basically operated with either Andersen or Campbell as the preferred starter, and with Michael Hutchinson seeing plenty of time from the three hole.
The incumbent, Andersen, was recently placed on injured reserve, with essentially no information shared on his timetable for return. Meanwhile, Campbell just set an NHL record over the weekend with his 11th straight victory to open the season in Game No. 41 for the Leafs.
How the Maple Leafs will approach the postseason from the goaltending spot still seems up in the air, but when the important games do roll around, Rittich provides, at minimum, a considerable upgrade on Hutchinson, who simply hasn't shown the level of performance required to win in the postseason.
One conclusion we can potentially draw from the acquisition is that Andersen will likely remain on injured reserve through the remainder of the year, which certainly casts his season, and career in Toronto, in doubt.
If that is indeed the case, the Leafs still have a degree of flexibility before the NHL's trade deadline, having already added former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno in a separate deal completed Sunday.
But on the flip side, with more money on the books, it's become exceedingly more difficult now to pull Andersen off injured reserve and ramp him up toward meaningful starts.
It's a fascinating situation facing the North Division leaders, who could certainly make more headlines Monday. Meanwhile, the fanbase will be left to contemplate whether or not the team's goaltending position will be in a better spot now for when it matters most.
Toronto has now spent all but three draft picks in 2021, maintaining selections in the second, fifth and sixth rounds, while just four picks are still in the holster for 2022.
If it wasn't clear before, the mandate certainly is now. This team is all-in on a Stanley Cup run.
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