Tuesday, April 2, 2013
What began as a major question mark heading into the season has turned into the backbone of the team.
James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have led the Leafs to a .916 team save percentage, good for eighth best in the league. In recent years with the likes of Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft, breaking .900 was a minor miracle. Now, the Leafs have received better goaltending than teams like Montreal, Vancouver, Nashville, and Los Angeles, teams with unquestioned No. 1 goaltenders.
But strong goaltending in Toronto hasn't stopped rumours from popping up over the last few days linking high-profile veteran goalies to the Leafs. Roberto Luongo, currently sitting on the bench in Vancouver, is once again being talked about, apparently. But the new rumour de jour—one that makes even less sense—claims the Leafs are talking to Calgary about bringing Miikka Kiprusoff to Toronto.
The rumour makes so little sense that even Don Cherry thought it was nonsensical.
"Hard to believe that Toronto would want to get Kiprusoff. Do you want a guy that says he's not going anywhere? Great attitude. In a way you can't blame him. He's just had a new baby, been there a long time and I guess he doesn't need the added pressure right now. He's got an .868 save percentage and 3.64 average. Last night EDM beat CGY 4-1. Flames outshot Oilers 34-20. Kiprusoff let in the very first shot which is a game killer. Hard to believe they're after him."
What's more likely is that the Kiprusoff/Luongo trade chatter is nothing more than the sports networks trying to drum up some interest for what likely will be a boring, uneventful 10 hours of programming slated for deadline day. When in doubt you might as well pander to the biggest fan base in the league.
That is the only explanation that makes sense, because there is no logical justification for why the Leafs would have any real interest in Kiprusoff, unless John Ferguson Jr. has somehow pulled a Freaky Friday with Dave Nonis.
The Leafs are getting above-average goaltending for minimal cost. The Leafs are spending only $2.413 million in the net. Only the Washington Capitals, who are spending $1.788 million, have invested less in their goalies.
Why, then, would Nonis be willing to take on Kiprusoff, who has a cap hit slightly over $5.83 million for this year and next and has been largely terrible this season. The 36-year-old netminder is on pace for the worst season of his career, and the worst season since Peter Sidorkiewicz registered a .856 save percentage in 64 games for the expansion Ottawa Senators in 1992-93.
The Leafs have enough holes on the roster—namely on defence—that acquiring a veteran goalie and tying up cap space to fill an imaginary problem makes no sense. Especially if, as Damien Cox ponders, the deal would cost the Leafs a second-round pick and a one-year extension worth $6 million.
Aside from being perpetuated to drive ratings on deadline day, the Kiprusoff rumour is given breath from newspaper and TV analysts because of the fetishization of experience. The conventional wisdom is that the Leafs would be foolish to go into the playoffs without a veteran safety net behind Reimer in case he falters under the increased pressure of the playoffs. Cox acknowledged in his article that both Reimer and Scrivens have better stats than either Luongo or Kiprusoff, but criticizes them for not having "a moment of NHL playoff experience".
Where does a goalie get said experience? By playing, I would guess. This makes sense because every goaltender who now has experience has at one time, gasp, been inexperienced.
Reimer and Scrivens have proven this year that they do not need a safety net, especially not one who has posted a below-average save percentage in four of the last six seasons. Both Leafs goalies have above-average save percentages and a history of playoff success at other levels. Reimer was an ECHL playoff MVP and Scrivens led the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final last season. Sure, that isn't the Stanley Cup appearances that both Luongo and Kiprusoff have on their resumes, but combined with their NHL success, mean the Leafs duo should at least be given a chance to prove themselves in the NHL. If they aren't allowed to accumulate experience, how will they ever shed the burden of inexperience?
Furthermore, having an elite, experienced goalie isn't a prerequisite for playoff success. Since the lockout, both the Carolina Hurriances and Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup with rookie goaltenders, and only Tim Thomas had a long history of above-average netminding when his team hoisted the Cup. Most other teams either rode a hot goalie without a long track-record of elite play, either for a season (e.g., Jonathan Quick) or even just a post-season (e.g., J.S. Giguere).
Don't be surprised, then, if the Leafs stand pat tomorrow, relying on the duo that is dragging the team into the playoffs. But with 10 hours of TV to fill, don't be surprised if reports on the contrary continue to leak until the final hour.