Maple Leafs have goalie concerns, but trade deadline options are shaky

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The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline serves as one of those prime times for teams (and especially fans) to dream big. Rebuilders want those franchise-turning picks and prospects. Contenders yearn for the last pieces of that Stanley Cup puzzle.

Yet, the Maple Leafs’ trade deadline questions are even more puzzling than usual.

The Maple Leafs carry the weight of past failures — in the playoffs, in bad trade deadline investments such as Nick Foligno — with overwhelming pressure to break through. They also have a glaring flaw in net.

In a dream world, the Maple Leafs could make an obvious trade deadline upgrade over goalies Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek. In reality, those options are limited, and the best course might be hoping that Campbell and/or Mrazek can figure it out.

Let’s explore the Maple Leafs’ possible trade deadline paths regarding goaltending. As a reminder, the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is set for March 21.

Maple Leafs look elite, but there’s that Atlantic elephant in the room

Call it a potential excuse or not, but there’s a scary factor hanging over all of this. The Maple Leafs could do everything right, and still fall to a great team without winning a playoff series.

And let’s be clear, the Maple Leafs have been one of the best teams in the NHL this season.

They’re top 10 in even-strength volume stats like scoring chances, and top five in areas like expected goals and high-danger chances. Their special teams shine, as well.

Evolving Hockey’s RAPM team stats provide a snapshot of a well-rounded team:

Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs are likely to draw another Atlantic power like the Panthers or Lightning. Both of those teams boast credible Stanley cup aspirations, joining the Maple Leafs in major stat categories.

Heck, even the Boston Bruins linger as a real threat with their elite top line and suffocating defense.

Losing valiantly to another great team feels cruel, and all-too-Maple-Leafs. But few will show much mercy if another first-round exit happens.

That lingering fear might push the Maple Leafs to gamble on a goalie at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. So let’s consider those quite limited options.

Fleury and other potential Maple Leafs trade deadline goalie possibilities

No position can swing a hockey team’s fate quite like a goalie. Unfortunately, that position is also devilishly difficult to predict.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet money on any trade deadline goalie option being a smart gamble for the Maple Leafs. Especially in the likely event that a desperate team like the Oilers could drive prices up.

  • Marc-Andre Fleury is the shiniest goalie object. He likely boasts the highest ceiling, with experience and flashy saves to boot.

That said, he’s likely to command a heavy price. MAF is also a goalie who gives up bonehead goals almost as often as he makes mind-blowing saves. In a market like Toronto, Fleury could face endless grief for one of his trademark blunders.

That Vezina win isn’t that far in the past, yet his performance has also bounced between extremes. His name recognition and cap hit may only make the asking price skyrocket.

And, search your mind (not Google) for the last time a goalie made a big difference for a team following a trade deadline deal. There’s a real risk this would work out as well as Ryan Miller did for the Blues.

Then again, potential Fleury blunders under the Toronto microscope could fill the soap opera void left behind by Euphoria’s season finale. This could be Shakespearean stuff. So there’s that.

Note to GMs: probably not ideal when the biggest winners are gawkers and unsightly bloggers.

[2021-22 NHL Trade Tracker]

Other options include:

  • Alexandar Georgiev: While Igor Shesterkin keeps shining despite a shabby Rangers structure, Georgiev has … not. You can talk yourself into Georgiev, but would you really trust him more than Campbell and Mrazek?
  • Braden Holtby: Has name recognition, and perhaps his current .912 save percent assures despite a considerable decline the past few seasons. That resume won’t stop extra pucks, though. Unless it’s in a really thick binder, maybe?
  • Semyon Varlamov: Tough sell with his $5M cap hit running through 2022-23.
  • Joonas Korpisalo: Interesting only if you consider a few nice playoff stretches, but his career numbers scream “medicore backup.”
  • James Reimer: One of the subtler options who’d be a decent patch-up. Considering past history, probably not for the Maple Leafs, however.
  • Martin Jones: Oof.
  • Anton Forsberg: Another goalie you could talk yourself into adding … until you once again search your soul and wonder if you’d trust him more than current options.
  • Jaroslav Halak: Interesting, but maybe washed. Throw Anton Khudobin in this same category while we’re at it.

Well, that doesn’t seem ideal.

Of course, these questions arise for a reason. Campbell and Mrazek may just not be good enough to guide the Maple Leafs through that elusive playoff push.

Can Campbell and/or Mrazek rebound for the Maple Leafs?

Earlier this season, Jack Campbell was making a credible Vezina Trophy argument. Now, he’s in a bit of a crisis; even Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe hopes Campbell can clear a “mental block.”

In closing out 2021, Campbell went 15-5-2 with a sparkling .937 save percentage. He was also great for much of last season, authoring an inspiring story for a goalie once deemed a first-round bust.

Since 2022 began, Campbell’s .887 save percentage in 15 games would be disappointing even for a backup.

It’s fair to wonder if this is a “mental block,” fatigue, or a sign that Jack Campbell was playing a bit over his head.

Study Campbell’s career, and you’ll note that Campbell was rarely a workhorse, even at levels below the NHL.

To the Maple Leafs’ credit, they weren’t planning on pinning so much on Jack Campbell. Yet, with Petr Mrazek injured early this season, Campbell ran with the top job.

Until he started stumbling and falling lately.

Between health concerns and inconsistent play, Petr Mrazek’s been a question mark for several years. Even a strong .923 save percentage from last season is tempered by playing a mere 12 games. His .895 save percentage this season won’t silence doubters.

But maybe the Maple Leafs can make it work with average goaltending? This Hockey Viz chart points to them more or less breaking even so far this season.

At least both Campbell and Mrazek have enjoyed some success, with positive signs not that long ago. Stranger things have happened than that tandem working out.

Overall, it’s easy to see why the Maple Leafs are worried about their goaltending, but difficult to feel strongly about trade deadline solutions. They might be better off trying to get better on defense, or deeper on offense, instead.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.