Image courtesy of The Canadian Press
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Frederik Andersen’s recent slump has been highly publicized and it’s led many to question whether the 27-year-old is capable of shouldering the load he’s been asked to thus far. He’s yet to win a game in which his team has scored less than 4 goals since Dec. 28th and is currently on pace to start 68 games, a 25% increase from his previous career high. To a lesser extent, people have questioned whether he can handle the role of bonafide starter at all. While the effects of fatigue are yet to be determined, I set out to see just how difficult a task that 68 game mark seems to be to handle while simultaneously succeeding.
What other Leafs goalies have done this?
If Andersen stays on his current pace he’ll be the first Leafs goalie in 10 years to hit the 4000 minutes milestone. In fact, in the past half a century, only 3 goalies in the blue and white have played more minutes than it appears he will. Most recently, Andrew Raycroft was credited with 71 decisions in the 2006-07 season which ended in the infamous Islanders shootout as the Leafs narrowly missed the playoffs. The next year, Raycroft was relegated to 16 nods. He left Toronto the following year and would never surpass 2000 minutes in the NHL again. Before him was Cujo who managed to backstop 68 games for the Buds in the 00-01 campaign and lead them to a 2nd round playoff berth. In 2001-02, he’d play a more respectable 51 but he too would be replaced between the pipes and relocate taking his talents to Michigan the subsequent year. Felix Potvin was the only exception to the trend laid out by the other two, managing to accumulate 4000+ minutes in back to back years, appearing in 69 and 74 games while “guiding” them to a 1st round exit and 4th worst league-wide in 95-96 and 96-97 respectively. He followed that up with 67 caps in 97-98 and managed to sneak in 5 starts in 98-99 before he was shipped out.
The active goaltenders currently ahead of Andersen on the all-time wins list (25) have played 68+ games in a season a combined 26 times. That’s roughly one of these seasons per “established” goalie. However, only 13 of those Frederik currently trails have hit that “milestone”. 7 of those have only done it once, including the last two Vezina winners. Of those 26 68+ seasons, only 14 times has a goalie who’s met that threshold even made the playoffs. Furthermore, only 5 of those seasons led to making it out of the first round. For those ready to make a “the best goalies can handle it” argument, the 12 who have never played 68 games have won the exact same amount of Cups as those who have. The have not list also contains some of the world’s best in Rask, Crawford, Bobrovsky and Dubnyk.
This is a rare season in terms of the Leafs and their franchise history. I’m not sure anyone would argue that Belfour was a starting goalie, but he was never asked to handle the load Andersen is. If they believe he is their goalie of the future, it’s possible he isn’t one of those guys who can chew up big minutes for you. But the guys that are able to handle that load are widely considered some of the best goalies of their era. The Leafs don’t need a hall of fame bound goaltender, they need someone who can stop the pucks he should and some of the ones he shouldn’t. While Enroth’s lackluster performance to start the year handcuffed Babcock in his deployment of his number one man, McElhinney’s success since joining the team has given the Leafs a viable option behind Andersen. Going into next year, to get the best out of their starting goalie, playing him less appears to be their best option.