Frederik Andersen’s greatest challenge as a Maple Leaf may not come on the ice.
It could arrive in the off-season, in the form of one of the deepest markets for goaltenders — via trade or free agency — in recent memory.
The 30-year-old Andersen, who has one season remaining at $5 million (U.S.) on a five-year deal, is considered likely to remain in Toronto and lead a revamped roster into next season. But the Leafs will have options.
A dozen or more experienced goalies are expected to switch teams via free agency (starting at noon on Oct. 9), trades or because their clubs are feeling the financial squeeze during the pandemic, with the NHL salary cap frozen at $81.5 million.
The list of names in play is impressive, including the Capitals’ Braden Holtby, the Coyotes’ Darcy Kuemper, the Golden Knights’ Robin Lehner and Marc-André Fleury, and the Rangers’ trio of Alexandar Georgiev, Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin.
Teams expected to make a change include Washington, Edmonton, Arizona and Carolina, while Pittsburgh (Matt Murray/Tristan Jarry), Boston (Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak) and Columbus (Elvis Merzlikins/Joonas Korpisalo) might look to deal from a position of strength.
Andersen’s performance this past season, and the fact that the Leafs have bowed out after the first round of the playoffs in each of his four years, has been the catalyst for speculation about his future.
While his core numbers — .909 save percentage, 2.85 goals-against average — were the worst of his Toronto tenure, measuring his success is complicated by the high number of quality chances he faces because of defensive breakdowns. He’s been among the league leaders in shots faced every season since he arrived in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016.
Another constant has been talk of the need to give him more rest. After averaging 64 starts through his first three seasons as a Leaf, he banked 52 in this pandemic-shortened season, in which Toronto played 70 games.
Andersen’s performance this past season, however, contradicted that argument.
- In 17 starts on one day of rest, his save percentage was above .920.
- With two or three days’ rest, it was just over .900.
- With four or more days’ rest, it dipped below .900.
The bigger issue seems to be the Leafs’ need to improve their beleaguered defence, and how they do it.
Will they shed enough cap space to acquire a top-shelf free-agent defenceman, such as Alex Pietrangelo?
Or will they fix the problem with an impact trade, which could include Andersen?
At age 30, in a league where the advanced state of analytics makes it easier to project a player’s future performance, the Leafs may be leaning toward the notion that Andersen has already had his best chance to lead the team on a deep playoff run.
The numbers also suggest Andersen hasn’t been part of the problem in Toronto. If cap space or playoff record dictate his departure, he’ll have plenty of other suitors for his services around the league.