Jack Campbell or Frederik Andersen?
The question of who the Maple Leafs’ starting goaltender will be when the playoffs begin should be decided over the team’s final seven games.
Campbell, the likely starter when the Leafs host Vancouver on Saturday, would surely get the nod if the post-season was to begin tomorrow, particularly since Andersen hasn’t played in a game since March 19. But the Leafs’ No. 1 for the last five seasons is practising again, with the hopes of winning his first playoff series as a Leaf.
The case for Campbell
Campbell struggled a bit after setting an NHL record with 11 wins to start the season, but his star is on the rise again. He’s followed three straight losses with three more wins, posting a .950 save percentage in his latest run and erasing any doubts Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe might have been feeling.
“I look back on those Winnipeg games (last weekend),” Keefe said. “The first one, we get out to a hot start, we’re off to a 2-0 lead in a hurry, and Jack is trying to get his game back, his confidence back, and two goals go in, (neither) of which (is) his fault, but two goals go in.
“You’re having to deal with that, and the team’s looking for him to respond well, and I felt late through that first period in Winnipeg, we gave up a couple of really big chances, and (he makes) a glove save in particular that keeps the game tied or us up at that point ... it’s a huge save. And then in the third period, it’s a tight game and he makes a big save on a breakaway.
“You could see his confidence rising and our confidence in him from there, too ... It’s been really great to see him recover and push past a tough stretch and get back solid.”
If there’s a concern, it might be experience. The 29-year-old Campbell has yet to play a playoff game in the NHL.
The case for Andersen
Andersen is playoff-tested, with 53 post-season starts, including 25 with the Leafs. And though Toronto made its fourth straight opening-round exit last year, Andersen wasn’t at fault against Columbus, posting a 1.14 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
This year has been a struggle, though. Andresen’s 2.91 goals-against average and .897 save percentage are the worst of his career. And the Leafs likely won’t be able to make a decision until they see him in a game again, either with the Leafs or with the AHL Marlies. Keefe said the Leafs have not discussed if Andersen, coming back from a lower-body injury, might get a conditioning stint in the AHL. The Marlies, back from a two-week COVID quarantine, play 13 games in 20 days, starting Saturday.
“I don’t know where that’s really coming from. It just hasn’t come across my desk,” Keefe said. “We’re just trying to get Fred healthy and comfortable enough to be ready for game action.”
The Leafs’ other option to get Andersen some tune-up games will require some juggling to stay under the salary cap. Andersen is currently on long-term injured reserve, which has given the Leafs $1.5 million (U.S.) in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Toronto would likely have to make a series of moves, perhaps adding injured forward Zach Hyman to the long-term list while dropping other players to the Marlies, to allow Andersen to play again in the regular season.
Andersen, in the last year of a five-year contract, has been a good soldier for the Leafs and a workhorse in his first four seasons. But the uncertainty over his status this year opened the door for Campbell and led to the Leafs picking up David Rittich at the trade deadline. Andersen’s injury also helped the Leafs bolster other areas of the roster.
Now, he appears to be in a numbers game, waiting for a chance to play again. If he performs well in any tune-up games that come, the net will likely be his to start the playoffs.
Mark Zwolinski is a Toronto-based sports reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol