TORONTO â€” The Toronto Maple Leafs hope they’ve found an answer to their uncertain backup goaltender position, scooping up 33-year-old Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday afternoon.
The Leafs needed someone who could help lighten the load of Frederik Andersen who’s started 33 of the team’s 39 games this year, including three sets of back-to-backs. The 27-year-old is on pace to start around 70 games, a substantial increase from his career-high of 53 while still a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’re trying to put a veteran in there that can take away some of those games that maybe (can) give (Andersen) a rest,” Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello told the Canadian Press.
McElhinney had made only five starts in place of No. 1 Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets this year, yielding five goals on 34 shots in his last appearance on Jan. 7, a 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers.
The London, Ont. native had a .890 save percentage in 18 games last season and a .905 career mark, always in the No. 2 role.
“He’s been able to sort of sustain what’s necessary from a backup,” Lamoriello said. “The character and quality of him is exemplary and he’s had some outstanding games this year. He’s got great size so we felt that this was the right decision at this time.”
McElhinney is six foot three and 200 pounds, which will likely please Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, known to favour bigger goaltenders in the net.
Jhonas Enroth, the team’s initial backup goalie this season, was not that.
The 28-year-old, at five foot 10 and 175 pounds, was the league’s smallest goaltender and struggled in the four starts he had to start the season. He’s yet to play a game with the Leafs since he gave up three goals on 29 shots in a 3-0 loss to Calgary on Nov. 30.
Toronto traded Enroth to the Anaheim Ducks early Wednesday morning for a seventh round draft pick in next year’s NHL draft.
The Maple Leafs has offered a pair of starts to 22-year-old Antoine Bibeau in his place with an outside hope that veteran Karri Ramo â€” signed to an amateur tryout in December â€” would eventually fill the role. But Ramo struggled in three starts for the Marlies and required minor surgery recently on the same knee that required ACL/MCL repairs in February.
His agent, Todd Diamond, said Ramo, who hasn’t played since Christmas, was expected to be ready to return in the second half of February.
While Andersen is currently enjoying a career year, the Leafs rightfully couldn’t afford to wait and see, especially as the club chases an unlikely playoff berth.
Whether McElhinney can capably fill the void remains to be seen.
“He’s our No. 1 goaltender,” Lamoriello said of Andersen, “but we also have to make sure â€” because he has never played say No. 1 goaltender games because he split (in Anaheim), but he has the ability and capability of doing it â€” we have to make sure that we give him the proper rest ratio that’s necessary to stay at the top his game.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press