Frederik Andersen needs to play himself into Leafs' future

Feb 14 2020, 11:50 am

Since coming to Toronto in 2016-17, Frederik Andersen has suited up more times than any other goaltender league-wide.

With the Maple Leafs sitting just two points up on the Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic, the pressure has never been higher to perform.

The team’s issues with their former backup goaltender in Michael Hutchinson are well documented, but Andersen’s play of late has caused similar alarm bells to go off.

Leafs’ goalies, save percentage by month, 2019-20

Month Andersen’s save percentage (all situations) Hutchinson’s save percentage (all situations)
October .901 .885
November .938 .855
December .904 .914
January .881 .894
February .852 .889

Hutchinson cleared waivers Thursday, with newcomer Jack Campbell filling his role nicely with two wins in three starts.

And while the Leafs appear to have solved their backup goalie issues as of right now, it’s their starter who is still causing them problems.

League average save percentage has fallen to just .908, after hitting a modern era high of .915 in 2015-16. At .909 over the course of the full season, Andersen’s numbers come out as very slightly above average, but he has fallen below that mark through three of the season’s four months so far.

Despite a great run in November, Andersen has been detrimental to the team’s performance over the last few months. Expected to be great, he’s been just average on aggregate.

The remaining 24 games could decide not only Toronto’s playoff chances, but also Andersen’s long-term future as a member of the Maple Leafs.

Andersen’s challenge

It would be a catastrophic organizational failure if the Leafs were to completely miss the playoffs this upcoming spring and Andersen’s performance during the remainder of the season may end up being the deciding factor.

Since Keefe was hired, here’s where the Leafs rank league wide in:

Stat League rank
Power play % 31.8 1st
Goals per game  3.77 1st
Shots per game 33.8  3rd
Goals against per game 3.11 20th
Shots against per game 31.3 19th

Not much more could be asked of the Leafs’ offence under Keefe, which has been at or among the league’s best. And although Toronto’s defence might still allow shots at a higher-than-preferred rate, this year’s team (especially under Keefe) has allowed shots at a lower rate than any of Andersen’s previous teams.

Andersen is wrapped up under contract for this season and next at $5 million, the league’s 15th-highest cap hit for a goaltender. It’s been a mostly great contract for the Leafs, which has allowed the flexibility for the Leafs to spend in other areas.

Say what you’d like about the Leafs’ high-end forward group and their haughty contracts, but it’s clear they’ve been able to deliver high-end results.

But if it becomes clear that Andersen does not bounce back over the remainder of the season, his chances of remaining “the guy” in Toronto could be in jeopardy. If there’s an opportunity to find a scapegoat, warranted or unwarranted, a missed playoff berth might see much of the blame fall on Andersen’s shoulders.

What kind of contract would Andersen be looking for?

If, however, Andersen has a successful couple months in the remainder 2019-20, his long-term future could look very favourable in Toronto.

It seems a little ridiculous to be projecting free agency in July 2021 when Andersen’s deal expires, when most aren’t sure where the Leafs will be from an organizational standpoint even at this year’s trade deadline.

At age 30, Andersen isn’t likely near the end of his NHL career, but he’s not exactly a member of the Leafs’ youth movement, either.

But while Andersen would surely like a big money, six-eight year extension, Montreal’s Carey Price and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky provide two cautionary tales of paying too much for goaltending.

Price’s .908 save percentage this year at a cap hit of $10.5 million is essentially Andersen’s results at twice the cost, while Bobrovsky has been downright awful at .898 at $10 million for this year… and six more after that.

Hazarding a guess, Andersen’s next deal could look similar to his current one: a four-five year deal at around $5-6 million per season.

Rewriting the narrative

Despite a bad stretch of play, Andersen still has the opportunity to cement his case as one of the team’s most valuable players. Campbell is a great asset, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s predicting him to be the team’s No. 1 goalie.

Andersen’s play down the stretch run will be crucial if the Leafs were to lock up a fourth playoff spot in as many seasons during his tenure. His narrative as a goaltender who’s usually able to bounce back from a tough stretch stays intact, and it’s easy to write off a bad couple months as a slump rather than indicative of a worrying trend.

It might not be that simple, but it’s clear that the next few months are arguably Andersen’s biggest test of his Leafs career yet.