The Toronto Maple Leafs have transformed themselves from perennial disappointments to one of the most exciting teams in the league thanks to a bevy of talented youngsters that include the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner.
But make no mistake about it; Frederik Anderson is this team’s MVP.
The 28-year-old goaltender constantly compensates for the Leafs’ defensive shortcomings and his solid save percentage, not to mention the fact that he’s leading the league in saves, is evidence of that. In fact, Andersen has about 100 more saves than the next closest goalie in 2017-18.
Andersen is on his way to a career year and quickly proving to be one of the NHL’s elite netminders this season, but it remains to be seen if he can continue his play through a playoff run.
Toronto has leaned on Andersen heavily over the past two years and perhaps too much at times. Barring an injury, there’s a good chance Andersen is going to set a new career-high in games played this year, besting last season’s mark of 66. It’s likely Andersen hits 70-plus games if he stays on his current pace in 2017-18.
Not only that, but Anderson has also played more minutes and faced more shots than any other goalie this season, and if you’ve followed the Leafs at all and their defensive woes, you know many of those are quality scoring chances in pressure situations.
If the NHL awards were being voted on today, is Frederik Andersen a Vezina finalist? 4th in the NHL in SV% and he's faced more shots than any other goalie in the league.
— Draglikepull (@draglikepull) December 27, 2017
It’s hard to imagine Andersen continuing at this pace and being fresh for what the Leafs hope is a lengthy playoff run this spring and as important as he is to the team, Toronto really doesn’t need to use him that heavily the rest of the way.
The Leafs are currently tied with the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic and hold a 12-point cushion on the Detroit Red Wings for the final playoff spot in the division. They also sit 10 points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the division lead, so unless something crazy happens like the Red Wings going on a historic winning streak or the Lightning completely falling apart, Toronto is almost all but assured of a first-round meeting with the Bruins.
That means Toronto is basically playing the final three months of its season with nothing but an extra home game in a likely series with Boston on the line. The Leafs can afford to give Andersen an extra night off here and there to ensure he’s refreshed and playing at the top of his game this spring.
Sure, Curtis McElhinney isn’t anywhere near as talented as Andersen, but his numbers have been very respectable this season and he’s played admirably when called upon, while typically giving the team a chance to win. That doesn’t mean McElhinney should receive a plethora of playing time all of a sudden, but giving him a few extra starts isn’t likely to make a massive difference in the long run as it relates to the standings.
Where it could make a difference, though, is in the length of the Leafs’ playoff run, if the team makes sure their top netminder is well rested come April.