TORONTO (June 21) — Given how often the Maple Leafs have swung and missed in recent years with apparent goaltending saviors, it is easy to be skeptical about the club’s latest procurement.
Examining the situation more closely, however, can lead to an altogether different conclusion.
With respect to credentials already established in the National Hockey League, Frederik Andersen is undoubtedly the best young stopper the Leafs have acquired by trade since way back in February 1971, when Jim Gregory dealt for future Hall–of–Famer Bernie Parent. That may seem, initially, like a stretch. Surely, the Leafs have obtained at least one netminding cornerstone from a rival club in the past 45 years. Yes, but not anyone youthful (Andersen will be 27 in October) and with the bulk of his career ahead.
Eddie Johnston came over from Boston, where he had won two Stanley Cups, in March 1973. He was 37. Grant Fuhr was 29 and well beyond his Stanley Cup years in Edmonton when Cliff Fletcher acquired him from Edmonton in September 1991. Tom Barrasso, Pittsburgh’s Cup stopper in 1991 and 1992, appeared in four games with the Maple Leafs, also at age 37, near the end of 2001–02. And, Jean–Sebastien Giguere, the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner with Anaheim (which lost to New Jersey in a seven–game final), was nearly 33 years old when Brian Burke obtained him hours after trading for Dion Phaneuf in January 2010.
So, really, it’s been Bernie Parent (then 25) in 1971; Frederik Andersen (still 26) today.
HALL–OF–FAMER BERNIE PARENT APPEARED IN 65 GAMES WITH THE LEAFS DURING THE 1970–71 AND 1971–72 SEASONS. BUT, OWNER HAROLD BALLARD WOULDN’T PAY TO KEEP PARENT FROM DEFECTING TO THE OLD WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION. WHEN PARENT RETURNED TO THE NHL, HE LED THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS TO CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUP TITLES IN 1974 AND 1975.
Moreover, how many reliable goalies have come through town — period — since the last Stanley Cup victory in 1967? When I say “reliable”, I’m referring to a goaltender that provided the club two to three years of elite performance in the regular season and playoffs. Not even Parent qualifies under such a heading. He spent just more than one calendar year in a Toronto jersey before skinflint owner Harold Ballard chased him away. The goalies in my group can be counted on less than one hand: Mike Palmateer, Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph. The first two were drafted by the Maple Leafs; Cujo signed as a free agent in July 1998. When you separate the wheat from the chaff, that’s it — three men in nearly half–a–century.
(NOTE: In answer to your subsequent appeals, Ed Belfour had a couple of fine regular seasons with the Leafs, but just one good playoff. He singlehandedly beat Ottawa in the 2004 opening round. In 2003, Leafs lost in the first round to Philadelphia. Belfour was pounded, 6–1, in the elimination game).
Only Palmateer, Potvin and Joseph have backstopped the Leafs as far as the Stanley Cup semifinals since 1967. Palmateer did it in 1978; Potvin in 1993 and 1994; Joseph in 1999 and 2002. Cujo is still the best goalie to wear a Toronto jersey in the post–Johnny Bower/Terry Sawchuk era. And, next month will be 18 years since he left Edmonton to join the Blue and White. Various others have provided mostly false hope. Among them: Jiri Crha, Vincent Tremblay, Ken Wregget, Allan Bester, Peter Ing, Mikael Tellqvist, Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Justin Pogge, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens and Jonathan Bernier (to this point). I’m giving James Reimer a pass because he played well over a couple of long stretches for otherwise mediocre teams. When you get down to it, though, Andersen hardly arrives with a swarm of tough acts to follow.
FREDDY ANDERSEN IS HOPING NOT TO GAZE HEAVENWARD ON TOO MANY NIGHTS WITH THE LEAFS.
So, the move toward respectability and contention is now well underway with the Maple Leafs. Andersen has been largely brilliant while tending goal for a first–rate club. He’ll need to be surrounded by elite personnel to accomplish the same here in Toronto. His NHL numbers to date: Games Played — 125. Record — 77–26–12. Goals–Against Average — 2.33. Save Percentage — .918. All very good. Of course, the unanswered question is why Anaheim chose to unload Andersen and keep John Gibson. Age may be a factor, as Gibson turns 23 on July 14. Still, it’s not as if Andersen is “old”. And, the Ducks, as of now, are closer than the Maple Leafs to the promised land. As always, time will be the determining factor.
But, there is no denying that Lou Lamoriello has pulled off the best Leafs goaltending trade since 1971.