Could the Toronto Maple Leafs turn to either Ville Husso or Braden Holtby be the answer between the pipes for the 2022-23 NHL season?
As the NHL’s free agency period draws closer, concern among Toronto Maple Leafs fans is growing in regard to their goaltending situation. Their presumptive No. 1 netminder, Jack Campbell, will be an unrestricted free agent in a matter of days, and the fact there is no contract extension for the 30-year-old speaks volumes about Leafs GM Kyle Dubas’ commitment (or lack thereof) to bringing Campbell back for a third full season in Blue and White.
There’s no question Campbell will get a sizeable raise on the $1.65 million salary he earned this past season, but there’s also no guarantee it will come in Toronto. Many NHL teams are seeking new looks in goal – we’ve heard from more than one league source that the Chicago Blackhawks could be a frontrunner for Campbell’s services, while other reports have him linked to the New Jersey Devils – and the salary cap-challenged Leafs may not have enough cap space to keep Campbell.
So, if Campbell departs, who will Dubas acquire to replace him? There are a few reputable candidates out there, and while none are perfect, they’re better options than often-injured, often-hapless veteran Petr Mrazek, who the Leafs signed last summer to a three-year, $11.8-million deal they have to regret after his first dubious season in Toronto. Mrazek could and should be bought out, but if he isn’t, the Leafs will still need someone between the pipes who is more reliable. Let’s look at some possible candidates:
Ville Husso, St. Louis. One of the most intriguing possibilities for Toronto is the 27-year-old Husso, who just completed his second NHL season and now is a UFA. He was much better in his sophomore season (including a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 40 games) than he was in his rookie year (3.21 G.A.A. and .893 SP in 17 games), but he struggled with his consistency down the stretch for the Blues and by no means has he established himself as a legitimate upper-tier netminder.
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The Leafs would be taking a chance on Husso on what likely would be a three-or-four-year contract, but as you’ll see below, there’s no sure-thing solution for them in net at the moment. But he is still relatively young, and if he plays behind Toronto’s veteran defense corps, he could give the Leafs above-average results. The question is, how much do you pay him? He earned just $750,000 last season, but more than one team will be prepared to offer him at least double that amount, if not significantly more.
Braden Holtby, Dallas. There aren’t many available goalies who have a Stanley Cup championship on their resume, but Holtby does – and at nearly 33 years of age, on the back nine of better-than-average career, he won’t break the bank as a UFA. Holtby has bounced between three teams in the past three seasons, but last year with the Stars, he posted a .913 SP and a 2.78 G.A.A.. The Leafs’ potent offense would give him lots of support.
The issue with him is his health; he’s appeared in only 45 games in the past two seasons combined, and the Leafs can’t afford to place their Cup hopes on a player like him if they don’t have a solid second option. Holtby probably won’t make as much as his 2021-22 salary of $2 million, but if the Leafs want Cup experience in net, he could be the best option.
Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh. The 30-year-old DeSmith has had decent enough numbers as the backup for the Penguins, but there’s a reason why Pens coach Mike Sullivan never utilized him as an option for them in the playoffs: he hasn’t been able to impose his will on opponents the way truly terrific goalies like Tampa Bay superstar Andrei Vasilevskiy does. DeSmith doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his career odometer – he has only 96 games of regular-season experience at the NHL level – but if the Leafs buy out Mrazek, DeSmith’s value (he earned only $1.25 million last season and won’t get a huge raise above that amount this year) could make him a No. 2 option for the Buds.
Scott Wedgewood, Dallas. Like DeSmith, Wedgewood is a relative longshot for the Leafs, but he wasn’t bad last season despite playing on league-bottom-feeders in New Jersey and Arizona before he finished off the year with the Stars. That’s damning with faint praise, but it’s the reality the Leafs have to face if Campbell leaves. Wedgewood also might be a decent backup option for Toronto, and considering his 2021-22 salary was only $825,000, he’ll fit into the Leafs’ payroll structure.
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