Leafs gambling on Raycroft

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The thing about Andrew Raycroft is, you just don't know.

You don't know because his NHL career has been a before-and-after picture.

You don't know if he's the goalie who won the rookie of the year award prior to the NHL lockout or the guy in smaller equipment who couldn't stop anything afterward.

You don't know if he's real or a mirage. No matter what the Maple Leafs try and tell you about about bringing in a proven goaltender, they can't know what he is either.

There is nothing proven about Raycroft except this: He has played two full NHL seasons at the extreme -- one of them brilliantly, one of them horribly.

The truth may be that he will emerge somewhere in between both of those places. But we don't know. We can only guess. John Ferguson doesn't know. He can only guess.

Nobody will know until Raycroft plays in this hockey fishbowl.

Grant Fuhr got sent to the minors in his second big league season and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Jim Carey was a first-team all-star in 1996 at the age of 22; By 24, he was finished.

That's the goalie game. If it wasn't such a guess, Miikka Kiprusoff wouldn't have been given away by the San Jose Sharks. If it wasn't such a guess, somebody would have drafted Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. If it wasn't such a guess, Cristobal Huet would still be in Los Angeles and the Calgary Flames wouldn't have traded up to select Trevor Kidd when they could have waited and taken Martin Brodeur.

The first year Raycroft played full-time in Boston he had a minuscule 2.05 goals against average, sixth in the league, and a .926 save percentage, fifth in the league.

The second year, post-lockout, with new rules, shrunken pads, tiny gloves and a team in disarray, he was 47th in goals against average at 3.71 and 47th in save percentage at .879.

It should be pointed out there were not 48 goalies in the NHL this past season.

The goaltender who finished 46th in goals against average, for the record, just happened to win the Conn Smythe Trophy the other night.

UNKNOWN

Problem is: The Leafs don't know if they've acquired Cam Ward or Cam Newton. They based the decision to acquire Raycroft on the premise that too many Leaf decisions were made.

He came cheap, relatively speaking. He wasn't the best goalie available but the most economical.

He will earn slightly less this coming season than the Leafs will pay Belfour (over the next two years) to take a hike. Belfour, now considered too old, too grumpy and too fragile --he was always too grumpy --won more games than Raycroft last season, with a better goals against average and a better save percentage.

And he had a terrible season.

There was nothing Leaf scouts could have seen over the past 24 months to give any indication that Raycroft's the real deal. He hardly played in the lockout year, then played badly this season. And with the Bruins pushing to get into the playoffs, Raycroft was shelved for the rest of the games.

And maybe that's what the Leafs grasp onto here. If you're going to win a trade with somebody, your best shot these days is dealing with the Bruins.

The new general manager is still working for the Ottawa Senators. The old general manager traded away the league MVP. The coach hasn't been told he's fired yet but people are interviewing for his job. The owner's son has found a nice large office for himself and has decided that he is, effectively, in charge. And the lifer, Harry Sinden, has ostensibly washed his hands of the whole thing.

The notion that this mass of malfunction has given up on Raycroft is the best advertisement for the Leafs, who almost came away with defenceman Nick Boynton (for Carlo Colaiacovo and more) on the weekend as well.

By all accounts, Andrew Raycroft is a solid, quiet, polite, athletic young man and almost everybody who knows him believes he will bounce back. The hope is the Leafs pulled off a fast one here.

But it is only a hope. The reality is that nobody really knows.

BYE BELFOUR

Any day now, the Leafs will be parting ways with goalie Ed Belfour. While that is apparent, Belfour's play in his first two Toronto seasons was not. He came as a second choice to Curtis Joseph, and delivered. Belfour had 17 shutouts in his first two Toronto seasons: You can argue, for those two years, the Leafs have never had better goaltending.

PRONGER WATCH

If you're GM Kevin Lowe, why trade Chris Pronger away just because he's asking to be dealt? This isn't the old days when the Oilers couldn't afford it. Why not say that in the best interest of your team, you're not trading your best player away?

ALL-STAR GIBBY

John Gibbons is well aware he was hired by the Blue Jays as a stopgap, an easy target to fire, while the team rebuilds. But a funny thing happened on the way to the unemployment line. First he got a longer contract, then he got hitting, now he's going to the all-star game as a coach. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving manager.


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