Goaltending Leafs' next hurdle

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 PM ET

Vesa Toskala and Martin Gerber both expressed their desire yesterday to be back in blue and white next season, fully aware, however, that goaltending is the biggest question mark for the Leafs heading into next fall.

Toskala is the only goaltender with a Leafs contract past this season.

Veteran Martin Gerber, the club's main starter in Toskala's injury absence, is an unrestricted free agent after this season, as is the 41-year-old Curtis Joseph. Rookie Justin Pogge, who appeared in seven games for Toronto this season, is a restricted free agent.

And while GM Brian Burke has signed a couple of U.S. college free-agent forwards in Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak, and is interested in Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy, his biggest job in the off-season may be what to do about the club's goaltending.

Toskala, at one point considered one of the building blocks of the rebuilding Leafs, had a sub-par season, with a mediocre goals-against average of 3.26 and a save percentage of .891.

There are rumblings that he has lost the confidence of Burke and his coach Ron Wilson.

Much of Toskala's sub-par play can be attributed to the fact that he first tweaked his groin back on Nov. 11 and also played with a sore hip for most of the season.

The numbers don't lie, though. The Leafs are dead-last in goals against, having given up 291.

The Leafs goaltenders, as a unit, have the NHL's worst save percentage (.884%). Only Gerber has a save percentage better than .900 (.901).

Joseph has been inconsistent, and while he would come relatively cheap if he chooses to play next season, it's doubtful the Leafs would ask him back.

As for the 22-year-old Pogge, who posted an .844 save percentage and 4.35 goals against average, his time with the organization may be coming near to the end.

Part of the reason for Toronto's abysmal goals-against was the team's penalty killing record.

Toronto sits last in the NHL, with a success rate of 74.8% (and an even sorrier 69.5% at home).

Despite all that, both Toskala and Gerber hope to be back (of course, Toskala isn't going anywhere unless he's traded).

"There shouldn't be any excuses next year," said Toskala, when asked about his health going forward.

"Once we get a winning team here, there's no better place to play hockey, but it could take a long time.

"Who knows what the next year is going to be like? I'm not expecting it to be much easier than this year because it's a long process and we have to be patient."

Gerber is expected to get the start tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre against the Ottawa Senators, the team that gave up on him this season.

And while he has generally played well in his time in Toronto (posting a 5-5 record and 3.34 goals-against average), there have been few indications that he will be back.

Even if the Leafs wanted him, the question would be whether he would be willing to back up Toskala.

"I definitely want to keep playing over here (in North America) and whatever the situation is, I want to take a look at it," said Gerber.

"You always want to be playing (a lot of games). But if you look around the league this year, besides maybe a few teams, they all use both their goalies.

"Some went through three or four. It's a great group of guys here and we're definitely going in the right direction. So it would be fun."

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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