TORONTO - The Maple Leafs are back to their least favourite blackboard game — figuring which outsider might help them in goal.
Of their in-house candidates, James Reimer needs more work and Ben Scrivens requires a longer look, but don’t expect Brian Burke to waste playoff points on more trial runs.
The general manager has to think big picture after seeing seven goalies play at least 12 games since he arrived in 2008, none putting a full playoff season together.
That’s why he’s duty-bound to look at everything, from dealing with old rival Mike Gillis in Vancouver for Roberto Luongo to late-breaking news, such as the chance Ondrej Pavelec will exit Winnipeg in a pay dispute.
There was a double setback for all teams looking for net relief when Anders Lindback migrated from Nashville to Tampa Bay and Tomas Vokoun’s free agency was cancelled by a trade to Pittsburgh.
There remain the usual suspects post-July 1, such as Dwayne Roloson, Scott Clemmensen, Antero Niittymaki and Dan Ellis, all with their best days likely behind them.
The magic solution would see the Leafs have a blue-chip home-grown draft available every game. How much sleep do you think Lou Lamoriello lost the past 20 years knowing Martin Brodeur was showing up for work next day?
But in a league where defencemen and forwards are hard enough to read at age 18, the course a goalie might take is the hardest to plot.
A recent NHL.com piece focused on this very inexact science, pointing to the first round of the 1994 draft. Four goalies went in the first round, Jamie Storr (Los Angeles, seventh overall), Eric Fichaud (Toronto 16th), Evgeni Ryabchikov (Boston 21st) and Dan Cloutier (New York Rangers 30th).
The Russian never played, the others had losing records in the NHL and did not finish with their draft teams. Cloutier did have three 30-win seasons in Vancouver, where he was replaced by Luongo.
The flip side was that 1994’s ninth round, usually a painful stage that no longer exists at the draft, produced nine goalies, seven of whom made it to the NHL. The 217th pick was Tim Thomas (Quebec), 218 was Johan Hedberg (Philadelphia) and 219 became Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose). Montreal later landed Vokoun and Boston took John Grahame, all still active this past season.
That compilation didn’t come as a total shock to Sharks’ goalie development coach Corey Schwab when contacted on Tuesday. He lived the long-shot scenario in 1990 with New Jersey, its 10th round selection, 200th overall, a year that brought the Devils Brodeur at 20th (second highest among goalies to Trevor Kidd) and Mike Dunham at 53rd.
“You can see a goalie in action and ask a few questions during interviews,” Schwab said.
“But the thing with goalies is that you don’t know how much they’re going to play after they’re drafted. Most of the kids scouted are the No. 1 on their team and they play the most. How they’ll do if they have to split work with someone else is unknown, or in the minors, when they’re 20 and the other goalie is 24. Then you have to hope they adapt.”
Schwab wound up playing a year with Brodeur in Utica in the AHL. They weren’t far apart, statistically speaking.
“I think talent-wise, most goalies are similar,” Schwab said. “What separated Marty was his ability to be calm and relaxed in a game to the point where he appeared he was having fun. He never let anything get at him, even in the last period.”
Schwab went on to play for the Leafs behind Curtis Joseph and in Tampa Bay with Bill Ranford.
“The mental make-up is the important thing for a goalie who (is late-blooming),” Schwab said. “Forwards and defencemen play every game, but a goalie might not play for two weeks and suddenly, he’s thrust in there, with no feel for the game.
“But the coach, the players and the fans expect him to do well. That’s why you always tell young goalies to compete as hard in practice as you would in a game, so you’re ready.
“From being picked 200th and making the NHL, I see there is hope. Just getting drafted was a sign someone believed in you and the ultimate was winning the Cup with Marty in 2003.”
Somewhere, either on their roster, on another team or perhaps this weekend’s draft in Pittsburgh, the Leafs and other crease-challenged teams have to find the right name.