As expected, veteran goaltender Curtis McElhinney did not survive his trip to waivers. When it was reported that the Columbus Blue Jackets’ long-time backup had been replaced by young Anton Forsberg, it was immediately clear that there would be some interest in his services. To no surprise, the goalie-needy Toronto Maple Leafs scooped up the 33-year-old backstop, who will assume the role of backup to Frederik Andersen in Toronto, likely for the remainder of the season.
In nine NHL seasons, spent mostly as a backup for the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, and Columbus Blue Jackets, McElhinney has had his ups and downs. Ironically, 2016-17 has been the journeyman’s best season to date. In seven appearances, McElhinney has a .924 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average, well above his career marks of .905 and 2.96 and career-highs for a season in which he’s played in more than two games. It’s been a nice bounce-back season for Sergei Bobrovsky’s understudy, as McElhinney struggled last season, posting an .890 SV% and 3.31 GAA in 18 games. However, with the NHL’s best record and another remarkable season from Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets felt they could risk losing McElhinney, despite his return to success, if it meant they could give more ice time to NHL-ready prospects Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo.
Columbus’ loss is Toronto’s gain, as the upstart Maple Leafs may have found the backup goalie they’ve desperately needed. Their newly-acquired starter Andersen has been solid thus far, but fellow summer acquisition Jhonas Enroth was a bust, posting a dismal .872 SV% and 3.94 GAA in six appearances before losing his job. His replacement, rookie Antoine Bibeau, has been spectacular in his two starts with a .927 SV% and 1.98 GAA, but sitting on the bench for the Leafs is detrimental to the development of the Marlies starter. Toronto’s other 22-year-old, Garret Sparks, has not been given a chance this season after stuggling as the Leafs’ backup in 2015-16. The acquisition of a seasoned veteran like McElhinney, especially when it’s at no cost to the team, is exactly what Toronto needed.