It has been two weeks since the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Michael Hutchinson from the Florida Panthers to combat the outside chance that both starter Frederik Andersen and backup Garret Sparks could miss significant time. In those two weeks, the only goalie to appear in the Toronto net has been Hutchinson, as that outside chance has turned into reality. Tonight, Hutchinson makes his fifth straight start and again it is unproven emergency recall Kasimir Kaskisuo as his backup. Andersen is still recovering from his groin injury and now has the flu on top of it, while Sparks has returned to practice but has not been cleared to play yet as he fights concussion symptoms. A short-term stopgap solution has turned into a lengthy stretch with Hutchinson as the starting goalie and as a result more problems could be headed Toronto’s way.
Sportsnet’s John Shannon made note today that when Hutchinson takes the ice tonight against the visiting Boston Bruins, it will be his ninth NHL appearance of the season – he made three starts and a relief appearance for the Panthers. When that number hits ten, which could be as early as Monday if one or both of Andersen and Sparks are not yet ready to return, Hutchinson will require waivers to be sent to the AHL. Waivers has been a thorn in the side of the Maple Leafs all season, as it is what originally cost them both Curtis McElhinney (CAR) and Calvin Pickard (ARI) before the campaign even began and what prevents them from moving Sparks to the minors without risk. Should that happen, more of a when than an if, Toronto will again face a goalie conundrum in which they would either have to carry three goaltenders or potentially lose Hutchinson on waivers. While Hutchinson struggled in Florida to begin the year, he has vastly improved since landing in Toronto, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average. He would likely be an attractive option on the waiver wire for many teams in need of depth in net. By no means is Toronto guaranteed that he would clear.
The injuries to Andersen and Sparks could linger and, even if they didn’t, losing Hutchinson would be a blow to their depth in net. Toronto would yet again need to acquire a goaltender if Hutchinson is lost to waivers. On the other hand, keeping three goalies on the roster through the trade deadline late next month, after which roster limits expand, would also hamstring the team at other positions. There is no easy answer to the potential problem, as the waiver status of the team’s goaltenders continues to plague the Maple Leafs this season. During the all-important stretch run, and even more so the postseason, the team needs to be prepared for all possibilities, including one of their keepers going down yet again. While they had hoped Hutchinson would be that security blanket, that likely won’t occur without taking a major risk or making sacrifices.