Waiving of Enroth makes sense, but choosing a replacement will be tricky

Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA TODAY SPORTS

I’ve said previously that I feel really bad for Jhonas Enroth, and the situation that he’s been put in this season. Simply put, he’s been given rough and rare starts, hasn’t done much with them, and the team has no incentive to keep playing him through them. This isn’t Frederik Andersen, who was recovering from an injury and was tied to the team for five years, but rather a backup who could be vanished in an instant.

Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs called off the experiment, at least for now, and placed the Swedish netminder on waivers.

2016-10-20 1 MIN L 3 27 24 0.889 58:23:00
2016-10-30 2 NYI L 5 35 30 0.857 59:58:00
2016-11-05 3 VAN W 0 3 3 1 5:08
2016-11-08 4 LAK L 3 17 14 0.824 26:18:00
2016-11-23 5 NJD L-SO 4 30 26 0.867 64:39:00
2016-11-30 6 CGY L 3 29 26 0.897 60:00:00

With the numbers he’s put up, it’s hard to blame them. Enroth is presently in the midst of the worst season he’s ever had, and when you combine that with Mike Babcock’s belief that his systems are better suited to larger goaltenders, there simply wasn’t any time left to be patient with him. The Leafs believe in themselves as a team that can succeed in this league, and with four points separating themselves from a wildcard position, they can’t risk much more to curiosity.

Will this be the end of his time here, though? It’s hard to say.

For one, nobody knows if he’ll get claimed on waivers. It’s easy to say that a goaltender of his brand name will, and maybe the Leafs are okay with that, but there’s still a very decent chance that he clears through. If that does happen to be the case, perhaps he gets the Jonathan Bernier treatment; a few weeks of consistent play to get his confidence back up, before returning to the Leafs lineup to play regular minutes again.

In Bernier’s case, it worked quite well; the now Anaheim Ducks netminder had three consecutive shutouts, a 0.948 SV%, and a 3-0-1 record in four games with the Marlies last December. In fact, his stint started a year ago yesterday, making the timing of this eerily similar. Bernier went from a 0.888 SV% before his stint to a 0.913 afterwards and was a 0.933 in his first eight games in Anaheim before being blown out by Calgary last night.

If Enroth can get some of that momentum going for him, then maybe the Leafs haven’t seen the last of him. But who his replacement is will make that question all the more interesting.

  • Karri Ramo is the odds-on favourite for the role, seeing as he’s been practicing with the Leafs for weeks without a contract. The issue, however, is that he’s recovering from a Torn ACL, and that if he’s healthy, his history isn’t overly mind blowing. In 159 NHL games, the 30-year-old has a career save percentage of 0.906; lower than Enroth’s over 153 games. He is hovering in the 0.910 range over his last 111 appearances, however, so that might buy him some trust.
  • Antoine Bibeau has been the Marlies’ starting goaltender this year, but it still seems unlikely that he’ll take the leap to the NHL. In 13 games this year, Bibeau has three shutouts, but remains at a 0.907 save percentage. The AHL’s average shooting percentage is higher than the NHL’s, so that isn’t dreadful, but it isn’t stand out good by any means, nor has any season of his been in his pro career.
  • Garret Sparks has been better in the AHL than Bibeau has been in practically every year they’ve both played; he’s a 0.913 through six games this year, was 0.928 last year, and dominated the ECHL in the year prior. But injuries remain a concern for him, not to mention the optics of rewarding him with a call-up after a suspension for violating team policy on social media are a little odd. Fans will also remember his less-than-good performances down the stretch with the Leafs last year, though he was playing hurt in that stretch. Either way, it’s still a tough sell.
  • Jeff Glass is Toronto’s last and most nuclear option. The journeyman played in a pair of games for the Marlies during Sparks’ suspension and posted a 0.917 save percentage in that time, impressing in his first North American action in nearly a decade. Glass had relatively good KHL numbers playing with a variety of different teams, peaking with a 0.933 SV% with Sibir in 2013, but it’s a different league with different types of shots (not to mention, Ramo’s career KHL stats are better).

It’s a tough situation for the Leafs to be in. The team absolutely needs a reliable netminder to give them a chance on nights where Frederik Andersen needs a rest, and they’re not in a position to force the struggle out of Enroth right now. Their options include two players that aren’t under NHL contract and a trio (let’s not even talk about Kasimir Kaskisuo’s ECHL season to date) of goaltending prospects who have some sort of baggage attached to them. I suppose it’s a situation where every door is less than ideal, unless they’re able to blindside everybody and trade for a more proven backup.

It’s nearly impossible to predict how this all ends. There are a lot of fun different directions it can go, though.

  • The Russian Rocket

    They should go with Ramo. At 30 y/o they could use the Andersen/Ramo duo for a couple years while the other goaltenders grow – that is assuming Ramo can at least maintain the .910ish SV% average he’s had over the last few years.

    • FlareKnight

      He’s the backup goalie…unless you have a 1A/1B situation or the starter is horrific that is the job. You start very occasionally and usually during the weaker opponent in a back to back situation.

      Even look at Edmonton. Gustavsson has played only 5 games. A lot of guys in Enroth’s situation have only played 5-7 games this year so far.

      It is tough, but that’s what happens when you aren’t starter level.

      • Stan Smith

        And Gustavsson has been playing very well in that position, but usually when a team uses a backup sparingly, the goalie inevitably struggles, and the team loses the game.

  • LukeWarmWater

    The seven million dollar man has been quoted as saying he wants a bigger sized back up, so why did leaping Lou, Shanahan and Babcock agree to the smallest guy in the league? Just asking. Folks we are hoping that these guys are Moses taking us to the promised land. But this wasn’t a smart move from the beginning.

    • Kanuunankuula

      Because he was the best backup available at the time. The choice was oblivious, and worth the gamble.

      I’m also in the camp that they gave up on him too quick. Andersen had atrocious first 5 games, glad we didn’t give up on him

  • Kevin

    Enroth was a good gamble by the Leafs and in the end will only cost one contract space (for the remainder of the year). It won’t cost the Leafs cap space if he clears waivers and ends up on the Marlies. Over his career Enroth has been a good backup and he was coming off a great year in LA. There weren’t any better options at the time of Enroth’s signing and I am not sure if there are now. That being said Ramo has been practicing with the Leafs for a while and maybe they have seen something in him they like.

  • Stan Smith

    I wouldn’t mind a situation where the Leafs carry Glass as a back-up when the games are spread apart, in case Andersen gets hurt, and bring up Sparks or Bibeau when they have back to backs, 3 in 5 nights, etc to give them some NHL time.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      It can be deflating for the players if they have no confidence in the goalie.

      With Andersen getting sick out west I think the Leafs got a little scare. Enroth may have gotten the start in Vancouver. I see the back to back as important and one would like to see the backup steal a game now and then. That is a lot to ask from a backup goalie. More important is the expectation that over the season your number one goalie will miss some time due to injury. From what we have seen, in the first two months, from Enroth I don’t believe Babcock, Lou, the players, or the fans think Enroth can fill that role of temporary #1.

  • tealeaves

    the leafs need to burn another contract spot to sign ramo who given his injury may turn out to be as useful as enroth. trade/internal player is the right choice from contract management point of view