Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
Mike Babcock confirmed earlier this morning that Antoine Bibeau will make his first NHL appearance against the Colorado Avalanche tonight. The native of Victoriaville, Quebec has been in the organization for three and a half years now, and is being rewarded for an extra QMJHL season and 97 regular season and playoff games with the Marlies with his first crack at the show.
Fans are excited to see the former 172nd overall pick join 64 others in history who can proudly say “I played goalie for the Leafs”. The first game buzz is well deserved. But is Bibeau himself worth getting excited about? Let’s take a look.
Can He Stop The Puck?
Let’s first look at Bibeau’s rolling average save percentage over his time with Toronto. Overall, he’s spent most of his time playing stringing together above average runs of form, particularly since about this time last year. He’s never really quite dominant, though, eclipsing a 20-game rolling average of 0.920 for just three, brief, single-game moments. It’s also worth keeping in mind that “above average” in this case refers to the AHL’s average save percentage of 0.905, rather than the 0.915 that NHL goaltenders put up.
While it’s nice to see that he’s better than minor league competition, the expectation is that, well, an NHL-calibre goaltender would be above replacement level in a lesser league. Being a dominant force would be a thing one would like to see, and he’s never really strung that together on the stat sheet.
Is He Consistent?
For this, we’re going to use the NHL definition of “quality starts” and “really bad starts”, created by Rob Vollman and most known for Hockey-Reference’s integration of the statistic. A quality appearance would require a 0.915 save percentage, while a really bad one would involve being below 0.850.
To date, Bibeau has 45 quality appearances, giving him a percentage of 46.4%; not something you’d like to see from someone that you’d like the make the jump. Even if you cut things off at the start of his turnaround last year, he’s still flying in at just 47.2%, and rarely has he so much as had a 20 game pocket where he’s at 60%. Give him the extra 0.010% lenience to the AHL average and he shoots up to 58.8%, but that’s still just decent for a goalie who maxes out in as an AHL starter. Consistency is a huge issue here; he’s got as many 5-8 goal games to his name as he has shutouts.
Does He Help His Team Win?
For most of his tenure, Bibeau has been above water in Goals Saved Above Average. Again, that’s not shocking when you’re a 0.910 goalie in a 0.905 league. It’s not a huge gain in the long term (13 goals over 97 games, or about a goal every 7.5 games), but consider that he’s gained almost all that in the past calendar year and you find him at a goal every 4.2.
Is He Fun To Watch?
This is the thing that makes Bibeau endearing to so many; when he’s hot, he absolutely rocks the eye test, and when he’s not, it’s brushed off as a rookie mistake. I’m as guilty of it as anyone; his butterfly style, his athleticism, and his calmness on and off the ice are about as prototypically French Canadian as you’ll ever find, and often make you think back to Felix Potvin. Fittingly, Bibeau’s current mask pays tribute to the former Leaf netminder, which you’ll likely hear a lot about tonight.
Should He Be Playing Tonight?
I think the answer to this can simultaneously be yes and no. Through nearly 100 regular season and playoff games, the 22-year-old has given absolutely no sustainably good reason to believe that he’s fit for the NHL, at least at this stage. He picked up a lot of wins last year with an incredibly good Marlies team, but his actual numbers through three seasons scream slightly above average AHLer who’s inconsistency will either win or lose you games on a whim.
At the same time, though, it’s not like the Leafs have a lot to work with behind Frederik Andersen right now. Karri Ramo doesn’t have a contract yet and he hasn’t looked great with the Marlies. Jeff Glass doesn’t have a contract either. Kasimir Kaskisuo is having a bad time on the Solar Bears, Jhonas Enroth’s demotion is the reason this situation has opened to begin with, and Garret Sparks has barely played in the past few weeks due to varying physical, personal, and now, personnel reasons.
So Bibeau, despite five consecutive rough at worst, average at best starts in the past month, will hop in goal. It’s a reward for being a good, calm, and patient soldier over the past few years, and it’s a way of making sure that Frederik Andersen doesn’t get overworked in a stretch where the Leafs are going to make up games in hand. It would be nice to see a dream come true turn into a dream debut for him, similar to what happened with Sparks last year.
But we’re also talking about a goalie who has had half of his games in him giving up one or fewer, or four or more, playing his first NHL game behind a team on the second night of a back to back against a team that just lost by nine. There’s a high chance at chaos, one way or another. Needless to say, be ready for anything.