National Post

Leafs have to make decision on Andersen

- Michael Traikos

What does the future hold for Frederik Andersen? This was supposed to be a question for another day, for another season. But following a pair of losses to the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets, in which Andersen allowed four goals in each game, I don’t know if the Toronto Maple Leafs can wait that long.

Andersen, in the fifth year of a five-year contract, was brought to Toronto to get this talented young team over the hump and win a Stanley Cup. But five years later, he has yet to win a playoff round. Five years later, his numbers keep getting worse and worse.

The goalie who had a 2.67 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in his first season in Toronto is now ranked outside the top30 with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.

The playoffs tell a similar story. Braden Holtby, then playing for Washington, outperform­ed Andersen in 2017. He twice lost in a Game 7 to Boston’s Tuukka Rask. And last year, Columbus’ Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo were better than him.

Now, in a division that includes Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Montreal’s Carey Price — not to mention Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko — would you bet on Andersen leading the Leafs to the conference final? Would you be willing to put money on him even getting past the first round?

If not, maybe it’s time the team takes a look at Plan B.

Jack Campbell, who is 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goalsagain­st average and a .951 save percentage, is close to returning from injury. He might not be the Leafs’ longterm answer in net. But with the team safely in a playoff spot, now might be the best time to see if he can at least come in for relief if Andersen stumbles in the playoffs.

I’d give Andersen the start against Winnipeg on Thursday to see if he can bounce back and snap the team out of a three-game losing streak. But with back-to-back games coming up against Winnipeg and Ottawa, why not give Campbell the start against the Jets on Saturday and let Andersen play against the Senators on Sunday?

Let’s see what Campbell can do in a high-pressure game against a team that Toronto could see in the playoffs. Let’s see if he can push Andersen to be better, or maybe even push him out of the crease. Either way, the Leafs need to see what the future might hold.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

This looks like it will be another rebuilding year for the last-place Sabres. And yet, Buffalo News hockey reporter Lance Lysowski tweeted on Wednesday that the team still doesn’t have a scout covering the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Russia or Finland. Good thing North American Central Scouting’s draft guru Mark Seidel gives out his prospect rankings for free … Jack Eichel is out a week — maybe more — with the Sabres. The question isn’t how many games the team loses during that time. It’s whether Taylor Hall and Eric Staal will still be around when Eichel returns … From Jeff Skinner and Jake Debrusk to Zach Parise and Kyle Turris, I can’t remember another year where this many top-end players were made healthy scratches. As one former coach told me last week, don’t underestim­ate the effect that the pandemic had on the off-season training schedule. Some players were clearly able to handle the time off better than others. With Debrusk in head coach Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse, how long before Oilers GM Ken Holland offers up Zack Kassian as part of a package for the Bruins winger? After all, if Debrusk can score 27 goals on a line with David Krejci, just think about what he could do alongside Connor Mcdavid. Of course, if I were Holland, I’d much rather try to make a trade for someone who can stop the occasional shot.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in third place in the East Division standings, but what the standings don’t tell you is that they have yet to play New Jersey or Buffalo this season. With 16 combined games against the two worst teams in the division, no one has an easier schedule from now until the end of the year … With 11 points in 18 games, it’s been hard not to like what Joe Thornton has brought to the Leafs so far this season. I just like him on the top line. With how Jimmy Vesey has played recently, I’d give him another shot alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner … If we’re talking about Morgan Rielly for Canada’s Olympic team, don’t we also have to talk about TJ Brodie? One doesn’t seem to work without the other … If there were a “comeback player of the year,” my vote would go to Marc-andre Fleury, who went from losing the No. 1 job in Vegas last year to putting together a Vezina Trophy-worthy start to the season. With Robin Lehner injured, Fleury has a 12-4-0 record and leads the league with a 1.57 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and four shutouts … We’re midway through the season and Alex Ovechkin is ranked outside the top-60 in goals. He’s never finished lower than 14th.

HERE’S ONE FOR YOU

Is it time that Mark Scheifele starts getting some love as a Hart Trophy candidate? He ranks fifth in scoring with 34 points in 25 games, is first in take-aways (26), third in even-strength points (25) and among the top-20 in goals (11). Only four times this year has he been held off the scoresheet … I love that Darryl Sutter “bag-skated” the Flames in his first practice since taking over the team — though can it be called a “bag skate” if it apparently only lasted three minutes? Either way, consider it a sort of a warning: lose for a thirdstrai­ght game on Thursday and the puke buckets will be coming out … In his last four starts, goalie Thatcher Demko is showing why the Canucks allowed Jacob Markstrom to leave as a free agent. Unfortunat­ely for Vancouver, Braden Holtby has shown in five of his last six starts why Washington had no problem with him also leaving as a free agent … The end result wasn’t as bad for the victim, but I had more of an issue with Kailer Yamamoto’s slew foot on Rasmus Andersson than I did with Tom Wilson’s hit on Brandon Carlo. In my opinion, one was the unfortunat­e result of a hockey play and the other simply has no place in the game.

MATTHEWS THE MID-SEASON MVP

Unlike the NBA, there is no All-star Game to signify the halfway mark of the NHL’S regular season. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize the achievemen­ts of some of the top players so far this year. From MVP to top rookie, here are our midseason picks:

Hart: Auston Matthews, Toronto

The Rocket Richard Trophy leader has 20 goals in 24 games, which is five more than the next-highest scorer, and ranks sixth in scoring with 33 points. Six of those goals were game-winners for the best team in the North Division. Not bad for someone who is nursing a bangedup wrist.

Vezina: Andrei Vasilevski­y, Tampa Bay

As good as the defending Vezina Trophy winner was last year, Vasilevski­y has been even better this year, with a 16-3-1 record and a 1.79 GAA and .936 save percentage. And the workhorse has done it while playing in 20 of Tampa Bay’s 24 games.

Norris: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay

The Lightning defenceman really should have more than one Norris Trophy by now. He’s been that consistent, that dominant. Hedman leads his position with 25 points in 24 games. And unlike other top-pairing defencemen, he’s doing it alongside someone named Jan Rutta.

Calder: Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota

The leading scorer among rookies has six goals and 19 points in 23 games. What’s impressive is that only one of them came on the power play. And while Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle and Josh Norris are right there with him, Kaprizov gets the edge because he’s producing for a playoff team.

Selke: Mark Stone, Vegas

Wingers are apparently not allowed to win this award anymore, but expect Stone to change that opinion. Not only does he have 27 points in 21 games, but he also has a plus-14 rating and ranks second only to Kaapo Kakko in take-aways per 60 minutes.

Jack Adams: Sheldon Keefe, Toronto

Yeah, the Leafs are the most offensive team in the NHL. But we’ve been saying that about them for the past four years. It wasn’t until Keefe arrived that they also became one of the better defensive teams in the league.

WIN-WIN FOR HOCKEY FANS

The news that the NHL has agreed to a TV and media deal with ESPN might not mean a whole lot to Canadian sports fans who will still rely on Sportsnet and TSN for the bulk of their coverage. But for hockey fans, in general, it’s good to know that the biggest sports network in the U.S. is back caring about our sport.

 ?? NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Will he stay or will he go? That’s what some fans are wondering about Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender
Frederik Andersen, above in net against the Jets on Tuesday.
NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS Will he stay or will he go? That’s what some fans are wondering about Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, above in net against the Jets on Tuesday.
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