Pickard better than Sparks, becomes Leafs’ third goalie
The Toronto Maple Leafs bolstered their goaltending depth Friday, acquiring netminder Calvin Pickard from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round draft choice in 2018.
Pickard has been assigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The 25-year-old, who was selected from the Colorado Avalanche by the Golden Knights in June’s expansion draft, had been placed on waivers Thursday and cleared Friday.
Had the Leafs claimed Pickard rather than making a deal for him afterward, he would have counted against their 23-man roster and forced another player to be re-assigned.
Pickard will enter the fold as insurance for the Leafs as they decide how they want to proceed in net. Starter Frederik Andersen is locked in, and 34-year-old backup Curtis McElhinney is signed through next season, but the Leafs are all too familiar with goaltenders leaving them in a lurch, at both levels.
Jhonas Enroth’s disastrous start to last season put Antoine Bibeau, an inexperienced rookie, as Toronto’s best backup option until McElhinney went on waivers in mid-January. Having Pickard in the system gives the Leafs an NHL-tested goalie they can count on, and also gives the Marlies a boost as their stacked roster makes a run at a Calder Cup championship this season.
Drafted 49th overall by the Avalanche in 2010, Pickard played 86 games with the club, posting a 2.88 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. It was enough to pique the Golden Knights' interest, but Vegas also selected Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft to be their clear starter. Pickard became expendable when Vegas claimed Malcolm Subban on waivers earlier this week from the Boston Bruins.
Now the Leafs will have to make a decision about how Pickard fits in with the two goalies already with the Marlies. Garret Sparks played 17 games for the Leafs in the 2015-16 season and became the Marlies outright starter midway through last year when Bibeau (who has since departed for the San Jose Sharks organization) stumbled following a two-game stint in the NHL.
Sparks was often injured last year, starting just 31 games and posting a 2.16 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He signed a two-year, $1.35-million extension with the team in June, but general manager Lou Lamoriello also commented that Sparks had to find a way to stay healthy.
Sparks’ injury in Game 2 of a first-round Calder Cup playoff series against the Albany Devils opened the door for Kasimir Kaskisuo, who signed as a college free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth in 2016. Kaskisuo had struggled in the East Coast Hockey League but rose to the occasion for the Marlies. His 2.66 goals-against average and .892 save percentage may not accurately reflect it, but Kaskisuo was the Marlies best player in the postseason.
Lindberg was acquired by the Leafs from the Ottawa Senators as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade in February 2016. He skated in six games for the Leafs that year, tallying two assists. Lindberg had six goals and 10 assists in 44 games for the Marlies last season. The Golden Knights have assigned him to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.