In the first round of the 2005 Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected a goalie with the 21st overall pick. This goalie would go on to become the winningest goalie in franchise history, leading them to 3 Stanley Cup Finals and 1 Stanley Cup victory while also winning a Vezina Trophy and William M. Jennings Trophy.
I feel like I should mention at this point that the franchise he did all this with was NOT the Toronto Maple Leafs…
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This was Tuukka Rask, the netminder that haunted the Leafs’ nightmares for 15 seasons (and 3 playoff series) through the 2010s into the 2020s.
At the time, the Leafs assumed that they already had their “goalie of the future” in World Junior Superstar Justin Pogge. But they needed a goalie now – their goaltender the previous season was a 39-year-old Ed Belfour, who had a lackluster season, so the Leafs decided they needed a new goalie.
Enter Andrew Raycroft.
The 26-year-old netminder had won the Calder Memorial Trophy just two seasons prior, and the Leafs hoped that he would be their new franchise goaltender…he wasn’t.
Who Tends The Twine?
This was the beginning of a very questionable era for the Leafs and their goalies. For every James Reimer, there was a Vesa Toskala. For every J-S Giguere, there was a Jonathan Bernier. There were questionable decisions by management (traded a 1st and 2nd round pick for Toskala?), as well as goalies who just couldn’t handle the burden of being a #1 goalie in Toronto (Jonas Gustavsson).
There was a small amount of hope when, in 2016, GM Lou Lamiorello traded for and signed Danish netminder Frederik Andersen to a 5-year contract. Years 1 – 3 were great, with Andersen finishing 4th in Vezina Trophy voting in 2017-2018. But alas, the last 2 years of the contract were…not great.
Since Andersen left in 2021, the Leafs have used some combination of Jack Campbell, Petr Mrazek, Matt Murray, and Ilya Samsonov, with a sprinkling of AHL goalies like Erik Kallgren and Joseph Woll. In the 2023-2024 season, we’re most likely going with a tandem of Samsonov/Woll, but as of this writing, Samsonov doesn’t have a contract, and Matt Murray is still under contract.
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When Will It Be Our Turn?
When I look around the league at other teams’ goaltending situations, it’s hard to not get jealous. So many teams have had these elite franchise goaltenders. Carey Price in Montreal, Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg, Tuukka Rask in Boston, Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, etc. – we’re even starting to see the next generation of these goalies with Jake Oettinger in Dallas, Igor Shesterkin with the Rangers, and Ilya Sorokin with the Islanders.
All the while, the Leafs sitting on the outside looking in. The last Leaf goalie to win a Vezina was in 1965, with Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk sharing the trophy. The last time we had a goalie stick around for more than 5 years was in the early 1990s with Felix Potvin. We go through goalies like Don Cherry goes through ugly suits.
We have a new homegrown talent in Joseph Woll, who we’re hoping will be a bonafide NHL goalie starting next year. He’s shown glimpses of it in the last couple of seasons, even subbing in for Ilya Samsonov in the playoffs after he got hurt.
Maybe we’re on the verge of finally having our own Brick Woll in the net for the foreseeable future.