For those that have been reading this blog for the past couple years know that I have been one of the harshest critics of the Leafs goaltending for a long time..
When Andrew Raycroft was setting records for wins by a Maple Leaf, I was contending that he was a bad goalie and benefited from a good team in front of him but far too many in the media and the Leaf fan base blamed the Leafs woes on their defense and lack of scoring punch (which was largely a myth). In the seasons since, Raycroft has proven to be a bad goalie at best.
Last year there were many calling Vesa Toskala very good goalie and the lone bright spot on the Leafs. Some were even calling him an elite level goalie. I on the other hand believed otherwise.
Most hockey analysts seem to believe that Vesa Toskala is a top tier goalie and that goaltending will be the least of the Leafs problems. I am not so sure. While Toskala looked good last year his numbers were still fairly unspectacular. His .904 save percentage was only good for 32nd in the league just behind Cam Ward and just ahead of Peter Budaj. Neither of those two goalies are anything to get excited about either.
The past two seasons have seen the Leafs have finished 4th last and second last in team save percentage and this season they sit in second last with a downright dismal 86.9% save percentage. That is measurably worse than last year. Toskala has been extremely bad, and Joseph has been worse.
Over the years media and fans seemingly often defended the Leafs goaltending by saying ‘but look at how bad that defense is, no goalie would be very good in the Leafs net.’ But the team in front of the Leafs has changed dramatically from last season, including bginging in new defensemen Van Ryn, Finger, Schenn, and Frogren as well as bringing in a more defensive minded coach. But the only thing that seemingly happened was that goaltending got worse. The Leafs defense actually gives up relatively few shots on goal, as it has the past several seasons. They were probably an average defensive team and yet they gave up a lot of goals.
As we approach the quarter pole of the 2008-09 season people are starting to take note of how sub-par the Leafs goaltending is. James Mirtle has written a couple of stories on it (here and here) and there have been several other stories (i.e. Leafs Toskala continues to Struggle, Toskala an early season Disappointment, etc.) and Coach Ron Wilson has publicly stated that Toskala needs to be better. I am fairly certain that he can be better, but can he be good enough to be worthy of a starting role on a playoff contender? That I am not so sure about and will be one of the key questions Burke needs to answer when he takes over as General Manager. As a Leaf fan I can only hope he sees Toskala as inadequite and puts finding a prime time goalie as his top priority.