SIMMONS: Message from Colorado for Maple Leafs – you can win the Stanley Cup with goaltending that’s just OK

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The gift the Colorado Avalanche provided for Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs – the knowledge you can win the Stanley Cup with average goaltending.

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You don’t need an all-world goalie the way Andrei Vasilevskiy played in the two titles won by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You can win with Darcy Kuemper, backed by Pavel Francouz. The Avalanche just did.

You can win, as the St. Louis Blues did in 2019, with Jordan Binnington in goal.

You can win, as the Washington Capitals did in 2018, with Braden Holtby stopping pucks.

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And you can win, the way the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, with Matt Murray carrying the load of the play and Marc-Andre Fleury behind him.

This season, as a reminder, Murray was on waivers in Ottawa; Binnington was mostly backing up Ville Husso in St. Louis; Holtby was available all season long in Dallas. Fleury signed in Chicago as a free agent and was traded to Minnesota.

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If you go back a decade and put the two Vasilevskiy championships aside: the starting goalies from Stanley Cup-winning teams have been Kuemper, Binnington, Holtby, Murray, Corey Crawford twice and Jonathan Quick.

The years before that, Antti Niemi won a Cup in Chicago; Chris Osgood won another Cup with the Red Wings; Cam Ward won in Carolina and Jean-Sébastien Giguere won in Anaheim. A lot of them goalies who were hot for a time, for a season maybe, for a playoff run, just not the — aside from Tim Thomas, Fleury and maybe Osgood — the kind who were special year after year.

Dubas has some kind of plan for the Maple Leafs goaltending, the most unanswered question heading into this summer of free agent and roster mobility. He’s just not choosing to share it right now. So far, he’s kept his starting goalie of the past two years, Jack Campbell, at more than arm’s length, leading many to believe Campbell won’t be returning to the Leafs.

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You can make a case for keeping Campbell and just as easily make a case for letting him go. Factor what he wants to be paid and what the Leafs are willing to pay into that equation and if that ship hasn’t sailed already, it seems close to conclusion.

The complicated status of Petr Mrazek, who is signed for two more years in a deal the Leafs badly regret making, needs to be addressed and fast. Mrazek is signed for $3.8 million for the next two seasons and clearly he’s not the answer for anything they are looking for other than making his contract disappear.
And if Campbell isn’t signed — and won’t be signed — that leaves Dubas in need of two goaltenders for a roster that appears to be reasonably stable everywhere else heading into next season.

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Is Kuemper a whole lot better than Campbell? Based on this year’s playoffs you’d have to say no. He’s a free agent now and with a Cup on his resume probably more expensive than the Leafs are willing to spend.

Dubas has to sign two goalies and his biggest problem may be himself. His history of making goaltending decisions is rather spotty. He did make the trade for Campbell, which cost him an able body in Trevor Moore and a draft pick that turned into Harvard’s Alex Laferriere. The trade initially saved the Leafs after Frederik Andersen went down for a lot of the 2021 season before the Leafs decided to let him walk in free agency.

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Now Campbell is about to be a free agent and he says he prefers to stay in Toronto but it doesn’t appear the Leafs share his opinion or likely his price point.

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There are some built-in roadblocks in the Eastern Conference as playoffs approach in the seasons to come. Vasilevskiy isn’t going anywhere, which means Tampa Bay is going to have quality goaltending for the immediate future. And if Igor Shesterkin is real — his first full season in the NHL was brilliant — then the New York Rangers have that kind of high-end goaltending as well.

The rest of the conference — not so much.

The Leafs say they love their roster and there are some reasons to agree with that thinking. But not in championship terms, for the most part, which is how they need to be thinking. You can win, as Colorado did, with Kuemper and Francouz in net and the fact that Francouz won six six playoff games still defies explanation.

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But the Leafs don’t have a Makar changing games. They don’t have a Nathan MacKinnon, who has yet to be paid mega-money. All of the Leafs key players are being paid high end already — the contracts of MVP Auston Matthews, all-star Mitch Marner, captain John Tavares, explosive William Nylander. This is unlike the history of so many Stanley Cup winners.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane got big money after the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups. They signed for $10.5 million a year starting in 2015-16 after Chicago had won its third Cup. The number of playoff series the Blackhawks have won since: none.

The Leafs need to defy the odds with a roster close to championship calibre. With goaltending being the great unknown — starter and backup. And at least the understandings that sometimes you can win the Stanley Cup without having Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk in goal.

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