Shortly after the Vegas Golden Knights claimed backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, off waivers from the Boston Bruins, they traded Calvin Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 6th round pick.
Hindsight is 20/20– considering Marc-Andre Fleury and Subban are both on the injured reserve and Vegas is down to their last hope (well, before they really get desperate) in Oscar Dansk— but should they have been so quick to pull the plug on Pickard? Should any team, including the Maple Leafs, be so quick to bury him as they have in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies?
The short answer is no, Vegas maybe shouldn’t have traded him (considering depth in goal is imperative when at least one goalie is injured) and Toronto could probably still utilize some life out of him. The obvious answer is the Golden Knights made a pure-business decision (and it paid off, despite Subban’s current status– they got a player and a pick for one player), while the Maple Leafs added depth that comes in handy, a la Vegas’s current situation.
Pickard is a 25-year-old goaltender who was rushed in for too large of a role with the organization that drafted him 49th overall in 2010– the Colorado Avalanche.
Last season, Pickard went 15-31-2 in 50 games played (48 starts) with a goals against average of 2.98 and a .904 save percentage. He had never seen more than 20 games in a season at the NHL level and was destined to be a career-long backup goaltender– until Semyon Varlamov went down with a season-ending injury last season.
If you think Pickard should take the blame for the Avalanche’s lack of success last season, you probably also think there might be a goaltending controversy in Boston right now and should reconsider your status as a fan of hockey.
For one thing, Colorado was a mess in more than one aspect of the game last season. For another, Tuukka Rask is still the Bruins starting goaltender and there’s no question about his certainty as a statistically elite goaltender who is once-in-a-generation for his time (other than Braden Holtby, who might be the only other candidate for consideration as “once-in-a-generation” currently).
Anyway, back to Colorado.
Last season’s Avs had a league-worst -112 goal differential, which also happened to be the worst in the salary cap era since the 2004-2005 season long lockout (maybe even further than that, though the game has changed significantly since the season that wasn’t in 04-05).
Everything was working against a backup goaltender, turned default starting goaltender overnight with no offense and no defensive support.
In Pickard’s two seasons as a backup, his goals against averages weren’t spectacular (a 2.35 in 16 games played in 2014-15 and a 2.56 in 20 games played in 2015-16), but they were consistent with that of what you’d expect from a backup goaltender seeing time in only about a quarter of an 82-game season.
His .932 and .922 SV%’s in 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively paint a clearer picture of a young backup with a seemingly reliable potential for developing into a full-time backup that could take on up to 30 games a season, significantly reducing the workload for Varlamov.
Then came last season, where the pressure mounted and the Avalanche’s next
backup goaltender of the future, Spencer Martin, rose up the depth charts.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee identified his starting goaltender months before June’s expansion draft, given the contract situation in Pittsburgh, as well as their needle in a haystack luck in finding, developing and unleashing the wrath that is Matthew Murray in goal on the rest of the league.
Marc-Andre Fleury had been penciled in on everyone’s mock Golden Knights roster from puck drop last season with the backup role left unfilled for Vegas to unveil in June.
When Colorado left Calvin Pickard available, Vegas swooped in, hoping a change of scenery would work in addition to providing the 25-year-old with a defense, let alone some scoring production that could help balance the scoreboard in a pinch, should Pickard let in a goal or two. At least, that’s what the plan seemed to be.
Until the Golden Knights had a chance to get a top-AHL goaltender who had yet to really break out in the NHL with a clogged pipeline of goalies in Boston.
Malcolm Subban will be a goaltender in the NHL. He might just be a backup, but he’ll be a good one, given enough time and the right guys in front of him.
Calvin Pickard got the short end of the stick, but sometimes taking a step back in your career leads you forward again.
Are NHL GMs guilty of looking at one bad year and sentencing a player for life because of it, especially if that bad year was last season? Yes– it happens all the time in hockey and it’s frustrating as hell.
Pickard once had a 2.47 GAA and .918 SV% with Lake Erie in 47 games played in his first full season of professional hockey (2012-13). That was when he was unrealistically projected to become a starting goaltender after never posting a goals against average below 3.05 with the Seattle Thunderbirds in four years of major junior hockey.
Through two games with the Marlies, Pickard has a 3.59 GAA and a .901 SV% this season, but it’s still early for the goaltender who amassed a 1.49 GAA and .938 SV% in seven games with Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship this spring.
Splitting time with Toronto’s best prospect in goal, Garret Sparks, won’t be easy, but it’s perhaps the greatest thing that could happen to Pickard. After all, he’s back in a system with lots of support and is a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season– free to regain his confidence and take his talents elsewhere in the league as a backup goaltender.
He’s better than a backup like Jonas Gustavsson, but not everyone’s a Philipp Grubauer in a league that’s more reliant on their number two goalie than everyone thinks. Calvin Pickard should be just fine.