The Changing of the Guard: Sparks Makes Season Debut as McElhinney is Waived

Sparks has won the highly competitive job of backing up Frederik Andersen for the Leafs this season and is set to make his debut in Chicago. He will be looking to build on his AHL goal tender of the year performance last year. Meanwhile, it is time for the backup hero that is Mclhinney to say goodbye as he was claimed by Carolina.

It has been 311 days since Garett Sparks became the first Maple Leaf goaltender to record a shutout on their debut in the team’s 3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Sparks then saw out the rest of the season when James Reimer was traded, behind a team that had fully committed to the tank and his stats showed it. He finished the season with 17 games played and a save percentage of just 0.893.

He’ll be looking for a much different season now as he is brimming with confidence after winning the Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies last season and beating Curtis Mclhinney and fellow Marlies teammate, Calvin Pickard, to claim the backup spot in Toronto. This is a momentous moment for Sparks himself as well as the organization as a whole. It was the Leafs who drafted him in the 7th round in the 2011 draft and he has come all the way through the system, something that doesn’t happen very often around these parts. It is definitely refreshing to see the management manage their resources properly and not overstretch talent, something which happened to the previous goalie tandem of Bernier and Reimer.

For every promotion in the Hockey world, someone else is replaced, and that person in this case was the 35 year old netminder, Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney came into the organisation during the 2016/17 season with very little expectations placed on him as he was filling the gap left by Jhonas Enroth (who you probably forget ever played for the leafs). He played solidly for a backup and gained popularity among fans due to his consistency.

However, it was in the penultimate game of the season that he went from a solid backup to Maple Leaf hero. With a playoff berth on the lines, the Leafs were up against the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the dying seconds of the game, Sydney Crosby had a perfectly lined up one timer with a seemingly empty net. As I am sure you are aware, that was not the case as McElhinney made the save of his career, which sent the Leafs to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

He then came back for 2017/18 season and improved his stats to a .934 save percentage. It’s a great shame to see him go, he was exactly what the team needed and did everything that was asked. Unfortunately his age was against him, Sparks is ten years younger with his NHL career ahead of him, while McElhinney is 35 with the large majority of his hockey career now on the stat sheet. He will be missed, by fans and players alike.Frederik Andersen posted this on his Instagram:

Sad to see a great guy go but glad that you’re getting another chance. Thanks for being an amazing goalie partner over the last two seasons! Good luck.

However, as remorse as I am that Curtis has been replaced, I can hardly find much reason to complain as the Leafs haven’t had this much goalie depth in decades. The very fact that we have had to let goalies such as McElhinney and Pickard go is a testament to what a strong position we are in. Now lets just hope that Andersen can avoid his October slump…

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