It was a good game in more than one way for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 23 by a 3-0 score. What was odd, and at the same time impressive, was that the Maple Leafs team was made up mostly of its “seconds” – many of those players who were unlikely to make the team’s opening, regular-season roster. They must have had a bad on because they completely overwhelmed the Canadians (who played with a good portion of their regulars).
In that game, goalie Michael Hutchinson solidified his backup position in the Maple Leafs goal to starting goalie, the big Dane Frederik Andersen. Hutchinson’s performance must have convinced head coach Mike Babcock and general manager Kyle Dubas that they had to look no further for their backup goalie.
As a result, the Maple Leafs released goalie Michal Neuvirth from his professional tryout agreement (PTO). That’s a bit of surprise to many who believed Neuvirth had the inside track on the job and would be the preferred choice. His NHL body of work suggested that he should be given a good chance to win the backup job, but Neuvirth never seemed to get over an injury and engage in a consistent practice schedule.
Obviously, the Maple Leafs decided they couldn’t wait forever and Neuvirth is gone. However, given the need for good NHL goaltending, it’s likely he’ll have another chance somewhere down the road. It’s a sad day for Neuvirth, who turned down guaranteed contracts to try out for the Maple Leafs because it was a team he dreamed of playing for before he came to the NHL.
Michael Hutchinson Is in the Drivers Seat
That Hutchinson had such a solid game, especially protecting the net given this particular Maple Leafs’ line up, might have been the straw that broke Neuvirth’s remaining chance to make the team. In fact, it was supposed to be Neuvirth’s start but, as coach Mike Babcock noted, he wasn’t feeling well.
Hutchinson now looks like he’s in the driver’s seat to win the backup role; however, the team might still explore what’s on the market closer to, or after, the regular season begins. A team can never have too much goaltending.
What Hutchinson gives the team is something it needs desperately – he can fill a roster spot for the cheap price of only $700,000 deal. Hutchinson was acquired in a trade from Florida last season, mostly because the Maple Leafs needed some goalie numbers for its AHL farm team, the Toronto Marlies. However, it has turned out much better than he might have expected.
Hutchinson had played 102 games with Winnipeg between 2013 and 2018, four games with the Panthers, and then nine more games with the Maple Leafs during 2018-19. He was traded to Toronto as little more than “goaltending depth,” but now he stands to be the designated backup and should get regular work in the future.
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