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Maple Leafs and Frederik Andersen: Good investment or bad gamble?

It’s entirely possible that the Toronto Maple Leafs made a hell of an investment in Fredrick Andersen, the 26-year-old Dane who was acquired on Monday for the 30th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a second-rounder next season. But it’s understandable why some are hesitant to believe they did. 

Andersen has a perception problem, though not the kind that would derail the career of someone who needs his eyes to succeed. The perception is that of role. It’s that of sample size. It’s that of stats, in comparison to cheaper but seemingly as effective models.

The NHL’s goaltending community is split up into work horses and platoons. Andersen’s been in the latter category since he entered the League in 2013, first with Jonas Hiller and then with John Gibson. He’s never been “The Guy,” mostly because his former coach was notorious for changing goalies with the frequency of kitchen trash bags and partially because the Anaheim Ducks saw Gibson as “The Guy” – hence the pre-expansion draft trade of Andersen, a restricted free agent who the Leafs quickly signed to a 5-year, $25-million deal.

We don’t see him as a starter worthy of that financial commitment or two solid picks in the draft, but then he hasn’t had a chance to be one.

He has, however, played 125 games, posting a .918 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA. His EV save percentage in that time was .925, which is only a shade better than James Reimer from 2012-16 (.924) despite playing on much better teams.

That’s also part of the reaction: Reimer has become an aggrieved party for Leafs fans, his only sin being that management didn’t seem him as a franchise goalie. So to see Andersen’s numbers match those of Reimer only underscores that discontent.

(I’ve also seen Vesa Toskala reference more in the last 24 hours than in perhaps the last three years, so I wonder if there’s a little xenophobic PTSD here with a non-North American goalie getting the Leafs’ gig for the next five years.)

So why Andersen? James Mirtle of the Globe & Mail offers this:

One of the things the Leafs were believed to be looking into was finding a netminder who was a good fit in Babcock’s defensive system. Someone who could stop the kind of shots that his teams give up – that sort of minutiae. (After all, this is the rare franchise that knows the style it will be playing for quite some time.)

Andersen also has some indirect ties to the Leafs organization through goalie coach Steve Briere, who is a proponent of Lyle Mast’s head trajectory technique, which has helped several goalies in recent years, including Devan Dubnyk, Reimer and Andersen. Connect the dots and there are some connections.

This is a big connection, by the way. Briere is a disciple of Mitch Korn, the Washington Capitals goalie guru. Besides technique, Korn is also one of the most innovative minds in hockey when it comes to goalie analytics. So if there are questions about “numbers we don’t see” on Andersen, and how he might fit Mike Babcock’s system better than someone like Reimer, then we’re wager that Briere presented them in those brain-trust meetings with Lou Lamoriello (held in the back room of a high-end steak house with velvet curtains, no doubt).

Kevin Woodley, goalie genius for InGoal Magazine, said: “As much as [the Ducks] are enamored with the raw skill of John Gibson, there’s not much of a fall-off with the skill of Freddie Andersen. I think with the structure of a Mike Babcock team, he can excel there.”

Is Andersen a good investment? He’s one of the safer ones: Turning 27 years old; a big body (6-4-ish); enough of a work history to know his plus, minuses and work ethic (like, for example, his work on puck-tracking with Mast); a late bloomer you may have just locked up for his prime years. The fact is that he’s a more known commodity than Martin Jones was when the Sharks traded for him or when Cam Talbot was acquired by the Oilers.

Lamoriello probably sees this as a mini-version of the Cory Schneider deal: It all starts from the back end, and you have to ante up to get anything close to a known commodity in this league. We knew who Schneider was. We have at least a hunch who Andersen is. 

So put me down for good investment. Even with the cost, both in picks and price.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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