The Leafs are three games into the 2020-21 season, and naturally, the world has already ended for Leafs Nation. After a brief training camp and no preseason, the Leafs were predictably sloppy in a 5-4 OT win opening night against Montreal, were significantly more sloppier against the Senators on Friday, and finally seemed to figure stuff out a little bit on Saturday’s rematch against Ottawa until score effects kicked in in the third.
Now, it’s too early in the season to really come to any conclusions about this team just yet. You could chalk the sloppy games up to rust and trying to figure out systems, and you could chalk the good game up to the fact that they were playing the Senators. As Bob McKenzie always said, he never really starts evaluating players and teams for about a month after the season due to the fact that it’s mostly just noise. And he’s right.
While even at that point, 15-20 games is still a really small sample size, you can start to use it to get a better idea of the teams and players. Three games is definitely too small.
Now, one player on the Leafs who’s turned into the new whipping boy is Frederik Andersen. After the worst season of his career in 2019-20, he has started the season with two pretty bad games, leaving fans concerned (and angry) that we’re in for another bad season from Fred. Is it understandable? Yes. Is it justifiable? Eh, not really. At least not yet.
One of the biggest talking points I see about Andersen is how he’s been bad for a while now. And from a perspective purely of time, that is true. Since the start of 2020, so over a year, he has been very bad. One of the worst goalies in the league, in fact.
However, I think we’re forgetting just how little hockey Frederik Andersen has played over the last year. Since the start of 2020, Andersen has played just 27 NHL games, 28 if you want to count that exhibition game they played before the playoffs in July. That’s 20 games during the 2019-20 regular season, five games in the playoffs, and two games this season so far.
Not just that, but it’s been pretty spread out too. He played the 20 regular season games from January to March, waited nearly five months before playing in the playoffs in August, and has since waited another 5 months before the start of the regular season. So, that’s five games over the course of 10 months.
Like I said before though, he hasn’t been that good since the start of 2020, especially compared to the rest of his career with the Leafs. Here’s his numbers with the Leafs season by season, with 2019-20 separated to 2019 and 2020, because while people seem to lump the whole season as him being bad, he was doing pretty well until the start of 2020.
So one thing to point out, there were 41 goalies ranked for the January to March sample. Andersen finished 41st in all three stats. When I say he was the worst starter since 2020 started, I wasn’t exaggerating, he was actually the worst goalie of the bunch.
However, that also occurred over a sample of just 20 games. The remaining three and a half years saw him play 224 games, while consistently playing above average, sometimes getting closer to being a great starting goalie. There was a reason we called him Steady Freddy for the first few years: he was consistently very good. Never good enough to get a Vezina, but never bad enough to hurt the Leafs.
Until 2020. Since then, he has been so bad that it’s been costing the Leafs wins, and that has carried over into this season thus far. The concerns that Andersen is bad are certainly legitimate, even though it is a bit reactionary.
Basically, we’re talking about 224 games of Andersen being one of the better goalies in the NHL versus 20 games of him being the worst. And for the time being, I’m going to stick with the much larger sample, and bank on Andersen returning to form until we start to see a better sample of Andersen being really bad.
The main reason for this is because, well, goalies are voodoo. Goalies are consistently the toughest position to evaluate because of how much of a role luck can play into their performance. I mean, we use PDO to judge luck, and half of that is literally based on a goalie’s save percentage. You can use all of this data to try and evaluate them, but even then, you’re still shooting blind.
However, players always seem to have a season or two where they have their “worst season”, and it’s often plagued by bad luck. It happens to players, and it happens to goalies. Sometimes they regress and have their “best season”, or sometimes they just continue playing to their usual performance. There’s a very good chance that Andersen’s performance in 2020 could just simply be bad luck, and he’ll rebound with a good season.
There’s also a very good chance that this could be Andersen aging. He turned 31 back in October, and we could be seeing the start of his physical decline. It happens to best of goalies. Cory Schneider is a very good example, as he was arguably one of the best goalies in the league in his prime, and then he turned 30 and could barely hold his own in the NHL. The same might be happening to Andersen.
Fortunately for the Leafs though, Andersen isn’t in year two of a seven year, $6 million AAV deal when this happened like Schneider was. So, the Leafs are in a situation where they can run out the season, see how Andersen does, and if it is in fact aging instead of luck, they can cut ties with him and send him to free agency. They aren’t stuck with him any longer, and they aren’t tied to a massive cap hit.
One final thing I’ll quickly address as a reminder to everyone as Andersen enters his third game of the year is that Andersen always has bad starts (except for 2018-19 where he was really good, but again, goalies are voodoo). What we’ve seen from Andersen so far isn’t exactly out of the norm for him either.
So, to conclude, yes, Andersen has been bad for the last year. There’s definitely a cause for concern, considering his age, but right now, there’s a lot of evidence that points to this being more due to a small sample size and his usual bad starts than it is him being bad. For now.
I’m not going to stubbornly defend him either. If this continues for a lot more of the regular season, then there’s a lot more evidence to support it and we’re probably looking at Andersen declining.
So, all I ask of you Leafs fans, is can we at least wait another couple months before we launch Freddie into the sun? It will be a lot better for my sanity, and yours as well.