TORONTO — It seems to be the advice you get in just about any walk of life. Take it one day at a time. Don’t look too far ahead.
Entering the final year of his contract into a season unlike any other, Frederik Andersen rebuffed a question about what constitutes a good year for the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender.
“Staying in the moment is my goal right now, and all these other questions are really just distractions,” Andersen told reporters in a Zoom teleconference on Tuesday. “It’s not going to do anything, good or bad, to think about that stuff.”
In his defense, Andersen prefaced those comments by saying it was a good question.
Distractions are plentiful. So let’s assess the situation.
Last week, Andersen acknowledged reports that he and the Maple Leafs “had some talks, but not so much right now.”
Apart from trying to stay safe and healthy amid a worldwide pandemic, there is a cloud of uncertainty about where Andersen fits in with the Maple Leafs’ long-term plans.
Entering the fifth year of a contract that pays him $5 million annually, Andersen had a forgettable 2019-20 regular season. His .909 save percentage ranked 35th among goaltenders who played in at least eight games. During the playoffs, he redeemed himself with a .936 save percentage and the Danish goaltender performed about as well as you could ask from your starter. The problem was the team in front of him couldn’t score, as the Maple Leafs fell to Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in their best-of-five qualifying-round series in August.
For Andersen and the Maple Leafs, it was a long summer (and in this weird year, fall).
His contract became a topic of trade speculation. With 80 percent of his salary for the upcoming season paid in signing bonus on July 1, Andersen’s remaining financial commitment of $1 million looked like an attractive piece for teams looking to spend less money.
But the timing of the pandemic — and the lack of a clear timeline to get past it — is where Andersen’s situation becomes complex.
The salary cap for 2021-22, the season that Andersen heads into free agency, is likely to stay flat at $81.5 million, with league-wide revenues on a rapid decline.
“We’re out of the ‘M’ range and into the ‘B’ range,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a Zoom conference with reports on Monday, referring to billions lost instead of millions.
If Andersen has a career-best season and helps guide the Leafs into a deep playoff run, he’ll want a raise. The largest amount of money paid to a goalie this past offseason on an average annual value was Matt Murray with the Ottawa Senators at $6.25 million. With teams becoming fickle about their cap situation, the appetite to commit large sums of money to a starting goaltender is waning.
If Andersen has a season similar season to any of his last four with Toronto, it’ll be challenging for the Maple Leafs to ask for Andersen to take a pay cut. Paying the goaltender the same (or more) money could be difficult for Toronto, given their strained salary cap situation.
Before the pandemic, the Leafs counted on annual cap increases to doll out required raises and recruit players. In a flat-cap world, finding an ideal situation where Andersen fits perfectly and is compensated at the right level will be tough.
If Andersen performs below expectations, the Maple Leafs may look at cheaper avenues of improving their goaltending altogether.
Evaluating this season may also pose a challenge for the Maple Leafs. While past results are not always an indication of future success, Andersen has a career record of 53-11-14 against Canadian teams with three shutouts and a .920 save percentage.
Granted, the Canadian teams made some strides in improving their squads this summer, but Andersen’s record stands out in a year where all games will be with Canadian opponents.
If Andersen’s going to have a career year and help his team get over their recent playoff malaise, there is no time like the present. Assessing what it will mean and finding the right compensation is where it gets tricky.