Hello Leafs fans. Are you triggered yet?
Listen, I'm not here to tell you that Garret Sparks is the saviour of the Leafs because he won a single game against a non-playoff team. In fact, I still think that Frederik Andersen should seriously be considered as a Vezina finalist (just look at the defence in front of him). The sole reason I think Sparks should be starting the majority of games from here until the end of the season... Load management.
Now I know load management is basically a swear word for typical hockey guys, and according to them anyone who rests just isn't tough enough to play hockey, but ultimately, that's just not true. Ask any sports scientist on this planet and they will tell you that an athlete needs rest in order to perform at their highest level.
Goalies are no different. The argument for Freddie this season has been that his games played is down from last season because of injury, and thus, he's already had his rest. If you look at his season however, he is still likely to play 61 games this year, compared to the 66 that he played last year. Given there was only one back to back in the eight games that Freddie missed, he technically would be on pace for 69 games.
Realistically, with the injury that he dealt with, it wasn't like he was getting much of a rest as it was. It was three weeks of rehab to try and get his lower body back to game shape in order to come back at full strength. You'd think that after something like that, Mike Babcock would ease him back into action right? Of course not.
The Leafs have played 29 games since Freddie returned from injury; He has been the starter for 24 of 29 games played. Worst of all, those five games that he didn't play were back to backs that no starter in the league plays both of anyways. So essentially Babcock has pushed Andersen to the absolute limit despite being visibly exhausted last year, and injured this year.
It's very clear that something isn't working for Freddie. In his last four starts Freddie's respective save percentages have been .789, .714, .793, and .895. Those numbers are shocking for a guy that sports a .919 save percentage as his season total. Maybe it's time to give him a couple nights off. Queue Garret Sparks.
Obviously things have been interesting to say the least for the Maple Leafs back up goaltender this season, but to say that he isn't an NHL goalie is ignorant to say the least. The problem that Leafs fans and media alike have, is that they expect Sparks to come into the net twice a month and dominate the same way that Freddie does. Realistically there isn't a goalie in the league that can play twice a month and put up Vezina-like numbers.
There are eight games left in the season for the Maple Leafs, if Sparks is to start four five of them, then you will get to huge benefits for the Maple Leafs. First and foremost you get to rest Frederik Andersen and make sure he's healthy for the playoffs (a thing he has struggled to do since arriving in Toronto). Secondly, you will see exactly what Garret Sparks has in a consistent starting role. Maybe, just maybe, you will see just how impressive of a goalie he can be, and if not, you know you'll need someone else going forward.
"But you already have Hutch" cried your drunk uncle from Sudbury who only believes in the eye test. If there are still those of you that agree, let me put that to rest. In nine NHL games this season, Hutch sports a 3.27 GAA and an .887 save percentage. Sparks meanwhile, has a 3.16 GAA and a .903 save percentage on a "bad year". His career AHL numbers aren't even as good as Sparks', so let's not pretend like he's a better option.
Bottom line is that Freddie could definitely use some rest, and Sparks is trying to be a leader by calling out his team. Maybe the time is now to let him put his money where his mouth is, while also keeping Freddie as fresh as you can.
Garret Sparks as a starter... Maybe not as questionable as you think right?