With the Toronto Maple Leafs landing John Tavares this summer, some players have been left in the dark. Not anymore however. Amongst players ready to surge and make a push for a full-time roster spot, there is backup netminder Curtis McElhinney is ready to make a push despite heavy competition in between the pipes.
With a new contract after he was claimed in January 2017 by the Leafs, McElhinney was named backup for the 2017-2018 season over the other goalies in the organization and even Calvin Pickard, who was claimed off waivers from the Vegas Golden Nights. However, now, besides Pickard, McElhinney will also have to look out for young goalie Garret Sparks, the reigning American Hockey League goalie of the year.
“Really it’s the same situation for me every year,” McElhinney said between on-ice sessions at MasterCard Centre on Wednesday to TSN's Kristen Shilton. “Those two guys are knocking on the door. One of them [Pickard] has played a lot of [NHL] games and Sparks has played a few, so it’s just the reality of the situation right now.”
Last year was arguably McElhinney’s best as a backup in the NHL. He posted a record of 11-5-1, with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage, along with three shutouts, including an unforgettable 41 save performance against the Edmonton Oilers.
He is ready for more and to prove to general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock that he should stay on board this season behind Frederik Andersen as he has shown himself to be a reliable and experienced backup netminder.
“You just have to get used to it. [Young guys] need their shot and want to move things along,” McElhinney said. “Obviously there’s a comfort level with the team now. But as a backup – and a career backup at that – it’s hard to stay anywhere for any length of time, just based on the situation within the organization.”
McElhinney remains aware that Pickard and Sparks will go after his job... so he plans on remaining friendly but focused on the job.
“I don’t know if we’ll have a lot of conversations now,” McElhinney said with a laugh about Sparks. “We’ll [make some] small talk, but once we hit the ice, it’s all business. I like him a lot. I think he’s a great kid. He’s worked hard and done everything he can at the American League level.”
For now, McElhinney has been working closely with Leafs newly hired goaltending assistant Jon Elkin. Then, the battle will begin at camp.