There will be quite the battle during the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp next week, when three players will be fighting for the same spot. With a new contract after he was claimed in January 2017 by the Leafs, Curtis McElhinney was named backup for the 2017-2018 season over the other goalies in the organization including Calvin Pickard, who was claimed off waivers from the Vegas Golden Nights. Besides Pickard, McElhinney will also have to look out for young goalie Garret Sparks, the reigning American Hockey League goalie of the year.
However, Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun reports that Sparks faces an uncertain future with the Maple Leafs. Last year was arguably McElhinney’s best as a backup in the NHL, as he posted a record of 11-5-1, with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage, along with three shutouts. If McElhinney remains their backup for the coming season, the Leafs face a dilemma. Sparks would have to clear waivers, but it seems like a trade is in the books for the 25-year-old Sparks...
"The Leafs could put either backup on waivers, but also deal Sparks rather than risk losing him for nothing. Teams will likely examine what they have in their own house first, starting the regular schedule with their goalies before looking elsewhere."
Last season, Sparks won 31 games, put up a save percentage of .936 and was in goal for 14 of 15 playoff victories. He will be on a one-way deal at $675,000 this season, but the question remains: where will that be?
“If you don’t make the team out of camp, every NHL team has a chance to lay claim to you,” Sparks said to the Toronto Sun Wednesday at the team’s summer skate. “(Waivers) is not something I’m looking forward to. That’s a stressful process. (But) if my worst-case scenario is that I wind up playing for the Marlies, I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again."
The competition will be fierce at training camp and Sparks isn't the only one aware of it.
“We’re all in similar situations, but there is only on spot,” McElhinney said. “We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Hornby believes it might shake out in a trade... Sparks could be on his way out and bring back an interesting return. But the Leafs better pull it off before it's too late.