Not too long ago on Raw Charge, we wrote about whether it was time to part ways with goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. We made good points about his play and how he’s been used, and concluded that the way he was deployed last season was not ideal for his development. He was shuttled back and forth between Tampa and Syracuse just to sit as backup in Tampa while Andrei Vasilevskiy got starts in Syracuse.
Gudlevskis has also been a consistently inconsistent goalie for most of his professional career. When the stakes are high, he seems to show up huge for his team. You need to look no further than his absolutely heroic, even legendary, performance for Team Latvia against Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He nearly carried his team to an enormous upset against a vastly superior team. In his last NHL start over a year ago, he shut out the Chicago Blackhawks through regulation before losing in overtime.
But when the pressure is off, he seems to go into stretches where he has mentally lapsed. It’s frustrating because when he is on a hot streak, you see a goaltender that has the ability to be an NHL starter and a very good one at that. When he’s off, he looks like a career minor leaguer or European goaltender.
The trade deadline is still a ways away. Gudlevskis has regressed this season, with his save percentage dipping to an abysmal .875. He seems to be a change of scenery candidate for a bounce back, and perhaps this could be a driving motivator for GM Steve Yzerman to make a trade. This begs the question of where he could land. In some discussions between the staff, one destination came up that had a pretty strong motivation of its own to move a goaltending prospect.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have their own change of scenery candidate in Garret Sparks. He has played well in his AHL career and is having a good enough year in six games for the Toronto Marlies this season, going 4-2-0. However, he recently was suspended by the Maple Leafs organization for an online outburst.
The Maple Leafs have had some shuffling going on with their goaltenders. Jhonas Enroth was put on waivers and sent to the AHL. Antoine Bibeau was promoted to be Frederick Andersen’s backup in Toronto. Kari Ramo has signed a PTO with the Toronto Marlies. Jeff Glass has also been with the Marlies on a PTO. The Marlies are a talented AHL team, but are 3-6-1-0 in their last ten games.
The Leafs are actually a little bit crowded at goal but with Ramo and Glass both on try-out deals, Toronto is not necessarily committed to hanging on to them all. If they think enough of Gudlevskis’ potential, then he could be tempting for them to target, especially while moving on from Sparks. If this deal were to happen, I think it would be a straight up trade between the two players. There may be a small pick or low-end prospect to even out the value on one side or the other, but that may not be necessary.
One big advantage to picking up Sparks though is his incredible pad game. He made quite a splash with his checker board pattern on his leg pads with little Leafs logos inside them. Imagine if he did that with lightning bolts? Check out his pads, and mask, oh and some great saves that show off his skills in this highlight video.
Back to Gudlevskis
Gudlevskis has picked up a little bit in his last few starts, but that doesn’t necessarily change the feeling of his perhaps needing a change and a different path to the NHL. With Toronto, he would be competing with Antoine Bibeau for the back up spot, especially next season.
Gudlevskis tends to play a very aggressive style challenging shooters. It does have a tendency to get him out of position and into trouble though. At times, he makes up for it with his flexibility and speed. You’ll see him make a number of impossible looking splits in the process of making a save.
With Tampa, it’s quite possible he won’t get the chance to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy next season, if GM Steve Yzerman signs (or acquires in a trade with Dallas for Ben Bishop) a veteran goaltender to serve as Vasilevskiy’s backup.
Meanwhile, Sparks would provide a solid number three behind the veteran back-up while competing with Adam Wilcox in Syracuse, who has had a very good sophomore campaign thus far. And Sparks would definitely benefit from a lower-pressure hockey market, where the occasional online outburst will garner much less press than it would in the center of the hockey universe.
Seeing that a trade hasn’t happened yet may mean that neither team is really too keen on moving on from either goaltender. But if Gudlevskis continues to be up and down, and if Sparks continues to lose starts to Enroth, Ramo, and Glass, then watch for this trade to possibly happen after the holiday roster freeze.