I’ve seen some mixed reactions to this trade among Crunch fans and AHL media so I wanted to see if I could find some reasoning behind the move. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an AHL expert but I’m relying heavily on people who watch the team frequently to help me fill in the gaps.
Making a trade for a goaltender this early in the year seems a little strange. Michael Leighton, whom the Lightning sent to Arizona along with forward Tye McGinn, has been a solid AHL goalie over the last three seasons, putting up approximately a .920 save percentage. The idea entering the season was to pair him as the veteran with developing prospect Connor Ingram.
That plan has not gone well. The Crunch have been sunk by their goaltending early in the season. They have a league worst .859 save percentage through thirteen games. It’s hard to convey how bad that is. No team can be successful in front of that kind of performance in net. And that’s the most frustrating part because the Crunch have been good aside from their goaltending.
They currently sit second in the league at controlling shots on goal. They’ve given up the second-least shots against through thirteen games. They’ve controlled 56% of the shots, which is second in the AHL so far. But that hasn’t mattered because 14% of the shots that get through are ending up in the net, and that’s impossible to overcome.
Both of our Crunch writers, Allovimo and Brandon Curtis, have indicated that the defense has been poor at times and that the goaltenders have had to deal with high quality shots against. That could definitely be part of the problem this year. But it can’t be all of the problem. A team that’s giving up so few shots should be getting better results even if some of the shots they’re allowing are more dangerous.
Given that, it’s easy to understand why the front office pinpointed the goaltending as the problem. The issue is that thirteen games is a very small sample and Leighton has a recent track record of good play. But he’s also 35 years old and it isn’t unreasonable to think that age has finally caught up to him. Very few goalies play well into their mid-30s so Leighton was already at the far end of the aging curve.
If the team saw something in his play that made them think that was the case, it makes sense to try to address the problem now. They don’t really have any other options in the organization to be the number one goalie in Syracuse and they definitely don’t have anyone else who would be capable of picking up games in Tampa in an injury situation.
So that brings us to Louis Domingue. He’s had a rough run in Arizona this year. He seems to pretty clearly be at the lower end of the backup pecking order among NHL goalies. But the lower end of backups also puts him at the top of the list for third goalies. Going from being peppered non-stop by shots from NHL skaters to facing relatively few shots from AHL skaters should lead to a big change in performance for Domingue.
When he was last in the AHL in 2015-2016, he had a .919 save percentage as a 23 year old. With two more years of experience, he’s in his prime now. Goalie performance is difficult to predict but this seems to be a good bet by the Lightning.
Using some ill-advised back-of-the-napkin math, a .919 save percentage this season would push the Crunch from being a -7 in goal differential through thirteen games to a +12, which would put them among the top five teams in the league. There’s no guarantee Domingue will play that well but even reasonable goaltending would be a huge improvement.
The price, Leighton and McGinn, seems to be the sticking point for some. I would argue that it’s more than fair. The team obviously didn’t want Leighton so that’s a non-issue but McGinn was playing regular minutes and was one of the few veteran leaders on a young team. I’m not here to say that leadership doesn’t matter. But I am here to say that a team can’t win games with .860 goaltending. And given that McGinn had just five points so far this season, I feel confident in saying that even considering all the factors, the Crunch got the better end of this deal.
With McGinn gone, the Crunch have room to add another forward. They have a couple of options including Jason Akeson who was recently released from a PTO after showing fairly well. Captain Erik Condra is also back with the team after returning from injury. That should help address any issues with leadership that occurred in his absence.
Projecting outcomes for goalies is always a risky and Domingue playing well is far from a guarantee. But for a team that was sinking under the weight of its goaltending, the Crunch have bet wisely here. If they continue to outshoot their opponents at this pace and Domingue plays to his ability, this team should start winning games.