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Above the 49: Leafs' pursuit of Kiprusoff is counterintuitive
By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - The Toronto Maple Leafs have made no secret they would like to upgrade their goaltending depth by Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, but their pursuit of Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff seems counterintuitive to that goal.
The 36-year-old Kiprusoff is among a number of goaltenders who has been linked to the Leafs in trade rumors throughout the season, but it's only in the last couple days that his name has really come up as a leading contender after it was reported Toronto had sought and received permission to talk to Kiprusoff's agent regarding a potential trade.
Looking at statistics alone, it's hard to suggest Kiprusoff would be an upgrade in net over James Reimer, the Leafs' current No. 1 netminder.
Kiprusoff has battled injuries this season and, when he's been in the lineup, his numbers have been atrocious. His 3.64 goals against average is the highest among regular starting goaltenders in the NHL while his .868 save percentage is the lowest among fellow No. 1 netminders around the league.
It might not be fair to judge Kiprusoff - who is a former Vezina Trophy winner - on the basis of this season's performance alone given his overall strong body of work throughout his career. However, as far as the Leafs are concerned, that's exactly what they have to do.
If the Leafs were to trade for Kiprusoff, they would be doing so with the full understanding that he would strictly be a rental player even though he still has one year left remaining on his contract following this season.
It has been suggested that Kiprusoff may choose to retire at the end of the season instead of playing out the remainder of his contract, which sees him earn just $1.5 million next season, down from the pro-rated $5 million that he pocked this year.
If he plays next season, he would carry a cap hit of $5.83 million, which would be an albatross for any team to carry in a season when the salary cap will be going down, especially for a goaltender whose best days appear to be behind him.
There's no logical reason for the Leafs to bring in Kiprusoff unless they were planning to hand him the starter's gig with no strings attached. Acquiring Kiprusoff only to have him sit on the bench and back up Reimer would make even less sense especially when you consider there are better alternatives out there - such as impending unrestricted free agents Nikolai Khabibulin of Edmonton and Mathieu Garon of Tampa Bay - if the Leafs were only in the market for depth behind Reimer.
If the Leafs are at the point where they feel they are on the cusp of becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and that Reimer, despite his strong campaign this season, is not going to be the one to lead them to the Promise Land now or ever, then they need to make a bolder move and bring in a bona fide No. 1 netminder not just for this season but for years to come. That bona fide starter could be someone like Vancouver's Roberto Luongo or Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier, but it certainly is not Kiprusoff.
If the Leafs truly believe Reimer can develop into an elite NHL netminder, then bringing in Kiprusoff, knowing they would have to give him the lion's share of starts down the stretch, would only serve to hinder Reimer's development and rob him of a valuable chance to gain some much-needed playoff experience, assuming the Leafs don't slip up in the final month of the regular season and end up on the outside looking in.
Either way, the Leafs, through action or inaction, will be making a huge decision about their future between the pipes on Wednesday.
For their own sake, the Kiprusoff rumors will be just that and nothing more.
04/03 11:27:28 ET
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