Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen will start in an NHL game for the first time in nearly two months when the team visits the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.
“He feels real good coming off (practice) today so the plan is for him tomorrow in Ottawa,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Tuesday.
Andersen last played in the NHL on Mar. 19 when he allowed four goals on 18 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames.
One day earlier, Andersen admitted he wasn’t playing at 100 percent health. While the goaltender rehabbed his ailment, Jack Campbell thrived as the team’s starting goaltender by establishing a new NHL record 11 wins to start a season. As Campbell took the net, Andersen emerged in mid-April when he joined the team for the tail end of practice sessions and skills days on their four-game road trip through Vancouver and Winnipeg.
This past week, Andersen joined the Toronto Marlies for a conditioning stint. He played in 1.5 games with the AHL club and allowed six goals on 52 shots.
With his imminent return to the active roster, Andersen will get some NHL reps in before he becomes an option for the team in the playoffs, which are slated to start sometime next week.
“I’m not going to read too much into any one particular game just like how I’m not going to read too much into his AHL conditioning stint,” Keefe said of Andersen. “This is all about him feeling comfortable and feeling good.”
As Andersen rehabbed his injury, the team took advantage of the goaltender’s $5 million cap hit and placed the goaltender on long-term injured reserve. That allowed for some flexibility to the lineup and helped the team acquire more players near the deadline. Those players included forwards Nick Foligno, defenseman Ben Hutton and goaltender David Rittich.
On Apr. 9, the Leafs acquired forward Riley Nash from the Blue Jackets for a conditional draft pick. Nash was not on long-term injured reserve at the time and the team put Andersen on LTIR to make room for Nash’s acquisition. That had to be done before Nash, who was just on injured reserve at the time, could be put on LTIR.
At practice, the Leafs iced what looked like a potential playoff lineup. That included injured forwards Zach Hyman (knee) and Riley Nash (knee), prompting some thought that both players could be ready to return.
That included forward Alex Galchenyuk serving as extra at practice for the first time since becoming a regular staple on the team’s top-six forward group.
The Leafs, under their current roster construction as of Tuesday morning, do not have the salary cap space to have Andersen, Hyman and Nash on the active roster before the playoffs.
Keefe later confirmed that Hyman and Nash are not yet available.
According to PuckPedia.com, the Leafs have just under $1.9 million in cap space. The roster had Rasmus Sandin on it. If the defenseman is taken out of the lineup, that increases the number to roughly $2.786 million. To get Andersen activated, the Leafs would still need $2.214 million in space.
Hyman is eligible for LTIR and placing the forward on that list creates $2.25 million, which clears the threshold for Andersen’s activation. This is the likely scenario to play out prior to Wednesday’s game.
Forward Nick Foligno is a game-time decision, according to Keefe. As is Justin Holl. The defenseman took part in practice after he missed a skill-based session on Monday.
It remains a mystery as to which goaltender starts for the Leafs for Game 1 of the NHL playoffs. But for now, Andersen is going to get a shot to get up to game speed.