The RFA qualifying deadline came and went on Monday with the following news from the Toronto Maple Leafs:
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) June 26, 2017
Absent from the list: Sergey Kalinin, Antoine Bibeau, and Seth Griffith.
|Qualified?||Name||Age||Position||2016-17 Salary||Waivers Exempt||Arbitration Eligible|
The only minor surprise here, if there is one, is goaltender Antoine Bibeau being let go. With the emergence of college signing Kasimir Kaskisuo down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Marlies, Joseph Woll in NCAA and the addition of Ian Scott of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday — on top of the qualified Garret Sparks (who will likely enter the 2017-18 season as the Leafs‘ third netminder on the depth chart, once they add an NHL backup) — the Leafs have decided to go in another direction with a goaltender who showed signs of promise at times but could never put it together consistently over his three AHL seasons.
It is only surprising in the sense that it would’ve been hard to foresee this happening as recently as late 2016. Bibeau was named the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month in October after posting a 5-0-1 record, two shutouts, and a .944 save percentage in his first six starts. He later went on to post his third shutout in his first eight starts of 2016-17 in early November.
The wheels fell off immediately following his third shutout. After winning five of his first six, he lost five of the following six and saw the net more sparingly from there on out. He appeared in two games for the Leafs in December — one hard-luck loss against Colorado followed by his first career NHL win versus Tampa Bay — before returning to the Marlies and continuing his inconsistent form. Upon return from big-club duty, he was above .900 in just six of his final 19 starts of the season.
With Kaskisuo recalled and winning games in March, Bibeau hit a low point in his AHL career when he allowed seven goals in under 20 minutes with the Marlies leading 4-1 entering the third period against Binghamton on March 18. That was his last start as a Marlie, with his only other appearance coming in a 37-minute relief effort during an 8-5 loss to Syracuse in Game 2 of the Conference semifinals.
The 23-year-old was drafted as a 19-year-old out of the QMJHL in the sixth round of 2012 after a good season for the Prince Edward Island Rockets. Traded to Val d’Or part way through the following season, he turned some heads throughout the QMJHL championship run by the Foreurs, posting a .932 save percentage in the playoffs. He was a star in the 2014 Memorial Cup, blanking the London Knights with a jaw-dropping 51-save shutout in the opener and turning aside 41 shots in Val d’Or’s victory over Edmonton.
After signing his entry-level contract in the wake of those performances, Bibeau’s rookie season in the AHL was a reasonably promising one with a .913 save percentage and a 15-10-5 record. Unfortunately, his numbers have only declined from there in the subsequent two seasons with a .909 followed by a .894 in 2016-17. With his numbers trending in the wrong direction — and particularly with the way he fell out of favour down the stretch of 2016-17 — this became something of an inevitability. The Marlies were never going to carry three goaltenders on NHL contracts in 2017-18.
– Qualifying Zach Hyman and Connor Brown was obviously a no-brainer. I took a look at what their second contracts might look like earlier in the offseason.
– Seth Griffith was essentially brought back to Toronto as a mercenary for the Marlies’ playoff push, to good effect — his 44 points in 38 games helped the Marlies make it in so that the team’s young talent could gain some valuable playoff experience. But the Leafs weren’t going to dedicate an SPC slot to a player who Mike Babcock didn’t have any use for and who was subsequently placed on waivers after his three appearances in late October, especially with their depth up front.
– Defenceman Justin Holl was the other player, like Bibeau, who was a little iffy to receive a QO. After signing an NHL deal last summer, he didn’t show much progress for most of the regular season, but he stepped it up later on, especially in the playoffs — he put up seven points in 11 games and was a real presence at times leading rushes offensively. The 25-year-old brings some depth on the right side, he’s got some size, and he can definitely skate. He’ll be a key piece for the Marlies on the backend, and if the Leafs run into serious injury trouble on the blue line at any point, he could probably take an NHL shift in a pinch.