Garret Sparks is a very interesting name in Toronto. He began his NHL career with a shutout versus the Connor McDavid-less Edmonton Oilers, before suffering an injury and faltering to an .893 save percentage in 17 appearances.
Two years later, Sparks is looking to fight his way back into the NHL. Now waivers eligible, Sparks will need an incredible camp if he wants to beat out Curtis McElhinney for the backup job, or be picked up off of waivers.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Garret Sparks
For the first time in his career in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, Garret Sparks played for just one team, the Toronto Marlies. After years of splitting time between the Orlando Solar Bears, Marlies, and even Leafs, Sparks was finally able to play for just one team in 2016-17. He was called up to the Leafs as an emergency call up, but did not dress.
Sparks once again posted incredible numbers in the American Hockey League, going 21-9-0 in 31 games. Over that time, he posted a .922 SV% and a 2.16 goals-against average, good for seventh in the AHL for goaltenders with a minimum of 30 games played.
The problem for Sparks was injuries, an issue that has haunted him his entire career. He will be looking to remain healthy all year for the first time in his career in 2017-18. If he accomplishes this, he could very easily find himself in the NHL in some capacity by the end of the year.
Another issue Sparks faced in 2017-18 was a suspension. But not by the American Hockey League, rather the Toronto Maple Leafs. On Sparks’ Facebook group, Goalie Gear Sluts United, he responded to a comment in a vulgar way, leading to the suspension by the Leafs.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 201 lbs
NHL Draft: Seventh Round, 190th Overall in 2011 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
On July 1, Garret Sparks signed a two-year extension with the Leafs. The deal carries a cap hit of $675,000, and will pay him $650,000 in the NHL this year and $700,000 in year two.
The interesting part of this contract is the structure. In year one, Sparks will have a two-way contract, paying him $200,000 in the minors if he were to pass through waivers at the end of training camp (a likely scenario). In year two, however, the contract becomes one-way.
This subtle detail seems to imply that the Maple Leafs will be looking to have a battle in 2018-19 between Sparks and McElhinney for the backup job. Both are under one-way contracts for that season, while we all know Frederik Andersen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
For the 2017-18 year, however, Sparks is almost guaranteed to be in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies. It is very unlikely he beats McElhinney out of camp for the backup job, while it is also unlikely he is claimed off of waivers.
Sparks will undoubtedly be the starter with the Marlies, however. His only competition comes in the form of Kasimir Kaskisuo, who, after a disappointing year in the ECHL, took the Marlies by storm after Sparks’ injury. Although Kaskisuo could push Sparks for time, the Leafs look to be set on giving a healthy Sparks starters minutes to see if he can push McElhinney for time in the NHL.
Though Sparks has been incredibly successful statistically in the AHL, most of the fan base only sees him as one of the goaltenders the Leafs used en route to Auston Matthews and the first overall pick. Sparks deserves another shot in the NHL, whether it be with the Maple Leafs or elsewhere. On a two-year deal and apparent faith from Toronto’s management, he could find himself in a Leafs uniform sooner rather than later.