T-Birds’ decision to stick with Toth in net paying off
As January 10th’s WHL trade deadline approached, some wondered whether the Thunderbirds might look for an upgrade at goalie, where Rylan Toth had put together a relatively inconsistent first half of the season. With many believing that this is Seattle’s best — and perhaps final — chance to make a long playoff run with the current crop of players, a perceived weakness in net could prove to be their achilles heel.
Toth seemed like the perfect fit in Seattle when he was acquired on September 16. With two unproven options in net in Logan Flodell and Ryan Gilchrist, trading for a 20-year-old netminder with extensive playoff and Memorial Cup experience was a no-brainer. Adding Toth to the roster resulted in a flurry of other moves, including the trades of both Flodell and Gilchrist to Eastern Conference teams.
The first half of the season was up-and-down for Toth, something both he and the front office would be the first to admit. His 13-13-1-0 record, .893 save percentage, and 2.95 goals against average certainly weren’t lighting the league on fire, and after Landon Bow spoiled the Seattle fan base after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, it was hard not to compare the two.
It didn’t take long for the critics to emerge, demanding a new face in net so as not to cripple a team that had so much potential moving forward. Suggestions for who might actually be an upgrade were few and far between, and any trade likely would have meant another complete shakeup of Seattle’s roster.
Of the teams who might be looking to sell at the deadline, there weren’t any veterans who represented an immediate improvement. Assuming then that you can’t acquire a better 20-year-old, you’re likely trading for someone younger, and then going out and trading for or signing another overager to fill the void left by Toth. Finding a spot for that player means someone else gets moved, and the dominoes continue to fall, resulting in more disruptions to a team that was having a hard time jelling with the late additions of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, and the injured Keegan Kolesar to the roster.
Ultimately the T-Birds decided to stick it out with Toth. Where has that left them?
Since Christmas, Toth is 8-2-0-0, improving his season record to 21-15-1-0. His 21 wins rank fifth in the WHL. His save percentage has jumped from .893 to .904. His goals against average has dropped from 2.95 to 2.68, ranking him fourth in the league among starters. As icing on the cake, he was named WHL Goaltender of the Week for the week ending on January 22. In those three games, he went 2-1-0-0 and posted a .944 save percentage and 1.01 goals against average.
Most importantly, the Thunderbirds are 8-2-1-0 over their past 11 games. They’ve moved from two points behind the Portland Winterhawks in the standings and fourth in the U.S. Division on December 27 to seven points above them and third in the U.S. as of today.
During this stretch, the Saskatoon, Sask. native’s save percentage has fallen below .900 only once, in a 6-4 victory over the Spokane Chiefs on January 15 when Seattle didn’t play their top two lines for essentially half of the third period and Spokane rallied for two late goals.
Not to be forgotten in all of this is an improved defensive group that has seen the additions of Aaron Hyman and Austin Strand pay huge dividends. Not coincidentally, Hyman was acquired on December 27 and Strand on December 30, coinciding perfectly with Toth’s and the team’s improvements. With those two filling out the top-six defensemen, Seattle now has six “every day” defensemen and far more flexibility in every aspect of their game.
It’s only an 11-game sample size, but we’re beginning to see a team that is playing with the swagger and skill that was expected of them all season. The offense is scoring, the defense is preventing shots and pushing the play, and Toth is keeping what few shots come his way out of the back of the net.
T-Birds general manager Russ Farwell said the day after the trade deadline that “(Making a move in net) wasn’t something that we wanted to do.”
So far it appears their decision was the right one.