Garret Sparks will provide depth, experience for Golden Knights AHL affiliate

Vegas is moving on from David Clarkson’s contract, and in return is getting a goaltender with a battle-tested AHL mentality.

The Vegas Golden Knights’ quiet offseason somewhat ramped up Tuesday. Not only did the Golden Knights finally sign defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year deal, but there’s a new goaltender in the pipeline.

Vegas acquired goalie Garret Sparks from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round pick and the ghost of David Clarkson and his $5.25 million contract. The deal works for both sides: Toronto clears cap space once putting Clarkson on long-term IR to eventually get a new deal for Mitchell Marner, and the Golden Knights secure a backup goaltender for the Chicago Wolves.

Goaltender for the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate became a need once Max Lagace signed with the Boston Bruins on July 1. This deal isn’t to say Dylan Ferguson isn’t ready to make the jump to the AHL, but it gives the Wolves an option to either start or back up Oscar Dansk.

And it’s not a bad option either.

Sparks has two NHL stints under his belt; 2015-16 and last season. The 26-year-old netminder was a seventh-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft by Toronto. Sparks is 14-18-2 with an .898 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average in his NHL career. Those are numbers of the not-great variety.

In the AHL, the man kills it. Sparks had 80 wins with the Marlies with a career .927 save percentage in six seasons. The high point of his time in the minors came in 2018.

The regular season numbers were absurd — 31-9-2 with a .936 save percentage and a goals-against average of *adjusts glasses* ONE POINT SEVEN NINE, WHAT IN THE LIVING HELL?

That play more than carried over into the Calder Cup Playoffs, as Sparks went 14-5 and a 2.22 GAA. The Marlies, behind their young goaltender, made an improbable run to the Calder Cup title in five games against the Texas Stars.

Here’s an idea of what he did.

It’s one hell of a move if this translates to the NHL level. Sparks carries a cap hit of $750,000 in a one-year extension he signed in March. He also has a brash personality. Sparks was suspended indefinitely in 2016 for a vulgar message sent in a private group on Facebook. The claim was that Sparks was trying to defend someone with a disability, but this wasn’t a fun look.

Obviously he grew in maturity at the right time, at least in the AHL. The NHL is a different story if you think on the same wavelength of Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk.

After a 6-2 loss to Ottawa on March 16, Sparks, an apparently passionate player, thought his teammates didn’t have enough of such.

“We need more emotion,” Sparks said, per Feschuk. “I’m an emotional player. I need more emotion. We need more emotion from everybody. We need people to get angry. We need people to step up and get mad and take it personally.”

This might not have rung well in the Leafs’ locker room. These two paragraphs, in particular, say a lot.

“That kind of fiery frankness might have been widely embraced by teammates if Sparks was a respected veteran with a proven record of high performance,” Feschuk wrote. “But as a struggling rookie who had just been tagged with his fifth consecutive loss — an unreliable presence who lost nine of his final 11 appearances and likely cost the Leafs home ice in another first-round playoff loss — let’s just say Sparks’s comments were not adopted as a teamwide rallying cry. If Sparks was a favourite of reporters for his brash and thoughtful opinions, it was easy to get the idea his teammates didn’t always feel the same way. And Sparks’s lack of regard for dressing-room hierarchy made one wonder if he was possessed of the requisite self-awareness to ever be a superior pro.

“Do your own job — as in, don’t tell your teammates how to go about theirs. And in the case of Sparks, who put up a blasé .902 save percentage while going 8-9-1, the job wasn’t done sufficiently, not when measured against the bar set the previous season by Curtis McElhinney, whose goals-against average of 2.14 was about a goal better than Sparks’s 3.15.”

Yeah, that won’t fly in the Golden Knights’ locker room.

It might in the Wolves’ room. That’s a presence that could work given the pedigree. Immediate return says the Wolves are getting a player that can help in net for one year, should they need it. Dansk went 27-9-4 last season in getting Chicago to the Calder Cup Final. If anything, this is a move to push Dansk and see if he can keep that starting job.

Sparks has a pedigree to get the Wolves to where they want to go. Time will tell how it goes for both sides.