Monster Decision Looming For Brian Burke

February 13th, 2012 No Comments

When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke brought Swedish goaltending sensation Jonas Gustavsson to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization there was great hope from Burke that “the Monster”—as Gustavsson was so aptly nicknamed—would solidify the Blue and White’s goaltending for years to come.

Fast forward three seasons later and the Maple Leafs goaltending situation is still a question mark in many ways. While both Gustavsson and on again/off again number one starter James Reimer have evolved into a decent duo, neither one has emerged as a dominant figure between the pipes, which has to concern Burke on some level.

Quietly, and without much fanfare, Gustavsson has put together his best season as a Maple Leaf, posting a 16-11-1 record to go along with a 2.75 goals against average and a .909 save percentage and three shutouts—all career bests for Gus.

Within the organization there are a number of goaltenders that have great potential. Ben Scrivens made a cameo appearance for the Maple Leafs early on in the season when Reimer was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, while Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya also offer a measure of optimism for the future.

With two relatively young goaltenders already with the big club and so much talent in the minors, Burke has a tough decision to make with regards to Gustavsson’s future with the big club.

Gustavsson, who becomes a unrestricted free agent this summer, has looked dominant at times this season, but still has a penchant for letting in a bad goal here and there. As good as Gustavsson has been this season, few refer to him as a game changer, and there are plenty of fans that view him unworthy of number one status.

At 6’3″ and nearly 200 pounds, Gustavsson has the size that many NHL teams are looking for in their goaltenders. His athletic butterfly style and quick reflexes allows him to take away the bottom half of the net, while his glove hand is considered marginal at best.

For Gustavsson to be dominant he must continue to develop his overall positioning and work on his puckhandling, which is a weak spot.

While Gustavsson has had a fair shot at becoming the Maple Leafs number one goaltender, from the outside looking in it appears as if the Maple Leafs are still banking on Reimer emerging as the teams number one goaltender. That said, Reimer has struggled this season, falling short of expectations and falling victim to injury.

In Gustavsson, Burke looks to have a solid backup goaltender who, in a pinch, can elevate his game and keep his team in a playoff race, as he did when Reimer went down this season.

Perhaps that is what Gustavsson is for Burke—a solid backup with marginal upside.

When you consider Gustavsson’s experience and statistics it would appear as if he will be hard-pressed to find a job as an NHL starter. That said, there is every indication that Gus will receive plenty of interest from rival teams that are looking to upgrade their backup goaltender, which may drive up the price-tag on the monster.

A quick look at this summers potential UFA goaltenders reveals few options for Burke, which likely means he makes a solid push for Gustavsson’s services.
Sure, in a pinch Burke could go after the likes of Evgeni Nabokov (36), Ray Emery (29), Al Montoya (27), Chris Mason (35) or Dan Ellis (31), but with Burke looking to build a long term winner here in Toronto most of those goaltenders offer little more than a band aid solution for the Blue and White.

Gustavsson currently earns $1,350,000 as Toronto’s backup. When everything is said and done one can expect Gus to command a salary in the $1.8-$2.0 million range on a 2-4 year deal.

Let’s face it, there are very few goaltenders out there with Gustavsson’s upside that are willing to sign for that kind of money. At somewhere around $2.0 million per season Gustavsson is good value, and if he ever reaches his full potential, Gus would be a steal for Burke and company.

It won’t be easy for Burke to re-sign Gustavsson, but it says here Gus has earned a new contract and another chance to be Toronto’s number one goaltender.

Until next time,

Peace!

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