Toronto Maple Leafs: Goaltender Controversy Brewing?

November 23rd, 2010 No Comments

Over the summer numerous questions surrounded the Toronto Maple Leafs. Who would emerge as the teams number one centre? Which player would emerge as the teams leader? How many goals will Phil Kessel get? The list goes on and on.

One of the more interesting questions had to do with goaltenders J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, specifically, which goalie would emerge as the teams number one goalie?

Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson stated publicly that, without prejudice, Giguere was his number one guy.

True to his word, Wilson has afforded Giguere the lions share of the workload, but with the veteran currently on the shelf with a groin injury and Gustavsson playing extremely well in all of his last four appearances, there is bound to be a debate over which goaltender should be Wilson’s go-to guy going forward.

Through 12 games Giguere owns a 5-5-2 record to go along with his 2.78 goals against average (29th overall) and paltry .895 save percentage (40th overall).

Overall Giguere’s play has been good, leading the team to some key early season victories and keeping the team in more than a few games that they should have been out of early on.

That said, as the saying goes, the numbers do not lie and right now, Gustavsson has the better numbers.

Through nine games played Gustavsson has a 3-4-1 record with an impressive 2.30 GAA and equally good .922 save percentage.

More importantly, the team in front of Gustavsson seems to play a more defensively responsible style, which, given the results the team has achieved when Gus is between the pipes, looks to be the right style of play for this team to embrace if they are going to be successful.

At 6’3”, 192 pounds, Gustavsson is one of the leagues bigger goalies. His mere size alone allows him to take away most of the net and, when combined with his hybrid-style of play, it makes it very tough for opposing forwards to beat him.

With Giguere set to become a unrestricted free agent at season’s end the Maple Leafs will have to make a decision on the former Stanley Cup winners future with the club.

At $6 million, Giguere is considered overpriced in a position that many GM’s are trying to fill with mid-range or low-end contracts.

As loyal as Burke is to his players (especially those he won the Cup with in Anaheim), you just know he is secretly hoping Gustavsson has a big season so he can either let Giguere walk or sign him on the cheap.

While it’s too early to tell if Gustavsson can handle the workload associated with a number one goalie he is proving that he has the skill and mental fortitude to be successful in Toronto—the latter being a factor that has destroyed a number of Maple Leafs goaltending prospects.

The Leafs will travel to Buffalo on Friday to take on the Sabres, followed by a tilt against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night in Ottawa.

Should Giguere be ready to go this weekend one can assume he will get one of those starts. In the event that he hasn’t healed you can expect to see Gustavsson in both games, which, given his performance of late, would not be a bad thing.

Over the course of the next 60 games Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will have a tough decision to make on the futures of both Giguere and Gustavsson.

At the root of the issue will be how much playing time to afford a veteran goaltender who, despite some strong games looks to be getting out-classed by the 26-year old sophomore goaltender.

Money, loyalty and a measure of respect for the veteran goaltender will go a long way in making Burke and Wilson’s decision, so too should the numbers, which, to date, seem to favor Gus.

I have always been a fan of going with the hot hand; right now that’s Gustavsson.

Like it or not, for Giguere, the battle for playing time has just begun. In the end it’s nothing new for Giguere. He went through this in Anaheim with various degrees of success before being traded to Toronto in favor of Jonas Hiller.

Going forward, with the writing on the wall, expect Giguere to play his best hockey in an effort to regain the respect of his coach and GM with an eye on re-establishing himself as the teams number one goalie.

Should he falter Gustavsson looks to be ready, which, given how many goaltending prospects have failed in Toronto, is great news for fans of the Blue and White.

Until next time,

Peace!

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