Where Will Jonas Gustavsson Sign?
Fresh off another lackluster season in which he posted a 17-17-4 record to go along with a 2.92 goals against average and a paltry 0.902 save percentage, it appears as if Jonas Gustavsson’s days as a Toronto Maple Leaf are over.
Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke made reference to Gustavsson’s departure at his season ending press conference when he suggested his team would be foolish to start the 2012-13 season with two goaltenders with limited NHL experience.
“Positionally we have to look at the goaltending, it wasn’t good enough this year,” said Burke at his press conference. “I think that James Reimer is the real deal; I think we can still plan on him being a number one guy, but we have to look at if we can bring in a guy that can bring us more options and more performance right from the get-go next year.”
Clearly, Burke still believes in Reimer. And, with few people in NHL circles believing Gustavsson to be the “guy” Burke was speaking about, it is fairly obvious the goaltender formerly known as “the monster” will be hitting the free agent market this summer with the intent of signing elsewhere.
At just 27-years of age, Gustavsson still has a measure of upside to him. Don’t forget, Gustavsson has only been in the NHL for three seasons, posting a 39-45-15 record along the way.
During his three year stint with the Maple Leafs Gustavsson had to endure the loss of both of his parents, the pressure of having to play in Toronto and the added pressure of being asked to tweak his style of play by Maple Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire.
During Gustavsson’s time with the Maple Leafs the teams overall defense has been in question ranking 29th in 2009-10, 25th in 2010-11 and 29th overall in 2011-12.
Toronto’s offensive style of play, questionable coaching and a lack of depth on defense are all contributing factors where the teams defensive woes are concerned. That said, at some point the inconsistent play of the goaltenders has to come into play, which means Gustavsson, James Reimer and J.S. Giguere must take their fair share of the blame.
When it comes to a potential suitor for Gustavsson, any NHL team that is interested in him will have to weigh his career record, potential upside and the fact that, for better or for worse, he has played his entire career as a Maple Leaf.
With a career 0.900 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average, Gustavsson is right on the line of the minimum performance level of an NHL goaltender which is a 0.900 save percentage and a goals against that many teams would like to see closer to the 2.50-2.70 level.
With so many question marks about Gustavsson’s ability, the 6’3”, 192 pound native of Danderyd, Sweden will likely have to settle for a one year deal worth as little as $1 million.
Gustavsson’s uncertainty may be high, but when you consider his upside and the fact that he will likely be willing to play on the cheap, there are bound to be a few NHL teams that will give him a shot.
Of course, there is a very good chance that Gustavsson may chose to play in the Swedish Elite League or the KHL where he could earn more money, but something tells me he wants to remain in the NHL.
Few goalies return from the KHL to earn big contracts with an NHL team, and heading back to Sweden would be a step backwards in the minds of many. Clearly, if Gus wants a chance at redemption he will have to take a pay-cut, but if he lands on the right team, a bigger payday might just be in his future.
So—where will Gustavsson land this off-season?
The Vancouver Canucks might be looking for a backup should they deal Roberto Luongo. The Pittsburgh Penguins could be an option with Brent Johnson falling under the UFA umbrella. Should the Minnesota Wild fail to re-sign Josh Harding there will be a vacancy there. The Florida Panthers might be a good option with Scott Clemmensen expected to test the UFA waters. The Winnipeg Jets should be in the market for a backup when Chris Mason moves on and the New York Islanders always seem to be in need of a goaltender!
At the end of the day, the place that makes the most sense is Detroit where Jimmy Howard is expected to be the starter for quite sometime while top goaltending prospect Thomas McCollum still looks to be at least a full season away from assuming the backup role.
If Gustavsson was able to sign with the Red Wings he will have a good balance of youth and veteran presence and a ton of Swedish players to help mentor him. Add that to the fact that the Red Wings are one of the most successful franchises on the planet and you gotta think Detroit will be Gustavsson’s preferred destination.
As bad as everyone in Toronto seems to think Gustavsson is, he is far from brutal and, in the right situation, could provide an NHL team with solid backup goaltending.
Which begs the question—would Detroit be willing to take a flyer on Gus?
Since veteran goaltender Chris Osgood retired the Red Wings have employed Joey MacDonald and Ty Conklin as their backup goaltenders. Both MacDonald and Conklin are suspect goalies at best, as witnessed by their inconsitent play last season.
Sure, MacDonald had a few good games with the Red Wings last season, but is he the guy you want to run with should Howard go down? With Conklin set to test the free agent waters and MacDonald’s contract coming in at $550,000 for the 2012-13 season, a one-year deal worth upwards of $1 million for Gustavsson would seem like a reasonable risk for Detroit to take and, should Gus catch fire, Detroit could sign him up long-term next off-season.
At the end of the day there are no guarantees where free agency is concerned. Nobody really knows what Detroit’s off-season plans are, but if I were Jonas Gustavsson’s agent I’d be calling Detroit sooner rather than later.
Until next time,