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Gustavsson Needs More Time

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Took a straw poll among ten or so media types at the MasterCard Centre on who would start in goal for the Leafs Thursday in St. Louis.


Mine was the only hand.

I am not surprised by the meagre confidence people both in and outside that cozy press box have in Jonas Gustavsson. Now in his third season with the Leafs, he hasn’t done a whole lot to justify faith. Gustavsson’s career goals against is a shoddy 3.10. His save percentage is equally crummy at .896.

He has won only 26 of the 74 games he has played and if you cannot hold him responsible for his record, you need to admit that he hasn’t been able to inspire something great from spectacularly-flawed teams.

But seventy-four games?

Tuukka Rask. Remember him? He’s the guy with towel marks permanently indented in the back of his neck and the voodoo doll that looks just like Tim Thomas. Tuukka Rask has played 83 NHL games. For the math impaired, that’s nine more than Jonas Gustavsson.

Goalie Team Age Games
Peter Budaj Montreal 27 243
Alex Auld Montreal 30 226
Ty Conklin Detroit 35 203
Mike Smith Phoenix 29 172
Brian Elliott St.Louis 26 149
Jimmy Howard Detroit 27 145
Jason LaBarbera Phoenix 31 144
Ondrej Pavelec Winnipeg 24 132
Corey Crawford Chicago 26 77
Michal Neuvirth Washington 23 74
Jonas Gustavsson Toronto 27 74
For your approval, I give you Ulmerstandings III – ten goalies you have never heard of or at least rarely thought of with more NHL games than Jonas Gustavsson.

Yes, Jason LaBarbera has played nearly twice as many games as Jonas Gustavsson. And here you thought he was the guy behind the Flintstones.

Much of the present discussion comes down to personality. Putting Jonas Gustavsson beside Ben Scrivens is like placing a bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce beside a bowl of white rice. Since it is his native tongue, English comes easily to Scrivens. Gustavsson, meanwhile, has pretty well exhausted the verbs that describe struggling and persistence.

It doesn’t matter the sport or the situation. If you are an engaging person, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. If you look certain in your actions, as Scrivens has in his limited time and Gustavsson often has not, you inspire more confidence.

If you ask the same media who picked Scrivens, they would point to the fact that Gustavsson hasn’t shown the athleticism that made him such a hot property coming out of the Swedish Elite League. That, many sages suspect, is the result of coaching; particularly Francois Allaire who it seems to them has tried fashioning Gustavsson into a passive, block-the-puck goalie, instead of letting him thrive as an athletic go-get-the-puck goalie.

Look, I’m not sure that the goalie coach with the best portfolio in the game, a guy whose pupils redefined the position, can be blamed for one goalie’s struggles. I don’t think goalies succeed despite goalie coaches. I think they succeed because of them. NHL goalies who let the puck come to them outnumber everyone else about 59:1. That one goalie, of course, is the wonderful Tim Thomas.

But how can you write off a goalie who has undergone two heart surgeries and spent the lion’s share of his career in another continent on different ice surfaces. The number of games Gustavsson played in the Swedish First Division and internationally for Sweden is exactly that of his Leaf appearances: 74.

Moreover, in his career, Gustavsson has appeared in eight fewer games than Thomas played last year in the regular season and playoffs.

By the time Thomas played his 74th NHL game, he was 30 years old. Now he’s a Stanley Cup champion, a two-time Vezina and a Conn Smythe winner.

Is Gustavsson Tim Thomas?  Probably not. Thomas’ story is unique. But I don’t know for sure that he isn’t.

I get it when fans say Gustavsson makes them nervous. I even understand when they think Scrivens should be the guy.

But Scrivens isn’t the guy. James Reimer is the guy and he has been out for two weeks with a head injury. There is no timetable for his return and unless you are sweet on Marty Turco, now wintering in the Soo, there is no one out there can help.

The song about New York says if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.  If there was a tune summing up the view in Toronto, the opposite would hold true: if you can’t play here, you can’t play anywhere.

It’s Jonas Gustavsson or nothing. Give him as many games as Ondrej friggin’ Pavelec. Then we can figure out if he stinks.

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