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The Missed Training Camp Storyline

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Brian Burke isn’t kidding.

For all the talk and promise of sophomore goalie Jonas Gustavsson, veteran J.S. Giguere is the key element in the Leafs’ goaltending saga.

“The ideal split in any scenario that I know of is 50-30 roughly,” Burke said in what should be his last press briefing before Thursday’s opener against Montreal.

“I know we play more than 80 games. That’s a rough split. That’s what we are going to try to get to. The goalies can sort that out. “

The Leafs GM is confident that at 33, Giguere can give the Leafs what Vesa Toskala could not.

“Our biggest problem last year was goaltending,” Burke said.

Traded to Anaheim and then Calgary, Toskala has not caught on with an NHL or at this writing a European team.

Before training camp started last month the key stories were about Tyler Bozak’s ability to strengthen his hold on the number one centre spot and Nazem Kadri’s bid to nail down the second centre position. Bozak worked out. Kadri, for now, did not.

There were stories about the defence, the impact of captain Dion Phaneuf, the reliability of the surprising Tim Brent but for whatever reason, the big story of the fall was largely missed.

Does J.S. Giguere still have it?

Traded to the Leafs in a blockbuster deal Jan. 31, Giguere immediately produced two straight shutouts. His 2.85 goals against average and .907 save percentage were far better that what Toskala did (3.66, .874) and suddenly the Leafs had reliable goaltending.

Let’s put this in some historical context. Giguere is a fascinating study, especially if you compare him to the most recent prominent Leafs goalie, Ed Belfour. The two have remarkably similar numbers. Giguere has compiled a  .913 save percentage with a 2.49 goals against. Belfour’s career numbers stand at .906 and a 2.50 goals against.

Both were relegated to backups prior to the Leafs. Belfour went 21-27-11, .895 and 2.65 in his final year with the Dallas Star. Giguere slumped to 4-8-5 with a .900 percentage and a distended 3.14 goals against in his final year in Anaheim.

Belfour’s playoff numbers: .920, 2.17. Giguere’s: .925 and 2.08.

Both are zealous about their physical conditions and both arrived in Toronto in the later stages of their careers. Belfour was 36 when he succeeded Curtis Joseph. Giguere was 32.

Both goalies won a Cup before arriving in Toronto.

The discrepancies matter but just a bit. Giguere has his longtime personal goalie coach Francois Allaire.  Giguere works well with younger goalies. Belfour sometimes struggled in that role.

Belfour enjoyed a nice run in Toronto. Giguere has three more years on the clock over Belfour but only one year on his contract. It’s enough to make you wonder whether the emergence of Gustavsson as the number one guy will take longer than anyone thought.
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