DETROIT – While practically every team in the league awaited word on what prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will do on the open market, the Red Wings wasted little time in providing a substantial backup to starting goalie Jimmy Howard.
The Wings reached a deal in the first hour of this year’s free agency period when former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson agreed to a two-year contract on Sunday afternoon.
“He played in a very tough Toronto market where their team had trouble and he was kind of leaned on to be the guy and it might have been a bit too much,” said Jim Devellano, the Wings’ senior vice president. “I think with the Red Wings we’ll have a better team, and I think he’ll do just fine.”
At last month’s draft, Gustavsson's negotiating rights were traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013, but a deal was never reached, allowing the Swedish goalie to enter free agency.
One of the tallest netminders in the business, the 6-foot-3 Gustavsson has good overall skills, is agile for his size, and likes to challenge the shooters, which reminds the senior vice-president of a former Wings goalie.
“There was a lot of pressure in Toronto trying to be the No. 1 goaltender for a new guy coming from a new land,” Devellano said. “I think he will complement Jimmy Howard terrifically well, I really do. I think he’ll blend in well with our Swedes. And his style of play is not unlike Dominik Hasek, so I think between Jimmy Howard and Gustavsson, Detroit will have upgraded their goaltending for the coming year.”
In three seasons with the Leafs, Gustavsson posted a 39-45-15 record with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Yet while he arrived in Toronto amid much fanfare as the best goalie outside of the NHL, the Monster, as he’s often called, has seen his NHL career slowed by heart problems. He twice underwent heart ablation procedures, once after leaving a game in December 2009.
Gustavsson, now 27, helped guide Färjestad to the Swedish Elite League championship in 2008-09, posting a league-best 1.92 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in 42 regular-season games.
He had some success in Toronto, which included a seven-game winning streak following a stint at the 2010 Winter Olympics where he, along with Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen, represented Sweden. And Gustavsson also thrived for a while this past season, filling in when James Reimer suffered a concussion.
But Devellano isn’t scared by Gustavsson’s past health issues.
“He seemed to have a lot of problems the first year that he was with Toronto, but I didn’t think he had any problems last year with his health. There’s always risk in everything you do, obviously. He’ll be very comfortable.”
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