I can already imagine the comments I will get on this piece, but regardless what I am told, I need to document my stance on this (as well as put this on record for when the prediction comes true
Jonas Gustavsson has been under some serious heat from the moment he was signed by the Blue and White. Thought of as the soon-to-be goaltending saviour of the franchise, when he was first signed by Burke, the bar was set from the get go. Having lost his mother shortly before signing with Toronto (his father passing away 4 years prior), it is easy to say that the Swedish goaltender had a lot more on his mind than just hockey. Not to mention the fact that on his first day of training camp Gus was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery. In addition to all of this, some forget the fact that he had just made the switch to the North American ice surface, as well as the vast changes in life-style between Europe to North America. Nevertheless, he played admirably during the first year in a Leaf uniform, posting a .900+ save percentage, with a 16-15-9 record, on a pretty horrendous team. These are by no means stellar numbers for an NHL goalie, but considering the conditions under which it was done, most Leaf fans were willing to give him a pass for the year.
The following year Gus struggled. He was given several opportunities to steal the net from teammate J.S. Giguere, but failed to gain the confidence of former Toronto Maple Leaf coach Ron Wilson, and was eventually assigned the duties of back-up goaltender. The appearance of Reimer late in the year caused most fans to shift their attention towards the newest saviour of the franchise, giving The Monster some time to get out of the spot light. He was eventually sent down to the Marlies, where an irregular heartbeat was found yet again.
After recovering successfully from surgery, Gus ended the season on a conditioning stint in the AHL. Out of the spot-light, The Monster was able to post some impressive AHL numbers, ending the season with a 3-1-1 record and an astounding .950 save percentage. Granted, the sample size was very small, but it appeared that Jonas may have found his game again.
This year, Gus came out of the gate slow, losing the net to fellow goaltender James Reimer, until a concussion left the opportunity open for Gus yet again; however, this time there were no excuses.
So here is where the opinions differ between some fans, and to be honest, I think I will be alone in my stance, but here goes:
Like all Toronto goaltenders of the last 3 years (under Wilson), Gus was the hopeful to save an abhorrent defence, in an offense-first system. The constant odd-man rushes and point blank shots he faced in game in and out were astounding. Needless to say, his personal stats suffered as a result. Still sporting a low .900 save percentage and a GAA nearing 3.00, many fans were quick to blame the goaltender should the team lose, and if they happened to win, it was (according to most fans) in spite of the dreadful goaltending.
Say what you want about his numbers or his style, but this ‘failure of a goaltender’ managed (at one point in the season) to have his club hold the 4th seed in the Eastern conference. Many fans attribute this to the surge in offensive production the team had, and if we had ‘competent’ goaltending, we could have been in the top 3. To these fans I have a quick story I would like to bring up about a man named Grant Fuhr and his team, the Edmonton Oilers.
Say what you want about the era of the game, or different style, there is one similarity I would like to draw on. This is the Run n’ Gun offense. Both the Leafs of this year and the Ooilers of the Fuhr era employed a shoddy defensive system, essentially hanging the goaltenders out to dry on a nightly basis. Fuhr, regarded as one of the top goaltenders ever to play, NEVER sported a .900+ save percentage throughout his time in the Oil, and had a 3.50+ GAA on a regular basis.
Before the critics jump on in, I am not trying to say Gus is the new Fuhr, far from it. What I am trying to say is that the system the Oil placed in front of Fuhr did not reflect well on his personal stats, but it did bode well for the Team’s stats. In the end, this is the result, and this is what we should care about.
However, this is not the world we live in, and a goaltender today is judged solely on his save percentage. Well guess what Leaf fans, you are in luck! The Run n’ Gun days in Toronto are no more. We will instead be employing a defensively responsible system in front of the Monster from here on in, until Carlyle is shown the door.
So what does this mean? I can already hear the:
‘So What!? We still need a goaltender or we’re going nowhere!!!
This is where I will interject, and make my bold prediction. Gustavsson is the answer. You are going to see a very different goaltender over the rest of this year, and what I hope to be the next several years in Blue and White. To me, Gus is the real deal, and it will not be long until all of Leaf’s Nation sees it. All he has needed is some help in his own zone, and from what I have heard from Carlyle, that is EXACTLY what he is going to get.
So what is my prediction you ask? Assuming there is anyone still left reading at this point, here it is:
Jonas Gustavsson will not only be a starter in the years coming, but will be a top 15 goaltender in the league.
My only hope is that he resigns with the Leafs this offseason, as I would hate for my prediction to be right with him playing for a rival.
While I obviously can’t prove any of this, all I have to say is that you can all laugh now, but I will continue to watch his numbers climb game in and game out over the remainder of the year, and the rest of his career (at which point, I will have the last laugh).
Hopefully, it will all begin tonight in Boston, Go Leafs Go!