August 29 2012 01:52PM
Gustavsson on Expressen: "In TO you're either praised or sunk. Masses follow the media even if they're not entirely sure what is going on."— Matias Strozyk (@MaStrozyk) August 29, 2012
Jonas Gustavsson had a rough time in Toronto.
Poor guy. Of the 37 goaltenders who have played at least 100 games in the NHL since Gustavsson came into the league in 2009-2010, 35 of them have had a higher save percentage than the embattled Gustavsson. Save percentage, as Gustavsson can attest in the first tweet posted above from Matias Strozyk, is a devilish creation of the hockey media to assign blame to goaltenders when none ought to otherwise be found.
Well, if he got weak treatment, you wouldn't know it. Most mainstream Leafs analysis is devoid of simple numbers such as even strength save percentage or quality starts to judge goaltenders, and Gustavsson never fared well in any of those. He rarely gave the Leafs a chance to win when he started, and the media that Gustavsson claims assigned blame... well...
But his name is Jonas, with a J that sounds like a Y. And his game right now is paramount in this up-and-down and still-promising season for the Maple Leafs. He has won three starts in a row, eight of his last 11. Until further notice, he's the man. And the surest sign of where Leafs goaltending is with the Leafs came Monday afternoon as the erstwhile starter, James Reimer, remained on the ice at the MasterCard Centre, still at work 45 minutes after the Toronto practice had officially come to an end.
Had Reimer accomplished of late what has come naturally to Gustavsson, there would be chest thumping in Leaf land. But the machinations of Gustavsson's time in Toronto have been many, monster challenges really, for a goaltender who seems able to handle just about anything with a certain Swedish calm.
Okay, maybe that isn't quite it., but Gustavsson is right in one sense, that the masses aren't entirely aware of what is going on. Tweet a few jokes about Gustavsson, and you may get one or two fans who are quick to defend Gustavsson and his marginal accomplishments, blaming many of the problems he faced in the Leafs' crease on the defence.
Well, heck, I transcribed a whole Don Cherry segment where he assigned blame on the defence for nearly every weak goal that eluded Gustavsson or James Reimer. When Randy Carlyle took over for Ron Wilson, the immediate theory was that Carlyle's primary defensive style ought to help the goaltenders perform better, and they wouldn't be hung out to dry so much.
Look, not all of Toronto's problems in the last three years were goaltending-related. I still think the team ought to prioritize trading for a top-pair defenceman over a primary goaltender given the costs, risks and benefits. Reimer's regression to the mean, commonly mischaracterized as a "sophomore slump", was evident in year two, but he ought to balance out as a capable-enough young goaltender in the Leafs' net.
Hockey-crazy city Edmonton have yet to run Nikolai Khabibulin, the third worst goaltender in the last three years, out of town. A non hockey-crazy city like Columbus has yet to run Steve Mason, the worst goaltender in the last three years, out of town. Maybe, just maybe, media and fans don't have as much effect on player personnel decisions as the player personnel themselves; if a player isn't performing, there is no reason for their management group to keep them in town.
I wish Gustavsson all the best in Detroit, but the odds of him suddenly becoming Vezina-calibre goalie because he's a four-hour drive to the Southwest are near negligible.