Two vastly different takes on the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending situation caught my eye this morning. Over at the Leafs’ official site, Mike Ulmer argues that Gustavsson just needs more time – he’s played just 74 career NHL games, and the Leafs can’t be certain yet of what exactly they have in him. At Pension Plan Puppets, on the other hand, JP Nikota opens his piece this morning with the words, “Jonas Gustavsson has got to go.”
I wanted to start with the Ulmer piece because while I disagree with his take I do think he’s correct on at least one point: 74 games into a career, an NHL team cannot be certain of what they have in a goaltender. Ulmer is exactly right about that.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. The Leafs may not know with absolute certainty that Jonas Gustavsson is a sub-average NHL goalie, but for 74 games he’s done the best possible impression of one. Besides which, the real question isn’t “Has Jonas Gustavsson proved he’s not capable of playing in the NHL beyond any doubt?” The real question is “Given Jonas Gustavsson’s career to date and the other options available to the Leafs, is he the best candidate in net for a team trying to win games?”
Here we turn to Nikota and James Mirtle. Nikota says, “A replacement-level goaltender isn’t that difficult or expensive to acquire,” and Mirtle backs him up, citing the easy availability of Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, Scott Clemmensen and Michael Leighton.
With James Reimer out for an unknown period of time, it is essential that the Leafs find someone capable of stopping pucks. Their hot 9-5-1 start has them in the Eastern Conference playoffs right now by a grand total of four points – and ninth-place New Jersey has two games in hand. That’s not a lot of room to play with if things go south.
What are the potential costs of acquiring one of the players listed above at the expense of Gustavsson and Scrivens? They’re fairly minimal. In Gustavsson’s case, the Leafs would be turning their backs on a guy who shows no signs of being anything special. Ulmer mentions the story of Tim Thomas as a cautionary tale, but the reality is that middling 27-year old goaltenders rarely go on to win the Vezina. In Scrivens’ case, the loss of NHL minutes should not be regarded as a big deal – he’s a second-year professional who has played a combined 54 games in his professional career. Sending him to the AHL to develop is a perfectly reasonable course of action.
What are the potential costs of rolling with Gustavsson/Scrivens until James Reimer is healthy? A lost playoff spot. In the grand scheme of things, a playoff spot this year is far more important than upgrading the strong possibility that Jonas Gustavsson sucks to absolute certainty.