It wasn’t so long ago that I thought the NHL had seen the last of Jonas Gustavsson. That is, I figured the Leafs would hang on to him for the rest of the season, but I never forsaw a time when he would take games like last night’s away from James Reimer. I even considered the possibility that Ben Scrivens might wind up making The Monster a third wheel, much like he was towards the end of last season.
I also don’t mind saying that I disagreed with Ron Wilson’s decision to start Gustavsson against The Winnipeg Jets, because, although Gus didn’t play a poor game against Tampa Bay, in allowing three goals, he wasn’t exactly spectacular, either. In my mind, winning once isn’t enough to take my number one goaltender out for an important game against another team in the playoff hunt.
Of course, with his shutout against the Jets, The Monster is making me eat a few of my words (and I’m more than happy to do so if it means the Leafs are picking up points), but I’m still not convinced he’s a long term solution as a backup goaltender. I mean, is he even really a short term solution?
Follow me over the jump for more.
Below is a graph that shows the progression of The Monster’s save percentage so far this season. The orange line shows the league average for goalies that have played fewer than 20 games – this year’s backup’s average. To be specific, the average save percentage for No. 2’s is .913. Yes, I know, it’s not very responsible mathing to not label that properly on the graph, but I’m just not the handiest person with Excel, so here we are.
It sure looks to me like Gustavsson is going to settle down around the .900 mark (which is where he sits in his NHL career so far with .898), though the way Ron Wilson’s confidence is stirred, the lanky Swede may have many more opportunities to improve.
The sad truth is, although our dear friend Jonas has been carrying the wheel lately, he probably doesn’t deserve many other chances. Sure, it’s possible the Leafs have found a diamond in the rough, but I think it’s rather unlikely (just look at this graph) that Jonas Gustvasson manages to stay in the league long enough to put up better numbers.
At some point in every off-season, there are a handful of reasonably competent goaltenders available for bargain deals. This past summer, it was Evgeni Nabokov, Michael Leighton, or even – ugh – Scott Clemmensen. Why would Brian Burke wait and hope that one day, Gustavsson defies the odds to post a decent save percentage? Why not just go with a safer bet?
As I’ve previously pointed out at Pension Plan Puppets, while there’s certainly no need to dump good players or prospects for a goalie that will allow the Leafs to be eliminated in the first round, there’s no use demoralizing a young team year after year with wretched tending that doesn’t give them the chance to stay in the game.
So I’ll happily eat my words if Gustavsson gets a surprise call and a surprise shutout. But I’ll eat a very big hat if he suddenly turns everything around and puts together a full season of league average goaltending.
My friend and fellow blogger Danny Gray would probably point out that hockey folks (and probably other kinds of folks, too) tend to anchor their expectations of a player based on standout memories of a given player. Don’t let this happen to you and Jonas Gustavsson.