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Do us all a favor, including Gustavsson: set The Monster free

The Leafs continue to show the ability to come from behind with strong third periods.  That was in evidence again at home on Tuesday night, as they spotted the visiting Coyotes two goals but battled back to tie things up early in the third period.  While it was not exactly a complete 60-minute effort, they did enough to earn a valuable point.

Komisarek continues to work to re-build his status on the Leaf blueline.  There is still work to do, but he is earning the confidence of the coaching staff- and quite a number of fans, too.

Schenn earned bigger minutes as well, which bodes well for where he fits going forward and how he is feeling about his own game.

Kessel was dangerous all night.  He continues to be a valuable guy for the Leafs, who need all the offence he can muster for them right now.

Scrivens did his Reimer imitation, conceding some early goals but absolutely stoning the Coyotes when the game was on the line.  Any letdown by Scrivens and the Leafs don't get that point.  He made a variety of fine stops, including a few stunners with his glove in the third period and in overtime.

With Grabovski and MacArthur hurting, we will likely have Connolly back in the line-up next game.  We'll see if Orr or Rosehill get the call, or if Kadri is summoned from the minors.  Some offense wouldn't hurt.

In any event, they can take the point and prepare to meet a team that is, most nights, a very hard-working crew down in Nashville.


I will acknowledge that I can’t remember (now, in fairness my short-term memory is hazy anyway, so this may not mean much) the last time Jonas Gustavsson stole a game for the Maple Leafs.

I can say that I think he is capable of that, and I still feel that way, despite growing evidence that he is in fact not a true first-string NHL goaltender.  But let me just add that while his support within the Leaf fan base may be dwindling, I am not prepared to write off his NHL career.

The whole Leaf/Monster “experiment” probably got off on the wrong foot to begin with—Burke eagerly criss-crossing Europe or whatever to track down this free-agent wunderkind goalie.  Un-drafted, Gustavsson came with a big reputation and a great nickname, “The Monster”.  Who wouldn’t want that, if you were an NHL team in need of help in net?

But a series of things seemed to get in the way since his signing, including the presence of veteran goaltenders, a heart ailment and inconsistent play.

But here’s the thing:  for whatever reason, Gustavsson never really earned Ron Wilson’s confidence.  Oh, I know, those who look to statistical answers will quite rightly say, “Just look at the guy’s save percentage.  How could Wilson have faith in the guy?”  And yes, the recent visual evidence that he tends to give up “bad” goals, or goals at bad times, can be crushing for a team, especially one with a fragile psyche and a recent history of non-success.

I just think there is often more to the picture than what we on the “outside” really see or understand.  In this case, I’m guessing (and this is indeed but a guess) that the Leafs, notably Francois Allaire, have not liked Monster’s mechanics or approach to the game.  It just seems that he has rarely, if ever, been given a stretch of, say, 10 games where he knows, come hell or high water, he will be back in the next game, too—without fear of being pulled or benched.

Yes, the answer to that is indeed:  play better.  I get that.  But wasn’t there a time, earliesh last season (2010-’11) when he had a run of games where he was pretty darn good?  I can’t recall whether it was a minor injury or the desire to get Giguere more time, but before we knew it, Gustavsson was back on the bench, and when Reimer came along and won our hearts, Gustavsson was yesterday’s news—again.

The guy is not unaware, clearly.  He knows that Wilson, Allaire and Burke aren’t fighting for him to be number-one.  They can say all the right things, but they just don’t believe in him, and he knows it.  So his teammates sit on the fence, hope he will play well, but at the first sign of trouble, they lose their spark, too.

So what am I saying?  Set the guy free.  As much as I’d like him to prove people wrong in Toronto, that scenario seems awfully far-fetched at this point.  It’s not going to happen.

This is the last year of his two-year contract extension.  He will certainly be elsewhere next season. It’s a business, so they won’t let an asset they are paying go elsewhere for nothing right now, but if they can get anything for the guy in a trade,  move him.

I say that not because I don’t like Gustavsson, or don’t think the guy can play.  I say that because I think the player deserves an opportunity in another market, with another coaching staff, a different goalie coach, and different—and perhaps more realistic—expectations.

I’m sure the folks who saw him play regularly in his native Sweden are confused by his lack of success here.  That’s the vibe I detect when I read perspectives from Sweden, that he is not playing like the Gustavsson they know.

So what is it—simply the pressure of playing in Toronto?   Oh, I think it’s more than that.  It’s that he knows he is not appreciated here, and no one, in any line of work, performs their duties to their full potential if they sense the people they work with (and for) don’t genuinely respect their work.  It’s human nature.

So again, set The Monster free.  I hope, for this sake, that he lands somewhere and regains the confidence and support network he needs to be a good NHL goaltender.  For the Leafs’ sake, here’s hoping they get something in return, however modest an asset it might be.

As for the broader issue of where the Leafs go from here (I have no sense what is happening with Reimer), I’m not among those looking for a short-term fix, a la Nabokov or Turco.  Nabokov may provide relief, but haven’t we been through this already in the Burke era with Gerber, Toskala, Giguere—veteran goalies here to plug a hole, but not very well.

Why are we looking for a savior when the answer rests with supporting and developing the talent we do have?  It’s too late, it seems, for the Monster.  But Scrivens has looked very good on a couple of occasions.  But when he struggles, you can just feel the weight on Leaf world falling on his young shoulders—and I don’t just mean the fans.

If he lets in a bad goal here and there, believe me, so does everyone.  Has anyone seen the 10 million dollar man (Luongo) in Vancouver this season?   He’s a great goaltender but isn’t perfect every night.  That’s why you have teammates.  That’s why your defense has to be air-tight, not give the puck away or give away easy two on-ones.  That’s why your forwards have to play 200 feet, and chip in with timely goals throughout the roster.

Yes, it’s nice if your goalie steals one on occasion, but most of the time, you ought not depend on that.  You need to outplay the other team, for 60 minutes—and not just in goal.


  1. The story of Gusty in Toronto is a sad one. I remember listening to games last year on the radio and thinking "Damnit, get Giguere out of there and put The Monster in so we can salvage this thing."

    I agree with Michael. I really hope he still has gas left in the tank and finds success somewhere else. That's what it takes, sometimes. He seems like a genuinely good guy without a lot of ego, and the media market here has to be frustrating for a player that's wondering where his big games went.

    I could be wrong, but I feel like much of this has to do with the hype that still surrounds 2011-2012 season: it's Wilson's do-or-die year, to a lesser extent Burke's as well, and fans/media have been demanding the playoffs since the Leaf's last '10-'11 regular season game. I don't remember it feeling like this in Toronto before, and the room for error on the players' part is miniscule. Goalies and captains are the team anchors, and if they can't deliver, well, it's just business.

  2. I think you're right that Gus would do better elsewhere. I feel bad for the guy for the way things have gone for him in Toronto.
    I'd still like to see Burke get a veteran backup, maybe in a swap for Gus.
    I don't see Scrivens as a future #1 but he will be a good backup if he can get smarter handling the puck.
    And when he has a bad game and lets in some softies, yanking him and bringing in Gus isn't going to help. Coming back with a vet is going to settle the players down more.

    Send Gus to greener pastures, bring in a vet, and, when Reimer gets back, send Scrivens back down to work on handling the puck and communicating with the D ... make Scrivens the backup next year.

    I don't want the Leafs #1 to be learning on-the-job, even if it's temporary.

    On the other hand, it depends on the price for a vet. Maybe Turco is worth a shot as he'll have something to prove after being passed over.
    Leafs can't afford to give away assets to get a vet. A 2nd round pick is too high a price for Nabby.

  3. Nice post again Mike.
    I compare Gus to a girlfriend who just isn't working out, but you feel bad for breaking up with her because she hasn't necessarily done anything wrong, she just isn't a long term fix. i.e, there are better girls (goalies) out there.
    I'm semi-comfortable with Ben in net, especially on Thursday nights on the road so I think we owe it to Gus to get a fresh start and go another direction ourselves.
    On another note, too bad Boz lost control of the puck on that break away, would have been a huge 2 points, and a lot better Wednesday.

  4. This is a tough one. My opinion of Gustavsson has not changed. I believe that he could be a dominant NHL goalie, under the right circumstances. At the beginning of this season his game had multiple problems related to positioning, timing, and concentration. I think he has, by and large, improved in every area except one – concentration. He seems to lose focus for a few minutes each game, with often catastrophic results. This consequence is the softie, the spine-breaking goal that shatters the spirit of the team. Unfortunately, the effect of this single fault are disproportinate, especially in Leafland circa 2011. I have no idea what it might be like with several million fault-finders who do not understand goaltending judging you. I worry about his confidence, anyone's confidence under those circumstances. If he can somehow stay focussed for sixty minutes I am certain that his save percentage will shoot up and the wins will follow. Meanwhile, the Reimeresque character with a Disckensian name, Scrivens, looks more and more like money in the bank. While the team played abysmally over a stretch Scrivens manufactured four points in the standings. Fans are somehow missing this fact. My idea: Do nothing. The plan was to develop goaltending within. It is working! Do not bring in a vet who will set back, even destroy this strategy by taking valuable experience away from Scrivens, and maybe, just maybe, the Monster. For now, keep The Monster in his cage.

  5. I have this terrible feeling that if the Leafs give up on Gustavsson some team like Detroit will grab him and let him perfect his game in the AHL for a few years and he will turn into the next Kiprusoff...meaning he will probably have a great carreer later in life...with another team.

  6. A few thoughts: any goalie with a clearing-their-zone-challenged team like the Leafs is going to eventually let in a few goals - some bad, some unstoppable. This has been true of all the goalies we've used this year. So I'll give Monster some slack there. I'd also love to see a stat on how many goalies Francois Allaire has coached that have gone on to greatness. Gustavsson always looks like he's trying to remember how he's supposed to play the puck, instead of just playing it naturally. But I could be reading that into what I'm seeing.
    Both he and Scrivens have made some scintillating saves, as Danny Gallivan might have said, both are awkward handling the puck, and both are vulnerable on the glove side. Is there really that much to choose? And it's hard to steal a game if your team isn't scoring. Or playing with intensity for the full 60 minutes.
    Having said all that, if I had to make a choice, I'd go with Scrivens. His positioning seems stronger to me, and I feel he's only going to improve whereas I'm not sure about the Monster. I fear we've pretty much seen his best.

  7. All great comments that add to the discussion around the issues that impact Gustavsson and the Leafs. Thanks all, for taking the time to share your perspective.

  8. The Monster hasn't been given a fair shake. Every goalie gives up bad goals during a season. Not every goalie is thrown under the bus for a week by their coach when it does happen. Especially coaches who love to remind critics how great their career is (even when there is not a Cup ring). Wilson has messed the kid up and the media and many fans have somehow lost their sanity and mid-term memory.

    Scrivens has given up goals he should have stopped. Yet... he gets thrown back in because the team managed to rally and salvage a point or two. Same scenario with the Monster and he is riding the pine for weeks.

    Belfour played lousy many nights, but the coach kept him in there and he fought through it and brought us the playoffs. Potvin wasn't all polish and Joseph had some dog days too. But again, they were not tossed aside and embarrassed by their coach. Wilson is fighting for his job right now, and fumbling everything. Reimer saved his hide late last year, and Kessel and Phanuef are doing it early this year. Wilson may have won plenty of games, but he has lost touch with today's players. His methods and approach don't work anymore. Not in today's game and not with today's players. San Jose playoff failures were pinned on the players, Washington simply wasn't good enough (players blamed again), and the Leafs with Wilson? Again, the player talent level is the excuse. Those SJ and Wash teams generally had superior talent to the Leafs of the last few years, and he couldn't pull them through but deflected blame.

    There are brand marketing folks and spin specialists loving Wilson's PR techniques... but with so many years out of the playoffs and an awful track record on special teams, why aren't the savvy Toronto fans getting a clue as to this year's spin?

    The Leafs PK has been awful, brutal defensive play in general, new D pairings causing communication problems, a couple of new assistant coaches... things haven't been brought together, yet the young Swede takes the fall because he is supposed to be a Monster based on play in front of a team years ago that played better in front of him. He is young, needs seasoning and will likely not be a #1 for a while and maybe never if he stays in this environment. Great, keep calling him the Monster, but realize that a Monster is not a Miracle Worker. He needs help. He certainly hasn't gotten it from his head coach, and his team mates aren't taking responsibility for their actions in it either.

    I remember days when Gilmour, Roberts or Nieuw would openly declare they let the team/goalie down. Sittler, McDonald and Salming did it too. Happened in the 60s and from what I read in books and archives, even before that. Yet now, nobody is brave enough to step in and shoulder the responsibility of a TEAM game and stop their coach from further embarrassing the franchise. Step up Phanuef. It's a young team and you can have them as lambs blindly following the clueless shepherd or you can channel your inner Messier and grab this team and mould them into winners not followers. I am not blaming Phanuef for this, he just needs to step up as a teammate and as the captain to say that players cannot be blamed for everything.

    I am tired of losing and missing playoffs, tired of excuses, and tired of talent being buried when we can use it. The onus is on the coach to provide results... not excuses. A strategy for success on the ice and not a plan for saving his hide.

    Gary M

  9. Very well said Gary M...thanks for posting.