TORONTO - The reinvention of Jean-Sebastien Giguere begins in earnest when the lights come on Thursday night.
This is another chance, maybe his last, to reclaim the kind of hockey greatness that won him a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy in two different seasons in Anaheim. This is his final year on a contract that pays him an elite wage, more than either Ryan Miller or Martin Brodeur. And this, more than anything else, is what the downtrodden Maple Leafs are counting to begin their own road to redemption.
“Re-establishing myself as a No. 1 guy is my main priority right now.” said Giguere. He knows where is he and where he was. He isn’t one of those athletes who tends to fool himself. He know he doesn’t have Brodeur talent.
To be back, to be great again, all begins with hard work.
“I’m not looking to be spectacular,” said Giguere, 33. “I’m looking to be efficient. I’m looking to be consistent.”
The thing is, the Leafs may need him to be spectacular for the 50 or so games he is expected to start. If there has been a constant with Leafs teams that have made the playoffs, it has been rather great goaltending. They had it until Ed Belfour’s back went bad. They had it for the Curtis Joseph years. They had it with Felix Potvin and Grant Fuhr.
Just not recently. Not with Vesa Toskala or Andrew Raycroft or Martin Gerber or Joseph second time around or J.S. Aubin or Justin Pogge or Joey MacDonald or Scott Clemmensen or Mikael Tellqvist.
And as a new season begins with pomp and hype and circumstances, Giguere begins with something of a clean slate. It doesn’t matter that he lost his job to Jonas Hiller in Anaheim. It doesn’t matter that his Anaheim backup, Ilya Bryzgalov, is an all-star. Giguere went from Cup champion to rather average in the span of a season. Now, we’re not certain what he is: This is his time, our time, of discovery.
Ron Wilson has liked just about everything he has seen from Giguere in training camp and says he looks like the goalie he used to be. Mike Babcock, the Red Wings coach, said he hadn’t seen Giguere moving so well in years. He offered that opinion unsolicited. And his personal coach, goalie guru and confidante, Francois Allaire, has been thrilled with Giguere’s work leading to Game 1 against Montreal.
All that is what you hear when a new season begins. His play, more than anything else, will determine just how much hope there is for a somewhat hopeless Leafs team.
Giguere, in truth, is Allaire’s boy. Patrick Roy used to be that, back in the day. The development of Roy as the best money goalie in hockey history has been Allaire’s calling card as a goalie coach, but the work he has done with Giguere over the years may matter even more. Giguere doesn’t have Roy talent or remarkable athleticism. What he does is work hard and position himself to stop the puck. It isn’t pretty to watch, but it can be wall-like when done properly. Allaire figures Giguere has just the right kind of mental makeup to be able to handle playing for a less than sterling defensive team, in a pressure-filled market, with a team at the beginning of a rebuild.
“I’ve been on bad teams,” said Giguere, not certain what the Leafs will be. “I was on Anaheim when we finished last in our division.” In Anaheim, the Ducks went from 15th in the league, to 13th, to 7th to Stanley Cup champion witn Giguere in goal.
“He knows there will be a lot of bumps in the road,” Allaire said. “It’s not easy to get out of last place. You have to bump a lot of teams ahead of you. He did it once (before). There’s no reason he can’t do it again.
“I know his family. I know his father and mother and stuff ... I knew Giggy when he was a kid ... He has a certain way to stop the puck. I give him a lot of freedom to do it his way.”
There is this trust between Giguere and Allaire that doesn’t exist often between player and coach. It is more than even trust: It is absolute belief in each other.
Now, Giguere can’t wait to get going. He has loved his short time in Toronto, enjoyed the atmosphere around the Leafs, has his coach in place. “Aside from the traffic, everything has been great,” he said.
“It was a very long summer. It’s a new beginning.” For him. For his team. Maybe for his career.