Monster praise for Leafs

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

The Monster picked up his cell phone and said nothing.

In the background, a couple of women could be heard chatting away (apparently in Swedish), the mood very light-hearted, like everyone was having a good time.

Only after the caller asked if it was Jonas Gustavsson on the line, did The Monster speak.

Turns out, Gustavsson is on holiday in the south of Sweden, attempting to recharge after the death of his mother in May and a recent whirlwind trip to North America, where the free-agent goaltender visited four NHL cities, Toronto, Dallas, Colorado and San Jose.

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has put on a full-court press, flying twice to Europe in the past few weeks to impress upon Gustavsson the value of playing for Toronto.

And while Gustavsson wouldn't say where he will land this season, he did tell Sun Media that he expects to make a decision in the next couple of days and that Toronto is high on his list.

"It's hard to explain," said Gustavsson, when asked what his final decision will rest upon. "I'm going to make a decision on what feels right inside. Right now, I'm going to rest for a couple of days and relax and see what is right for me."

Gustavsson said money will not be a deciding factor. Under the terms of the CBA, the most any NHL team can pay Gustavsson this season is $900,000 US, although that could increase substantially with bonuses.

What Gustavsson would say about Toronto and the Leafs in particular, is that he likes the city (he also visited Toronto a few years ago while attending the Steve Davies goaltender school) and is impressed with the organization and Burke.

"He's a nice guy," said Gustavsson, who obviously has yet to experience Burke when the GM's temper is up.

The Leafs have pulled out all the stops in an attempt to sign the 6-foot-4 Gustavsson, widely considered the best goaltender outside of the NHL last season. Known as the Monster, Gustavsson posted a stellar 1.96 goals against average and .932 save percentage for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League last season. He also put up some excellent numbers for Sweden at the world championship with a 2.83 GAA.

The Leafs see him as a backup for Vesa Toskala and it didn't hurt that they hired world renowned goaltending coach Francois Allaire.

Still, as he reiterated a number of times, Gustavsson said his final decision will be based as much on a gut feeling -- what he feels in his heart -- as anything else.

Gustavsson brushed aside suggestions that playing in the limelight that is Toronto, with the salivating media hordes, would be a turnoff or would sway him against signing with the Leafs.

"No. I think I put the most pressure on myself," he said. "If you play bad, sure it's tough to read the newspapers. But at the same time, it's nice when a lot of people get involved and care about the team. I don't mind if everybody is talking about me, good or bad. I think I'm calm enough (to handle it)."

The fact that Burke is rebuilding the once pathetic franchise from the ground up and that it might take years for the club to become a contender, apparently doesn't bother The Monster either.

"I like almost everything about the team," Gustavsson said. "It's a good organization with a good history.

"I think having a young team is good because there's a lot of hunger for winning," he added.

Gustavsson admitted that the passing of his mom, the travel and pressure to make the right decision has taken a toll on him mentally.

"It has been up and down," he said. "But I think everything will be all right. Right now I feel good."

Burke will feel great if Gustavsson lands in Toronto. But if the Monster goes elsewhere, the GM likely will either sign another free agent or attempt a trade for a quality backup.

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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