January 31, 2010
No Monster deal for GustavssonLeafs goalie still has to pay his dues
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
When Brian Burke wooed Jonas Hiller out of the Swiss mountains to the Hollywood Hills less than three years ago, few Anaheim Ducks fans gave it a second thought.
Or cared, for that matter.
As Hiller inked his first NHL contract on May 25, 2007, Burke's Ducks, thanks in part to the goaltending of J-S Giguere, were en route to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Who could have predicted that Hiller one day would work his way into the starter's job, one he claimed a year ago?
Hiller was outstanding during the 2009 playoffs, helping the Ducks upset the mighty San Jose Sharks in the first round, then almost felling the defending Stanley Cup champs in Round 2.
On Saturday, the Ducks rewarded the kid who once toiled in relative obscurity behind Giguere, signing Hiller to a four-year, $18 million US pact.
Sorry, Leafs Nation. If you had Hiller's name on your list of potential candidates to come to Toronto this summer, cross it off.
Given the Leafs' inconsistent goaltending situation this season, there was a school of thought swirling through the city that Hiller might be a significant free-agent pickup.
Truth be told, all this recent speculation going around concerning the Leafs potentially bringing in an established goalie on a long-term deal is premature.
The only way that will occur is if Jonas Gustavsson's handlers ask for the moon. And, with Gustavsson poised to become a restricted free agent on July 1, that might happen.
Burke is not going to empty the bank for his rookie netminder. In his mind, while there is a bright future waiting for Gustavsson, he still is an unknown, much like Hiller was in the early going.
Besides, if it took Hiller three years in the NHL to earn an annual salary of $4 million, why would the Leafs give Gustavsson a similar deal after just one?
If they can ink Gustavsson to a reasonable deal, on the other hand, the plan is to bring in an established goalie for a year or two to complement him. Just don't expect them to give the newcomer any kind of significant tenure.
"I can't predict what our tandem will be next season," Leafs senior vice-president of hockey operations Dave Nonis said Saturday night. "But whatever it is, if you believe like we do that Gustavsson can one day be a top-flight goalie in this league, you've got to give him the hope that he can still earn the starting job."
In other words, if an established veteran such as Marty Turco, a pending unrestricted free agent, were to seek a four-year contract over the summer, logic suggests the Leafs would not go there. If they did, they would be telling Gustavsson that they had no confidence in him as a long-term solution.
Now, if such a goaltender were willing to accept a one- or two-year pact, there likely would be more interest.
Goalies are a fickle bunch. Look at Vancouver stud Roberto Luongo. He was yanked after allowing three first period goals to the Leafs Saturday night in favour of Andrew Raycroft, who made his first appearance at the ACC since bolting as a free agent in the summer of 2008.
It was that kind of crazy night, especially in the opening 20 minutes when Luongo couldn't stop much and Vesa Toskala was stopping everything.
Don't get too excited. Toskala won't be back next season. He'll be too busy following Raycroft's footsteps right out of town.
As for Gustavsson, however, the organization would like to have him back. If he doesn't price himself out of the market.
And if Burke is lucky, this Jonas will develop just as well as the Jonas he signed in Anaheim almost three years ago.