VANCOUVER — Over the years, Jean-Sebastien Giguere has peered through the bars of his mask and never once fliched as a slapshot was unleashed at his head.
Indeed, the man nicknamed Jiggy is one of the coolest hombres you’ll ever find in the NHL.
That’s why it was so rare to see a hint of angst in Giguere’s eyes on Friday afternoon as he stood inside the Maple Leafs dressing room here at Rogers Arena, explaining to reporters the frustration of sitting out because of his groin injury, yet again.
Consider it a warning sign.
When it comes right down to it, Giguere isn’t just concerned about the games he might miss in the coming days or weeks. His fears have more to do with the long-term impact the injury could have on his career.
While the Leafs are calling Giguere “day-to-day,” the veteran goalie suspects there might be more to this injury than just the so-called minor tweak that already has kept him out of the lineup on a couple of occasions this season.
“It’s more than a matter of resting it,” said Giguere, who has missed eight games in the past six weeks when the injury flared up. “We have to find out what it is. We have brought it back to 100% before, then I start playing and it gets tired and weak.
“When I started playing this time, there was a sharp pain.”
Coach Ron Wilson’s plan was to lean heavily on Giguere in the near future. With impressive wins over Montreal, Boston and Edmonton since his most recent bout with the ailment, Giguere looked to be getting into a groove heading into Thursday night’s matchup against the Flames. He was brilliant through the first 34 minutes versus Calgary, making a couple of acrobatic highlight-reel stops that, upon further review, would appear to be the type of saves that would aggravate such an injury.
But Giguere insists that is not the case.
“It didn’t happen there,” he said. “Something just didn’t feel right.
“I think something’s going on. It’s important that I get it checked out and find out if I need to see a specialist.”
Giguere is scheduled to visit a doctor Sunday, at which time he hopes more can be discovered about what is hobbling him.
All the while, he knows the timing could not be worse for a goaltender who is advancing in age and who will be looking for a contract — possibly his final one — next summer.
“I’m 33 years old and I’m going to be a free agent, so this is not the best situation,” he said.
Healthy or not, Giguere isn’t going to command on the open market the $7 million US salary ($6 million cap hit) he is bringing in this season, the final one on his multi-year deal. But with teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning desperate for goaltending help, he might at least get a few respectable offers, especially if he could consistently keep up the high level of play he has exhibited recently.
But a 30-something goalie who keeps getting hurt, well, that’s another story, especially if this latest setback keeps him sidelined for a while.
In the meantime, the door once again is open for Jonas Gustavsson, the Leafs’ so-called goalie of the future, to gobble up a hefty chunk of playing time. James Reimer, the kid called up from the Marlies on Friday to back up The Monster, is also highly regarded by Leafs management while Finnish rookie Jussi Rynnäs continues to impress down on the farm.
Where does that leave Giguere in the grand scheme of things?
If the injury proves to be minor, he’ll have more of a chance to show off his game. If it’s worse, there is not much he can do.
Either way, the injury-plagued Giguere will have to make his own free-agent bed.