November 9, 2011
'The Monster' not scaring anyoneGustavsson's time is running short
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Once whined and dined like some kind of rock icon, Jonas Gustavsson’s star is fading fast.
With his contract with the Maple Leafs set to expire at the end of the season, Gustavsson has done a poor on-ice job of dissuading Toronto management from cutting bait with him come next summer.
While no one likes to see a stand-up kid like James Reimer have his career temporarily interrupted by injury, his absence set the stage for Gustavsson to stake his claim as a bonafide starting goalie in the National Hockey League.
Several weeks later, his inconsistent play has left him battling for playing time with Ben Scrivens, who was toiling in the East Coast league a year ago.
It says here it is time for Gustavsson to step up.
Because the clock likely is ticking on his tenure in Toronto.
When watching him struggle in his past two outings, it seems hard to believe that this is the same young goaltender out of Sweden that teams were clamouring for back in the summer of 2009.
Locked in a heated battle with the Maple Leafs to acquire his services at the time, the Dallas Stars brought Gustavsson and his parents to the nearby Ballpark in Arlington for an interleague game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.
With thousands of fans in the sun-baked stands looking on, The Monster, accompanied by Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, trotted out to the mound, where he tossed the ceremonial first pitch ... in the dirt.
While at the stadium, Gustavsson also was introduced to former U.S. president George W. Bush, a meeting that ignited huge headlines in his native Sweden.
Knowing that Gustavsson would be leaving for Toronto to meet with the Leafs the next day, Nieuwendyk pulled The Monster aside and joked: “You’re lucky. You get to meet two world leaders on this trip — George Bush and Brian Burke,’“
In the end, Burke wooed him to Toronto, a recruiting process that included a trip to Sweden by the Maple Leafs president with the intention of getting his man.
But what, in fact, did he get?
In just two-plus seasons in the Maple Leafs organization, there still remain some of the same warts in Gustavsson’s game that existed when he first came to North America — specifically, issues with positioning and rebound control. Both are areas in which goaltending coach Francois Allaire has been tirelessly working with Gustavsson on improving, but the results have been, at best, marginal.
To be fair, Gustavsson’s heart-related health issues would have scared any young man, no matter what profession he was in. That Gustavsson was able to overcome those problems and resume his career should serve as inspiration to anyone who finds themselves with the same complications.
In terms of personality, he is quite a pleasant kid to be around. Moreover, he is fiercely competitive and has left more than a few goalie sticks in pieces after smashing them off the cross bar in frustration.
At the same time, his numbers at the NHL level leave something to be desired.
In 74 career games with the Leafs, Gustavsson has a 26-32-11 record with a 3.10 goals-against average and .896 save percentage, stats that need to get better. There admittedly have been some solid performances since Reimer went down last month, but, at the same time, you could argue he has allowed at least one smelly goal during games against the Rangers, Senators, Bruins and Panthers.
Perhaps an alarming sign was his post-game reaction after being pulled against the Panthers on Tuesday.
Gustavsson attributed his struggles to bad bounces.
Scrivens, who replaced him, attributed his own struggles to simply playing poorly.
Two young goalies. Two far different takes on being accountable.
“It’s easy when things are going your way and you have all of the bounces going with you,” Gustavsson, who is earning $1.4 million US this season, said on Wednesday. “When you don’t, that’s when you have to work even harder and believe in yourself and believe what you’re doing is right.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a bad game, that’s not as bad as you are and if you have a great game, that’s not as good as you are. You’re always somewhere in between. You have to realize that and stay balanced and keep working.”
That’s the problem. Right now, with Reimer on the shelf, the Gustavsson-Scrivens duo is not working, at least not on the scoreboard.
And for Gustavsson, his time with the Leafs could be running out if things don’t change.