For all the improvements, all the spectacular saves, all the hard work and effort Jonas Gustavsson has made this season, a rotten stench continues to linger over his desire to become a legitimate No. 1 goalie.
The foul odour comes from the stinky goals he continues to allow on an alarmingly regular basis.
Gustavsson was outstanding at times in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, keeping the high-octane Penguins off the scoreboard in a first period that saw Evgeni Malkin and co. get out to a 9-1 edge in shots on goal.
But all that fine work by the uber-competitive Maple Leafs goaltender was flushed away in the third period when he whiffed on an easily stoppable backhand by the Pensí Pascal Dupuis with just 15:50 remaining in regulation, the winning tally in a 3-2 victory for the home side at the Consol Energy Center.
These muffs have been far too common.
Back on Feb. 21 at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs had just forced their game against the New Jersey Devils to overtime on a last-minute goal by Phil Kessel. But any momentum the Leafs may have accrued by knotting the game at 3-3 quickly was evaporated when a harmless-looking Mark Fayne point shot that was going wide deflected off Gustavsson and into the net, giving the Devils an unlikely 4-3 victory.
General manager Brian Burke has a point when he claims Gustavsson allowed the Leafs to stay in playoff contention when James Reimer was sidelined earlier in the season. On the other hand, here in crunch time when the race for post-season berths is heating up, you canít be losing games on bad goals like this.
New coach Randy Carlyle has shown confidence in Gustavsson, starting him in each of the past three games. But just when the young Swede appears to be making a positive statement with his play, a bad goal spoils it, a disturbing trend that has plagued Gustavsson for much of his brief time in the NHL.
Gustvassonís contract, which has a cap hit of $1.375 million this season, runs out on July 1. Allowing weak goals at crucial times in games isnít going to help his sales pitch to be brought back next season.
Gustavsson is a personable kid and a very fierce competitor. He cares. At the same time, heís got to be better with the game on the line.
Either way, this much is certain: You canít make the playoffs with inconsistent goaltending like the Leafs have been saddled with.
How bad has it been?
The Maple Leafs have not been to the playoffs since 2004. Their goaltender at that time? Ed Belfour, who is now in the Hall of Fame.
At first blush, it does not appear that the free agent market contains many potential goaltending saviours this summer, if any at all.
Here is the list of the more prominent potential UFAs among goaltenders, including their 2011-12 cap hits:
Cristobal Huet, Chicago ($5,625,000); Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils ($5,200,000); Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay ($3,000,000); Antero Niittymaki, San Jose ($2,000,000); Chris Mason, Winnipeg ($1,850,000); Michael Leighton, Philadelphia ($1,550,000); Dan Ellis, Anaheim ($1,500,000); Tomas Vokoun, Washington ($1,500,000); Johan Hedberg, New Jersey ($1,250,000); Scott Clemmensen, Florida ($1,200,000): Alex Auld, Ottawa ($1,000,000); Martin Biron, Rangers ($875,000); Johan Backlund, Philadelphia ($800,000); Ty Conklin, Detroit ($750,000); Josh Harding, Minnesota ($750,000); Andrew Raycroft, Dallas Stars ($650,000); Yann Danis, Edmonton ($650,000); Curtis McElhinney, Phoenix ($625,000); Al Montoya, Islanders ($601,000); Ray Emery, Chicago ($600,000); Curtis Sanford, Columbus ($600,000); Brent Johnson, Pittsburgh ($600,000); Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders ($570,000).
Brodeur, Roloson and Hedberg are in the twilight of their careers. Vokoun puts up respectable numbers but always seems to miss the playoffs. Do you take a chance on Nabokov? Emery? Montoya?
A trade might be a better route to go for Toronto, but how steep will the price be for a kid like the Kings Jonathan Bernier? Keep in mind that teams like Tampa Bay and Columbus also are in the hunt for help between the pipes.
As for the Canucks Cory Schneider, just canít see Vancouver making a deal with Toronto given the animosity between the two organizations.
While itís far too soon to make projections, it is interesting to note that, as of Thursday morning, the Leafs were slated to pick seventh overall in the June entry draft. The previous time Toronto found itself in that slot, it was 2009. At that time the selection was Nazem Kadri, a kid the Ottawa Senators admittedly had their eyes on. Almost three years later, Kadri must have wondered what was going on when the Leafs passed over him by calling up recently acquired Carter Ashton from the Marlies for the Penguins game ... One of Carlyleís biggest challenges might be the process of making Kessel a better defensive player. While Kessel is putting in the effort, the execution is falling short. His inability to get the puck out deep in Pittsburgh led to the Pens winning goal.