When you watch a game like the one the Leafs put together last night, it’s easy to find yourself in panic mode. A few things about this version of blowing a point that stand out, at least to me, are the way the Leafs played in the 3rd period, as well as the way that Phil Kessel was able to be a steady threat throughout. In a game where the Leafs played their usual rope-a-dope style; coming out with guns-a-blazing, then playing dead, then coming to life to give the fan base a collective coronary, one has to ask themselves: Is this exciting, end-to-end style of hockey that our staff employs, going to give this team a chance to be consistent contenders for the playoffs, and furthermore, the big prize?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to come out and start calling for Ron Wilson’s head. I don’t necessarily believe Ronnie and Co. are the problem here. All I’m questioning is the pledge to play “exciting hockey” that Burke and Wilson made when Burke was brought in to rebuild the club. We understand that you want to put a product on the ice that puts fans in the seats, but let’s face it, despite years of mediocrity and astronomical ticket prices, the seats are full REGARDLESS of the product they ice. The fact of the matter is, You could make an argument on either side. Is it the style of hockey? Or is it the players tasks to carry it out? Whichever you may believe, there is a problem here.
I’ll take a stab at problem #1. When you play a run-and-gun style of hockey, you automatically lend yourself to high scoring affairs, usually on both sides. Playing a game that is based around building speed and moving the puck through the neutral zone the way the Leafs do, will inevitably result in dangerous turnovers, as most opposing coaches adjust to clog the neutral zone and force you to earn every inch of ice. This isn’t a problem for a lot of teams. A team that employs a run-and-gun, whom also has the kind of size and jam to win critical puck battles along the boards, will adjust to this defensive modification seamlessly, and begin a gritty dump and chase campaign. That’s where the Leafs have great trouble. With a glaring lack of size in the ranks of the Leafs’ top three lines, dump and chase style hockey rarely works, unless you can avoid puck battles by winning races. This is something that goes out the window if the opposition maintains defensive posture and positioning. It also makes for a frustrating night. The argument can be made that Wilson had great success with this system in San Jose, but the big difference in the two situations is easy to spot. Their names are Thornton, Marleau, Clowe, and Pavelski.
Assumption/Conclusion: Size in the top-9 is a HUGE need (change the record…..)
Let’s have a look at what many see as the biggest (immediate) problem. Dependable and consistent goaltending has been missing in Toronto since the lockout. The Maple Leafs have employed a laundry list of beauties in the post-lockout era, from such gems as Andrew Raycroft (Rayflop, as it were) to Vesa Toskala (Toskalol). JS Giguere was brought in to be a solid veteran presence, and a mentor to a young and developing Jonas Gustavsson, but injuries, and a lack of consistency out of the Monster opened the door to youngster James Reimer. Reimer shone down the stretch last season, and provided Leafs fans and the organization moments of brilliance. Coming into the season, Burke and Co. were happy to pin the teams fortunes on the young netminder, with every reason to believe that his high level of play would continue, as Reimer learned the ropes of being a starter in the league. The early injury, and once again inconsistent play of Jonas Gustavsson, led the Leafs to give the developing Ben Scrivens a look, to which he responded by showing good future potential, although not enough un-seat either netminder from the Leafs rotation. With the circus that Jonas put on in the crease last night, giving up 3 duffers, We’re back to square one. The most unfortunate aspect of the situation is the fact that for the first time in a long time, we don’t have a goalie standing on his head down the stretch, where they normally would, putting us just outside of the playoffs, but downgrading our draft pick. Sometimes the draft pick part isn’t the goalie’s fault. See: Boyd Devereaux
To close this random rambling, I’ll say this: The trade deadline, for better or worse, will determine this team’s fate. If Burke is unable to add some size and grit to the lineup (nevermind star power), this team is dead in the water. Even if the Leafs are able to squeak into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed, do they have kind of players through the roster like Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker, in the pre-lockout era, that play such important roles in the post-season? The answer, my friends, is no. Burke will have to make some tough decisions in the coming week, possibly having to part with pieces that are hard for the fan base to swallow, but we all know you have to give quality to get quality.
Hang on folks, it’s going to be a rocky ride.
You can (and should) follow me on twitter with the handle @LeafswireJus
It seems like a long shot; more of a silent hope and a prayer than something that actually seems possible of happening. Its seems like something that could only happen in NHL 12, but recent events have made a Rick Nash to Toronto deal look as though it could be possible.
Just this morning Toronto GM, Brian Burke, met with Columbus GM, Scott Howson. It is reported that they both enjoyed the continental breakfast and shared a side of pancakes, but even more interesting is that they discussed hockey! Now lets not get too ahead of ourselves here. Burke is known to pull off the big trade (i.e.. Dion Phaneuf), and it seems like the Leafs finally have the assets to make something like this happen with the likes of Luke Schenn, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne. Some of these players would probably have to be sent packing.
Even more intriguing are rumours that Howson is looking to package Nash, and once promising goalie Steve Mason. I have been told that Mason has been reading the “Andrew Raycroft Biography: So thats hockey?”, and it seems to be affecting his play as of late. However, if there is validity to this, Columbus will need a goalie in return so either Jonas Gustavsson, or James Reimer would have to be part of the package.
In pure speculation, I would assume the deal would be structured somewhat like this:
To Columbus: 1st round pick (maybe one more), Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Luke Schenn, James Reimer/Jonas Gustavsson
To Toronto: Rick Nash, Steve Mason
So cross every finger and toe you have, say a little prayer every night until the trade deadline, and carry at least 5 lucky horseshoes on your person at all times.
If good old Burkie can pull off this deal, I think it will be a given that he never has to do up his tie ever again (not that he does anyway).
There were a few things noticeable in tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, good and bad. We (the fans) can’t really complain much this season: the Leafs have played generally well and the achilles heel of years past – the defense – has looked breathtaking on most nights.
Still, the team is nowhere near perfect or close to being a Stanley Cup contender. We can all take solace in the giant steps the team has taken towards regaining a playoff spot. Heading into tonight’s contest with the Jets, the Leafs stood at a 90.05% chance of making the playoffs. Not a lock, but certainly looking good.
One of the most glaring deficiencies tonight was evident in the Leafs inability to handle the Jets’ speed on the outside.
On the first goal, Chris Thorburn was able to burn down the wing and throw a backhand on net. Evidently, Jonas Gustavsson should have had the shot but that doesn’t leave the defense in the clear either. Luke Schenn was at fault on the play. He’s not the fastest of skaters, but in this case he should have backed off a bit and played a bit more centralized. Still, should have been a more routine play by the goaltender.
The second goal saw more of the same, with Blake Wheeler barreling in on Gustavsson coming from the wing. His driving of the net allowed for a juicy rebound which Jim Slater was happy to tap in. On the play, Matthew Lombardi should have tied up his man, but it all happened pretty quickly, so you can’t be that upset with how it shook out.
Aside from the Leafs’ inability to deal with Winnipeg’s speed (to be fair, they’re playing the second night of a back-to-back) the other most glaring deficiency in tonight’s play was the team’s inability to deal with Winnipeg’s size and tenacity.
Winnipeg’s forwards would come in hard, banging and crashing our forwards and defensemen along the boards, winning battles and creating scoring chances. Usually, the Leafs’ speed out factors a team’s physicality, but tonight it was a sore sight to see. Again, it might be the product of playing on back to back nights but it has to be a cause for concern in the back of everyone’s mind.
It’s been the opinion of some media and fans lately that the Leafs should stand pat in light of recent success. Since when does a team that sits in seventh place – having missed the playoffs every year since the lockout – stand a better chance of winning without upgrading its lineup?
A move for a goaltender isn’t feasible this season, nor is it necessary. Gustavsson and James Reimer have proven capable of at least grabbing wins this season, and this can be re-visited in the offseason. The defense is very deep right now, leading to speculation that a trade would originate from the surplus. Word has it the Leafs feel Korbinian Holzer is ready to be a full time NHLer, and Keith Aulie has played successfully at the NHL level as well.
Any move the Leafs would potentially make would be aimed at upgrading their forwards. We’ve heard all year that Brian Burke has been itching to add some size and tenacity into his top six. The Leafs would definitely be upgrading their lineup by adding a scoring winger/center with size and a defensive forward for the bottom six. It all comes down to availability and price.
We’ve heard the rumoured names, we’ve talked about them endlessly, and we’ve debated their validity all season long. In the end, the Leafs could definitely stand to add a forward or two if they really want to try and achieve something in the postseason, otherwise they’re gunning for a first round failure.
With last night’s win against the Edmonton Oilers bringing the Toronto Maple Leafs playoffs chances to 90.05%, it looks as if the Maple Leafs are finally heading towards their first playoff berth since the NHL lockout. It’s never a good idea to assume anything, so I won’t be congratulating the boys on anything until we see an ‘x’ beside them in the standings.
Still, the success has to be coming from somewhere. Players finally developing and hitting their strides? Improved goaltending from both James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson? The additions of Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon? Perhaps.
There’s no way to determine for sure what the cause is, that’s the beauty of sports. There are so many variables that go in to winning, it’s hard to pinpoint the driving force behind success. At best, we can make cases for aspects of improved play that have a part in the overall effect.
Today I want to look at the phenomena that is ‘scoring by defensemen’. As the season has unfolded, I’ve noticed a few distinct differences between this years team and those of seasons passed. One of the most glaring differences is the involvement of the defense in offensive production.
The chart doesn’t include Tomas Kaberle (3g – 35a – 38 pts) and Francois Beauchemin (2g – 10a – 12 pts). In total, the Maple Leafs defense scored 139 points. This may have been impacted by the fact Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson both missed a good amount of games.
Obviously management saw this was an issue as well, as they tried hard to land John-Michael Liles at last year’s deadline. Ultimately, they acquired him before the NHL Entry Draft, but it was obvious the team wanted to improve their production from the back end. To supplement Liles’ addition, the team traded for young Cody Franson as well.
The offensive expectations coming into this season were obviously higher with a healthy Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson along with the arrival of Liles and Franson. Luke Schenn was coming off a breakout year offensively, and Mike Komisarek was expected to be a healthy scratch most of the time in favour of Jake Gardiner. Gardiner, a noted offensive defensemen was expected to contribute along the blueline as well.
So, how have Maple Leaf defenders fared so far this season? Refer to the chart below:
First thing to address: Maple Leafs have scored a total of 122 points after just 53 games. They’re on pace for 189 points by the end of the 82 game schedule.
The second thing to look at is the amount of games missed by key players.
- John-Michael Liles missed 16 games to concussion
- Jake Gardiner has missed 7 games as a healthy scratch
- Cody Franson has missed 15 games as a healthy scratch
You have to imagine if those players (all considered mainstays in the lineup at this point) had played every game so far, they’d have a few more points. It’s no use speculating on what-ifs, but rather, we should acknowledge that there is a direct correlation between the increased offence generated by Maple Leafs defensemen and the success the team has seen this year.
At this point, it’s not known for sure whether or not the Leafs will make the playoffs, or even have consistent success for the rest of the season. All we can do is note that this year’s team is much better (wins and points wise) and it is no coincidence that the defensemen have played a bigger role offensively.
By the numbers: points by defensemen for Stanley Cup champions (regular season)
- 2011 Boston Bruins: 149 points by defensemen.
- 2010 Chicago Blackhawks: 222 points by defensemen.
- 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins: 148 points by defensemen.
- 2008 Detroit Red Wings: 204 points by defensemen.
- 2007 Anaheim Ducks: 209 points by defensemen.
Goalies have been a hot topic in Toronto for a long time. Gone are the days of stable goaltending from the likes of Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Eddie Belfour. Gone are the failed experiments in Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala. Moved on are the journeymen and failed prospects.
These days in Toronto, the net is minded by two youngsters, James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.
Reimer – a 23 year old from Morweena, Manitoba – is in his second season playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reimer is fresh into a new three-year contract that pays $1.8 million annually. He earned it based on a strong finish to last season which saw Reimer earn the starter’s job, posting a 20-10-5 record with a 0.921SV% and 2.60 GAA.
Gustavsson – a 27 year old from Danderyd, Sweden – is in his third season playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gustavsson is in the last year of a two-year contract that paid him $1.35 million annually. Prior to that, he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs by signing a one-year contract worth $2.5 million ($1.6 million in bonuses). Gustavsson posted a 16-15-9 record in 2009-2010, along with a 0.902SV% and a 2.87GAA. Last year he regressed to a 6-13-2 record, with a dismal 0.890SV% and 3.29GAA.
With the season just over half finished, now would be a good time to take a look at how the goaltending is faring this season. This was somewhat brought upon by a tweet from @thejustinfisher last night, joking that Gustavsson was getting hotter just in time to walk when free agency hits.
The goaltending hasn’t always been that good this season, and I emphasize the word good because it’s still not great (far from, really). Good goaltending helps teams steal games. It can bail a team out on nights where the compete level isn’t where it should be. It can inspire vigorous offensive play, diligent back checking and defensively sound play.
The Leafs haven’t received adequate goaltending since the last time they made the playoffs. Since then, it’s been an up and down ride. That all seemingly changed last year towards the end of the season. Enter rookie phenom James Reimer, whose goaltending and calming presence led the Leafs on a late season run of good hockey, bringing them close but never really close enough for a playoff berth.
Reimer’s late season heroics were enough to earn him a shiny, new contract (as noted earlier) and gave Leafs Nation a sense of renewed optimism for the upcoming season. We had finally found our bonafide starter. The search was finally over, and we could focus on improving other aspects of the team. Burke’s mantra of building from the net out was coming together, and we could finally move forward.
Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2011-2012 NHL season. Reimer plays the first five games of the season, and the Leafs are feeling good with a 4-0-1 record. Nine of a possible ten points. The bandwagons are loaded, the parades are being planned, and everything feels good. At least, on the surface.
I can’t remember if it was addressed at the time but I have a feeling it was. There are a lot of intelligent minds out there who definitely would have caught these concerning statistics, but I’m assuming they were downplayed because of the overall success of the club. Getting back on topic, here are Reimer’s stats from this season:
After posting a shutout in the season opener against Montreal (a game I was at, he looked very sharp), the stats go downhill for Reimer. Five goals on thirty two shots against Ottawa (0.844 SV%), three goals on twenty four shots against Colorado (0.875 SV%) and three goals against Winnipeg (0.897 SV%). That’s three of five games with a save percentage less than 0.900. After 5 games, Reimer was sitting at a save percentage of 0.913 with a GAA of 2.60.
The numbers themselves aren’t bad, and Aristotle did say that the ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts”, but you had to wonder if the goaltending was going to start catching up to the team.
As it would go, James Reimer succumbed to injury in his next game, exiting the lineup with what was eventually called a concussion.
Enter Jonas Gustavsson and AHL callup Ben Scrivens.
Gustavsson, by necessity, assumed the starter’s job when Reimer went down, and many in Leafs Nation became nervous, as Reimer was seemingly the only one able to play in pressure situations. After the first couple games led by Gustavsson in net, it looked as if the fans were right. Gustavssons stats so far this season:
As you can tell by the above statistics, Jonas’ first few games as the starter weren’t that pretty. Inserted to his first start before Reimer went down against the Bruins, he was blown out for six goals on forty three shots (0.860 SV%). If you remember watching this game, the Leafs played downright embarrassing, but the goaltending was nothing to be proud of either. His next two games saw him posting sub 0.900 save percentages, and collective groans were heard in Toronto.
The goaltending of Gustavsson did not encourage coach Ron Wilson to give Gustavsson the bulk of starts, and so farmhand Ben Scrivens was able to get into some game action. Unfortunately, despite a good first game, the honeymoon ended early for the Cornell graduate. His NHL statistics are as follows:
Of the eight games he played in, Scrivens posted 4 games in which his save percentage was lower than 0.900. On the flipside, Scrivens’ other four games saw his post save percentages all above 0.925. With obvious investments in Reimer and Gustavsson, Scrivens’ stay was brief, and he returned to the AHL.
Reimer would eventually return, but his results haven’t been spectacular. This has led to the temporary naming of Gustavsson as the starter for the team. As coach Wilson put it, the goalie who is getting results and gives the team the best chance to win, will start.
That man has been Jonas Gustavsson, he of the 0.908 save-percentage and 2.83 GAA. In comparison, Reimer’s accumulated a 0.899 save-percentage and 3.01 GAA.
The numbers aren’t pretty, and as a direct result, neither is the team’s record.
So the question is, what should the team do?
With goaltender Jonas Gustavsson set to hit the UFA market (which, may I remind you, is the barest it’s been in years) and James Reimer signed on for two more seasons, the team will have some decisions to make.
Ben Scrivens (AHL : 2.37 GAA, 0.912 SV%) and Jussi Rynnas (AHL : 2.63 GAA, 0.910 SV%) are both set to become RFA at season’s end.
Mark Owuya (AHL : 1.97 GAA, 0.932 SV%, 5 GP), who has spent most of the season with the ECHL Reading Royals (ECHL : 2.78 GAA, 0.929 SV%), has one more year left on his contract.
Grant Rollheiser (a Leaf draft pick) hardly plays, and is still attending college. Garret Sparks (taken in last year’s draft) is doing his time with Owen Sound in the OHL.
All are decent prospects, but are any legitimate starting goaltenders? Possibly, but none would be able to step in right away.
There’s a chance James Reimer can be a starting goaltender, he’s shown good ability in the past, but he’s currently in a funk. The team will have two more seasons to evaluate his ability and at a reasonable cap hit too.
With Gustavsson, the situation gets a bit difficult. He could choose to walk away in the summer, seeking bigger dollars from a team that’s willing to allocate him more starts. The Leafs would certainly look to platoon the new backup with Reimer, who hasn’t show the ability to get the bulk of starts on his own. There’s also a possibility that the team may choose to walk away from Gustavsson. In their defence, they may have deemed him not capable and would seek an alternative.
Now the question becomes ‘Does the alternative come from within the organization, or would they have to look externally?’
Ben Scrivens seems like the best option internally, but that would put a lot of pressure on Reimer, who would be expected to gain the majority of starts. I just can’t see the Leafs going with a Reimer / Scrivens duo, it’s a lot of inexperience and there would be tons of room for failure.
It makes most sense for the club to seek an external option, and in all honesty it would need to come from a trade.
Some of you reading this may be saying ‘why trade for a goalie when we can sign one for free?’. Normally, this would be correct. However, the UFA market for goalies is absolutely horrible. The only player worth mentioning is Josh Harding, who coincidentally is on the list of players I think the Leafs should target.
This post is really dragging on, and I normally despise doing that, but when you think about the topic, the length is merited. To keeps things simple, I’m going to list goaltender candidates the Leafs should target for next season. I’m assuming they part ways with Gustavsson (who has proven he can’t handle the job and/or might seek bigger dollars from another organization) and they opt to not go with a Reimer/Scrivens tandem.
Without further hesitation, I will unveil my personal list of goalies the Leafs should target for next season:
- Josh Harding: Has been toiling as the backup behind Nicklas Backstrom for years now. Seen by many as NHL ready, filled in admirably while Backstrom was struggling early on. It’s possible he has been the by-product of a defensively-strong Minnesota system. Could be a good candidate to platoon with Reimer. Career GAA of 2.62 and .917 save percentage.
- Jaroslav Halak: St. Louis gave up a package for whom they thought would be their starter for many years. With the play of Brian Elliot, and prospects such as Jake Allen and Ben Bishop in the system, the Blues might look to deal Halak away. He’s owed $3.75 million annually until 2013-2014. Would command a hefty return, but appears to be best goaltender available through trade. Started off slow, but has regained his form. Lifetime GAA of 2.48 with a save percentage of 0.916.
- Sergei Bobrovsky: Emerged as solid goaltender for Philadelphia last season, but wasn’t enough to get them far in the playoffs. They went out and acquired Ilya Bryzgalov, and he’s signed to big money and a long term. Bobrovsky has played well this season, and has split time with Bryzgalov. He will have year left on his entry-level contract (RFA 2013), and might want to assume starter’s duties elsewhere. Lifetime 2.56 GAA and 0.916 SV%.
- Cory Schneider: In terms of skill, Schneider earns number four in the list of goaltending targets. That being said, he’s highly valued piece by Vancouver, and they aren’t eager to move him, considering Roberto Luongo’s incosistencies. Would command big package to acquire, and even then, it’s a pipe dream. Lifetime 2.45 GAA and 0.922 SV%.
- Jonathon Bernier: Jonathon Quick has been simply unreal for the Los Angeles Kings this year. They’d be doing a lot better if the rest of their team could support Quick’s efforts. Bernier remains a trade chip for LA, as it seems they will be going with Quick in the long run. They have some farmhands (in specific, who could be ready to assume backup if they decide to move Bernier out. Bernier is still raw in terms of ability, but he’s highly touted and could be that goalie. Hasn’t played much in the past couple of seasons, but if given the chance, he could explode.
- Anders Lindback: Has stormed on to the goaltending scene, playing very well behind Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. With Nashville locking up Rinne and issues trying to get both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter long term, the Predators may look to move Lindback, whose contract expires at season end. He will be an RFA, but will seek more money, and the Preds may be unable to afford him. Lifetime 2.62 GAA with a 0.911 save percentage. Nashville is known for being a defensive team, so the transition to Toronto may be difficult (as with Harding).
- Ben Bishop: An interesting situation in St. Louis, as one of their top goaltending prospects is set to become a UFA at seasons end if he does not play 15 more NHL games. The depth in St. Louis is so deep that Bishop has been limited to 13 NHL games, and will change from RFA to group VI UFA. He’s a big goalie, standing at 6’7″, and would be ideal for the Allaire style goaltending. He could probably be had for a small price (as compared to the above alternatives), but there is more risk associated with his acquisition. Lifetime 2.83 GAA with 0.896 SV%. (AHL 2011/2012: 2.17 GAA and 0.932 SV%)
- Antero Niittymaki: With Antti Niemi, Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock the writing is on the wall for Niitymaki. Set to become a UFA at years end, the Sharks will most certainly liked to get some value for him before his contract expires. Niitymaki is last on the list because of his age and his ability. He should be a last ditch effort in order to shore up the goaltending, if all else fails. I don’t believe the Leafs will look at Niitymaki as a trade target, but could approach him in July should all ele fail. Lifetime 2.95 GAA with a 0.902 SV%.
I’ve ranked the list somewhat in terms of cost, ability and potential. All of the candidates (with the exception of Niittymaki) are below the age of 27 and would fit in well moving forward. The only goalie that would be obtainable outside of trade would be Harding, who tops the list. Bishop could potentially become a UFA, but that’s a longshot; St. Louis will almost certainly move his rights to a team in need prior to the deadline.
I’d love to hear everyones thoughts on the list, and what your creative ideas are for improving the goaltending situation. Leave a comment, or send us (@leafswire) a tweet.
After ending their three game winless streak with a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, the Toronto Maple Leafs are presented with a great chance to cement themselves into the playoff hunt. With four games in three nights, the Leaf will face the Montreal Canadiens (Saturday night) and the New York Islanders (Monday night, Tuesday night) in a home and home matchup.
There’s no such thing as an ‘easy win’ in the NHL. You have to battle and give it your all every single night to earn the two points. With that being said however, the Leafs will face two of the weakest teams in the league this year. Grabbing six points won’t be easy, but it should be doable, especially if this team aspires to make the playoffs.
The Leafs are sitting at 51 points after tonight’s win; one point out of 8th and four out of 6th. Earning a full six points in their next three games would give them 57 points.
Toronto’s trying to gain ground on Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Florida, all of whom have played the same amount of games or less. The Leafs desperately need these points in order to close the gap and put them on their way to secure one of the final playoff spots.
It looks as if Florida’s steam is running out, but New Jersey and Pittsburgh could pose issues. Winnipeg isn’t that far behind, and if they challenge Washington for the division lead, the Leaf will be forced to contend with Washington as well.
No one ever said making the playoffs this year would be easy. Hell, it’s a lot more exciting this way. The thing to remember is, every journey begins with a step. Taking six points in the next three games would be a big step in the right direction.
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Jonas Gustavsson had another good performance in the Leafs’ win against the Wild. He stopped 20 of 21 shots, letting in somewhat of a soft goal in the waning minutes of the game. The team played a better defensive game in front of him, and the goaltender made timely saves in order to preserve the win.
Gustavsson is 5-2 with a 1.86 GAA and a .934 SV% so far in January. Two of those wins were shutouts.
Over the entire season, Gustavsson is 13-9 with a 2.92 GAA and a .906SV%.
Gustavsson will be a UFA on July 1st, 2012. The Leaf will need to make a decision on how they proceed in net for next season. James Reimer is signed on for two more seasons while Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya are all splitting time in the minors this season.
What do you think the Leafs will do with Gustavsson? Leave a comment below, or tweet us.
Firstly, I hope everyone had an amazing holiday wether they were celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or any of the other various holidays that we celebrate around the world at this time. The Leafs played their last game prior to the holiday on the 23rd against the Islanders, a 5-3 win. The team was lucky enough to have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off before resuming last night against the Panthers, a 5-3 loss.
Ron Wilson and his Extension
It’s never a dull moment in Leafs Nation, and as such, news was made Christmas morning when Ron Wilson announced his own extension by way of a tweet. The coach caused some ruckus partly because of how he went about announcing and the timing. First, on Dec 23rd he tweeted that ‘Christmas would be better if Santa put a piece of paper in his stocking’ alluding to wanting a contract extension. Then, he tweeted Christmas morning that ‘He came! He came! He brought me my contract extension’ and thus the frenzy would ensue.
Twitter was ablaze with the usual commentary about how Wilson is a good coach deserving of the contract, how he’s a terrible coach undeserving of the contract, how the team is crap, how Burke should be fired, etcetera. On Boxing Day on, the conversation turned to how Ron Wilson has it out for the Toronto media and purposely announced his extension Christmas morning in hopes of disrupting the media’s holiday with their families. I won’t say much about this, it’s not my place, but I can feel sympathetic for the media members who were forced to go and cover the story on Christmas morning. At the same time, I think the Leafs could have handled the situation a bit better and had media availability a day later.
Liles Injured; Holzer Recalled
There were some actual hockey related happenings that occurred as well. John-Michael Liles sat out the last two games with what was first called a ‘sore neck’, but has now been deemed a concussion. Yes, add another one to the list. Liles has been a God-send for the Leafs this year, his playmaking and poise on the backend helping puck movement and the transition game. It’s unknown how long Liles will be out, but his presence will be missed. The Leafs have recalled Korbinian Holzer as the seventh defenceman in the meanwhile.
Shaky Performances On The Road
Tor0nto played a sloppy game against a weak Islanders team, and barely made it out with both points. It’s encouraging to see the offensive outburst in the first period, but disheartening to see the structural collapse that occurred as the game progressed. No team is ever perfect, and this Leafs team is still young and will need to learn, however you can tell that goaltending and the penalty kill will continue to be this team’s Achilles heel.
Toronto’s effort against Florida was valiant, but in the end it was too little, too late (which seems to be a recurring theme when the Leafs go down by a lot early). James Reimer let in some really soft goals, and if the Leafs are going to win they need consistent strong goaltending. Reimer played well last week, so hopefully it’s a one game funk, but you can’t deny that he has been letting in some softies this year.
Kadri Sticking Around This Time?
Nazem Kadri has made the most of his latest call up, registering two goals and increasing his icetime in consecutive games from 13:43 to 15:04 to 16:16. He has registered 7 shots and has managed to stay a +3 while making some impressive defensive plays. His chemistry with Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur is showing, and he adds an element to the line that no other player was able to. Kadri is going to be a good player, and his development (in this case, proper) is beginning to show. The Leafs wanted Kadri’s next call up to be his last, and it’s finally looking like that it may come to be.
Some of you will argue it’s not very curious. It’s just plain bad. At this moment, it’s difficult for me to present a strong argument against that.
The Leafs miss the calming, steady hand of their number one guy, James Reimer. There is no question about that. Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens are simply not cutting it right now. Just take a look at the stat lines.
Gustavsson: .878 save percentage, 3.78 goals against average
Scrivens: .893 save percentage, 3.21 goals against average
Of course, there is one adjective that comes to mind for Leafs fans when you bring up numbers like that: Toskala-esque. That seems to be the kiss of death for a goalie wearing blue and white. You get compared to that guy, and it’s pretty much over for you and the fan base.
I don’t think Ben Scrivens is in that category just yet. He’s only had three NHL games (two starts), and he didn’t get a whole lot of help in his appearance on Saturday against Boston.
However, just keep this in the back of your mind. On December 22, 2008, Justin Pogge stopped 19 of 21 shots for his first NHL win. He did not record another win, and has not appeared in the NHL since that 08-09 season. He’s a lifetime 1-4-1 with a .844 save percentage and a 4.35 GAA.
I’m not saying that Scrivens is the next Justin Pogge. I think he’s just had the misfortune of playing in two of the Leafs’ worst games this year.
That said, I’m still not positive that him and Gustavsson are capable of shouldering the load for this team over an extended period. Reimer hasn’t been on the ice since Thursday of last week, and nobody seems to have any clue as to when he’ll return from his “concussion-like symptoms.” If Reimer is going to miss an extended period of time, I think it’s time for the Leafs to start considering bringing in a veteran goalie. They need a guy who can put up decent if unspectacular numbers for the next few weeks while Reimer is out, and serve as the backup when Optimus Reim returns.
I say that because I believe Gustavsson’s days here are numbered. It’s highly unlikely he’s claimed on waivers if they try to get him to the AHL (Columbus is the only team that comes to mind as a team that might want him). He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and he’ll need a very dramatic turnaround to convince Brian Burke to bring him back into the fold.
Last night on Twitter, I threw out two names the Leafs might want to consider: Marty Turco, and Evgeni Nabokov. The response was pretty mixed. Today, I decided to look into it a little bit more, and see who might be available for the right price.
Marty Turco, free agent, .897 save percentage / 3.02 goals against average / 29 games (2010-11 season)
Turco spent last year with Chicago and lost his starter’s job to Corey Crawford. He didn’t fare all that poorly considering he was in net mostly while the team was getting used to each other after a dramatic overhaul. I’m not sure any goalie would have put up better numbers.
He’s currently training with the Soo Greyhounds in his hometown, but it would take a few practices to bring himself back to NHL speed, I’m sure. This would be the best option in terms of cost. The Leafs wouldn’t have to give anything up, and he would come at a very cheap price. At age 36, he might not have much left in the tank.
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders, .912 save percentage, 2.86 goals against average / 6 games
Nabokov has been slowed by a “lower body injury” this year, but he’s been impressive in his return to the NHL. Quite clearly auditioning to be the starter for a team not located on Long Island, he’s done fairly well. Would be the perfect fit for Toronto because he wants out of New York, and he’s in the final year of his contract. He would serve as a very competent and competitive backup once Reimer is back in action.
Availability: Probably high. He’s the odd man out with the Islanders, since Al Montoya is playing well, and Rick DiPietro isn’t going anywhere any time in the next decade.
Ray Emery, Chicago Blackhawks, .905 save percentage / 2.70 goals against average / 4 games
He’s seen very limited action this year, and the numbers are a bit inflated because he allowed 5 goals in one of those games. I really liked what he did in Anaheim at the end of last season. Like Nabokov, he’s only on the books for this season, and would challenge Reimer for playing time. Showed last year he’s capable of stringing some wins together. He’s only 29 years old, but his miraculously re-constructed hip might be cause for concern.
Availability: It’s probably unlikely Chicago moves him, but they do have Alexander Salak signed to a one-way deal, which means they’re paying him an NHL salary to play in the AHL. Salak out-performed Emery in pre-season but got sent down anyway. I’m sure GM Stan Bowman can be swayed at the right price.
I originally was going to write more about three other options (Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and Scott Clemmensen), but upon further review, I think Burke & Co. would rather stick with Gustavsson and Scrivens than try any of those three. They originally made the list because of the possibility of being available. However, there’s a reason why their respective teams might want them gone, and for that, they aren’t likely to be useful in Toronto.
What do you think? Should the Leafs pursue Emery, Turco, or Nabokov? Should they stay the course and pray that Reimer returns sooner than later? Or is there someone I’m missing who you would like to see in blue and white? I’d love to hear back from you, either in the comments section, or on Twitter. I can be found @di_nic.