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Monday, March 21, 2011

Questions in Goal Remain

jonas gustavsson leafs goal
The Maple Leafs goaltending situation heading into next season has become much clearer ever since James Reimer grabbed hold of the number one job in early January. Reimer has been a revelation in goal and shows no signs of relinquishing the starter’s role. Ron Wilson will certainly play Reimer for the remainder of the Leafs’ games as they continue their unlikely charge to the post-season.

But apart from Reimer there is an uncertainty surrounding the Leafs’ crease. J.S. Giguere will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t played an NHL game since allowing six goals in an ugly 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on January 19th.

I’m pretty high on Reimer, but I’m pretty sure he won’t play 82 consecutive games (plus playoffs!) next season, so what will the Leafs do to support their young netminder?

If J.S. Giguere does come back next season it will be at a severely reduced rate. He currently comes at a cap hit of $6 million, but has played poorly all season and has battled numerous groin problems that suggest surgery might be the long-term solution. As a veteran goalie who has won both a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe, Giguere brings valuable experience and leadership. However, his statistics and time spent on the injured reserve question his ability to hold even a backup role.

Giguere’s future in Toronto looks even more unlikely considering Jonas Gustavsson is under contract for one more season at a cap hit of $1.35 million. Gustavsson has provided the Leafs will ugly goaltending this season, going 6-13-2, accompanied by a 3.29 GAA and .890 SV%. Even more troublesome is his penchant for showing outward displays of frustration towards his teammates. Craig Simpson lambasted Tuukka Rask on last Saturday’s HNIC telecast for getting angry at being screened by his defenceman (which prompted Claude Julien to let Tim Thomas start the 3rd period), which immediately made me think of Jonas. This isn’t a way to endear yourself to teammates and it’s unclear how his Leafs teammates view Jonas in the locker room.

Gustavsson has received little playing time in the NHL this season and spent time in the AHL on a conditioning stint. Once in the minors Gustavsson left a game after experiencing an elevated heart rate, which required a third heart ablation surgery in less than two years.

During his 5 games in the minors, Gustavsson went 3-1-1 and recorded a stellar 1.14 GAA and .955 SV%, indicating that he is a talented goalie, even though this has yet to transfer to the NHL game. One has to wonder whether this is a product of a lack of confidence or just an inability to play capably in the NHL.

The Leafs could enter next season with Reimer as their number one goalie and have Gustavsson as the team’s backup.

Another option for the Leafs would be to sign a goalie during free agency. Both Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov could be available, but will both likely command close to $5 million. This would take away valuable cap space from pursuing someone like Brad Richards who would provide a bigger upgrade over the Leafs’ current group of centremen than either Vokoun or Bryzgalov would over Reimer.

Plus, I’m not sure signing a proven number one goalie is necessary because Reimer has played well enough during the latter part of the season that he deserves to at least start half of the team’s games next season. Splitting time probably isn’t something that would interest either Vokoun or Bryzgalov at this point in their careers either.

If the Leafs don’t decide to go with Gustavsson as the backup and pass on both Vokoun and Bryzgalov then they could decide to sign a cheaper veteran capable of backing up Reimer. The options aren’t mesmerizing (Garon, Budaj, Harding, Hedberg, Conklin, Theodore), but veteran backup goalies rarely are. If this is the quality of backup goalies available the Leafs should just stick with Gustavsson who at least has some upside.

Finally, the Leafs could attempt to pry Cory Schneider away from the Canucks. After giving Roberto Luongo a monster deal that doesn’t expire until 2022 they effectively made Schneider a career backup for his duration in Vancouver. Schneider is certainly capable of being a number one goalie in the league as his 14-3-2 record, 2.22 GAA and .927 SV% suggests.

The Canucks have committed over $46.5 million in cap space next season and have eight UFAs and three RFAs to re-sign, including Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, and Christian Ehrhoff. If some of these players sign elsewhere the Canucks will have holes to fill and Cory Schneider (or possibly Mason Raymond) could be their best shot at filling these holes with quality pieces. I’m not saying the Leafs have those pieces, but Schneider could be available.

Schneider is also under contract next season, so the Canucks don’t have to worry about a potential offer sheet, which means there is no real pressure to trade him. But if a deal makes sense, Schneider could offer the Leafs a tangible 1-2 combination with Reimer.

The Leafs goaltending future looks a lot brighter with James Reimer in net, but Burke will still have decisions to make after the season.

6 comments:

Mike said...

Could Leighton be an option? Did Philly let him go or just send him to the Minors?

Matt Horner said...

The Flyers put Leighton on waivers and he's currently playing in the AHL. He's under contract with the Flyers next season at a reasonable $1.55 million, although aside from his career year last season his numbers are very underwhelming.

Some people on reddit and over at PPP suggested Ray Emery, which is an intriguing option. He's 28, has either backed up or split time his whole career, and has some playoff experience. He'd be pretty cheap as well. He has a career GAA of 2.67 and .908 SV%

I still have hope for the Monster, but Emery could be a good insurance policy.

Bo Jackson said...

Leafs could also sign Corey Crawford to an offer sheet. The Hawks have 12 players signed next season for almost $50 million. Something like what happened to Niemi last season.

Ted Rigby said...

I posed the leafs goaltending question to Pierre Lebrun on espn.com. He thinks it's unclear what they'll do beyond Reimer, but Jiggy is most likely gone. He also suggested that Bryz or another FA could be acquired.

Personally I wouldn't mind the Crawford offer sheet idea, but at least somebody's stepped up for a change in Reimer.

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