Forgive Leafs fans for being a little cautious with their optimism these days as it relates to net gains between the pipes for the organization. Â After all, still fresh in the minds of those in Leafs Nation is the not too long ago time when the Maple Leafs boasted both Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask in their goaltending stable, two goalies who were at the time highly touted following junior campaigns.
And somehow the Maple Leafs ended up without either in their crease for any length of time. Â A statement that is, of course, a rhetorical question. Â The last thing I need is for someone to explain to me how this happened. Â I get the explanation in full more often than not at social gatherings, grocery stores, my son’s school play, etc.
As the Maple Leafs enter year two of the Brian Burke regime, there is little to no doubt that they are an improved club. Â On the ice as the current incarnation of the franchise, they may only be marginal better, and are still struggling to find the consistent effort, but they are improved from one year ago.
Off the ice is where they may have improved the most over the last two seasons. Â Brian Burke has done an admirable job of bringing in some very bright hockey minds into the fold.
Currently, the on ice product of the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs are chasing a record in futility, one that I wondered about out loud last night while watching yet another shutout loss.
Just what is the record for times a team was shut out in one NHL season?
Turns out, to find the answer, you have to consult the history book, and delve pretty deep into its contents. Â In the 1928-1929 NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks were shut out an astounding 20 times, and while the Maple Leafs are on pace to fall short of that number, at the rate their going they may have a spot just below that disastrous Chicago team from yesteryear.
However, in the moment, Leafs fans can take solace. Â They can take shelter from the storm, at least they hope they can. Â Because while the Maple Leafs are being shutout on a consistent basis at the NHL level thus far this season, they are quietly and efficiently assembling a stable of young goaltenders they hope can turn the tables in the coming years.
And while the cautious optimism is still quite high in Leafs Nation given their track record of late with young goaltenders, a quick look at the depth chart, and there is reason to hope.
For if the old adage that winning teams are built from the net out is true, than the Maple Leafs may well be on the right track for success.
Start with the most apparent piece of the goaltending stable, Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson.
Two summers ago the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams, were in hot pursuit of Gustavsson, a lanky goaltender from Sweden who was quickly making a name for himself in Sweden’s top league. Â Gustavsson showed great poise and calmness between the pipes, all the while making consistent big saves to keep every team he played for in the game.
The Maple Leafs won the Jonas Gustavsson sweepstakes, and thus far, it was a power ball lottery type win.
Gustavsson had made a rather smooth transition to the North American game, and a lot of the qualities that made him a star of sorts in Sweden have followed him across the pond to Toronto. Â His lateral movement is strong, his calm demeanor between the pipes is certainly reassuring for his teammates, and not a game goes by where Gustavsson comes up with a highlight reel save.
There is little to no question that Gustavsson has already shown great strides from his rookie year in the NHL. Â While there may be lots of things to worry about from this Maple Leafs season, goaltending hasn’t been one of them. Â Gustavsson has been consistent with his efforts, and has given the Maple Leafs a chance to win every game.
J.S. Giguere has also been a solid piece for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and while one can’t exactly group him in with the stable of young goaltenders per se, “Giguere has been an integral component to the Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks last season.
Giguere has been strong for the Maple Leafs in his appearances with them thus far, and has paid dividends off the ice with the development of Gustavsson.
Gustavsson at the moment is getting most of the press, and rightfully so. Â However, he certainly isn’t the only goaltender helping the Toronto Maple Leafs organization at this time.
Jussi Rynnas, another free agent goalie signed by the Maple Leafs, has made immediate strides in his first year in North America, and has been spectacular for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League this season. Â Owning a .940 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.81, Rynnas has been stellar for the Marlies.
Rynnas is only one half (or one third depending on the situation) of the Toronto Marlies two (or three) headed monster.
James Reimer has been a good soldier for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization since they called his name at the 2006 NHL entry draft.
After biding his time and quietly plying his craft while most were entranced by the bigger name prospect Justin Pogge, Reimer quietly and effectively worked away to make himself a goaltender teams can depend on. Â Reimer may not have the all around skill of a Rynnas or Gustavsson, but what he lacks in skill he makes up in sheer determination.
Reimer has worked hard to make himself into the goalie he is today, and is proving himself as someone the Maple Leafs organization can count on. Â This has been confirmed with the recent call up to the Maple Leafs while J.S. Giguere was down and out with an injury, and while one can argue he was called up because the Maple Leafs wanted the more on a roll Rynnas to keep up the pace of play, it still speaks volumes about his skill and character that Reimer was trusted with backing up Jonas Gustavsson on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Which brings us to Ben Scrivens, yet another free agent signing by Brian Burke and the brain trust of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Â Unlike Gustavsson and Rynnas, Scrivens honed his craft in North America, playing Collegiate hockey when he caught the eye of, among other GM’s, Brian Burke.
Scrivens’ first year in the Maple Leafs organization has been one that he no doubt has to be proud of.
Playing for the Reading Royals, the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate, Scrivens has posted 4-3-0-0 record, with a goals against average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .931. Â With Reimer up with the big club, Scrivens has gotten the chance to see what he can do at the AHL level, and while it’s only a small sampling, one can’t help but be impressed.
A perfect 2-0 record, including yesterday’s game in which Scrivens made a few big saves, and he is proving that he perhaps deserves a second look at the AHL level at some point. Â He sports a 1.94 goals against average, and a .942 save percentage at the AHL level.
And while many Leafs fans can tell you the cautionary tale of young goaltenders as it relates to this team, it is hard for a fan not to be excited when taking a look at our goaltending depth charts moving forward.