Parsing the Goalie Situation

Parsing the Goalie Situation

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Photo: theglobeandmail.com

So the Leafs have goalie issues, who’d a thunk it?

The truth is, everyone and their grandmother knew Toronto was in goaltending trouble this summer because simply put, they went into the season without one single goalie in their organization who had established himself at the NHL level.

Potential is great, prospects are great, but the NHL is about results.

Don’t let an excellent game fool you, the Leafs are far from being out of the woods when it comes to their goalie dilemmas and unless Scrivens goes on a Reimer-esque run now (yeah, I said it), then the Leafs are going to continue to have problems.

Clearly the Leafs are hoping that Scrivens can roll with the ball right now since they pretty clearly don’t believe in Gustavsson. It wasn’t just the fact that Scrivens started against St. Louis out of a “gut feeling” from Wilson, it was also the fact that they played Scrivens against Boston instead of going back to Gustavsson. Plenty of goalies have good games in the NHL, but coaches almost always go back to the more established player. The fact that they didn’t shows exactly what they think about Gustavsson.

Now, a lot of folks are saying that the Leafs are ruining Jonas Gustavsson’s confidence by doing this, but guess what? The Leafs have to do what they need to do to get wins. Wilson is coaching for his job and this is a team that is near the max cap hit, and when that happens, it’s expected you make the playoffs. They can’t afford to hold hands, sing around the campfire and care about everyone’s feelings. It’s harsh, but that’s the point they’ve gotten to.

The bottom line with Gustavsson is that he’s now played 74 games and his save percentage is at .896%. He’s 27 years old, he’s had trouble staying healthy and his all-time record is six games below .500. Say what you will, and yes some of it is circumstantial, but at the end of the day that doesn’t cut it. He’s had plenty of opportunity to prove himself.

In just his third NHL start Ben Scrivens showed the kind of mental toughness Gus never has in pulling out a win for a team that was on the verge of slumping.

On a side note, it’s true the Leafs were badly outplayed in the final two periods of the Blues game, but newsflash, that happens all the time (and not particularly surprising against a team playing balls out for its new coach). Goalies are expected to steal games for your team every once and awhile and it just happened to be Scrivens’ time to do so. If anything, it actually benefits a team’s morale to win games like that, to win a game in which they had no business even being on the ice with the other team. It’s ironic, but good teams do that.

Now, does it mean Scrivens is NHL ready? Probably not. But there are some good things happening here. First of all, he’s 25 years old. He’s a man at this point, he’s not a little kid. The guy went to Cornell, he’s a smart person, this isn’t about to wreck him no matter what happens. Scrivens is getting in games and either he succeeds and stays up, or he falters and knows exactly what to work on when he is eventually sent back down. It’s a win-win.

But in the big picture here, nothing’s changed. The Leafs goalie order is still Reimer-Gustavsson-Scrivens-Rynnas-Owuya. If Reimer was to comeback this weekend (which isn’t happening just to be clear), Scrivens would be sent down and everything would return back to normal. Even if Scrivens is the better goalie in the minds of management right now – and he probably is – there is no way they will send down Gustavsson through waivers and risk losing an asset for nothing. Some would say they should and that Gustavsson stinks, and I probably would agree, but being a GM is all about asset management, and that wouldn’t be smart management.

A lot of NHL player movement is dictated by contracts and status and while we all have this romantic idea of calling guys up, sending guys on waivers, and making the roster as ideal as possible, that’s not how it works. We’ve seen it time and time again. Remember when Tyler Bozak looked great in his first preseason here? Where did he go after that? It had nothing to do with him, it’s a numbers game. It always has been, it always will be and I can’t understand why people are still not comprehending this.

I’m sure the Leafs would love to see Scrivens carry this team right now. That’s why they are going to run with him to see if he can make that impact, and if he does, then they will explore their options with Gustavsson. But right now he’s had a couple really good games and he’s looked like a sieve in his other showings (I’m sorry, but NHL goalies do not let Tyler Seguin score that one-timer in the first period from basically the goal-line, it’s not like the kid has a cannon).

Last season, the Buffalo Sabres had Jhonas Enroth stay in the AHL and they would call him up to play over Patrick Lalime whenever Ryan Miller couldn’t go. So basically Patrick Lalime rarely actually played. Don’t think for a second the Leafs are above doing that with Gustavsson and Scrivens should it come to that.

Bottom line, the Leafs management needs to see the forest for the trees here. If Reimer comes back soon, the goalie situation is still not good. Gustavsson still isn’t a good backup regardless of Reimer’s health status.

I’m not saying Burke must acquire a goalie right now, but truthfully, this is year three of the Burke regime and it’s time for some results. If Scrivens-Gustavsson is the duo for an extended period of time, then this club is in for quite the roller-coaster ride. And before anyone brings up the fact that the Leafs scored one goal in two games recently, please, give your head a shake. Remember how everyone felt after the Columbus game when Steve Mason couldn’t stop a beach ball? There was no way the Leafs deserved to win that game yet they did handily. That’s basically the inverse equivalent of the Florida game. It doesn’t really matter how your team plays when Marco Sturm can cross the blueline and score on a wrist shot.

So really, this brings us to the logical conclusion that everyone came to quite some time ago. The Leafs need to acquire a reliable, experienced, NHL goalie.

When Brian Burke traded Kris Versteeg (whose playing amazing right now by the way) he said that sometimes players and situations don’t workout, and you simply have to move on. I’m not going to get into why Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t worked here because there’s a multitude of reasons and rational to that, but at the end of the day, he hasn’t worked out here and it’s time to move on.

The Leafs don’t benefit from Gustavsson and Gustavsson doesn’t benefit from the Leafs. He still has the talent to go succeed in the NHL with some other team, but it isn’t going to happen here.

The good news for Brian Burke and his team is that there are a ton of reasonably available goalies that span from young with potential to old veterans. There’s no use dissecting the market, because in the end Brian Burke will only acquire one of them – and it does only seem like a matter of when, not if – so the time for analyzing a goalie will come. For now you can take your pick between potential options such as Marty Turco, Evgeny Nabokov, Michael Leighton, Scott Clemmensen, Thomas Greiss, Chris Mason, Alex Auld and so on.

I will tell you this much though. The Leafs surely aren’t planning on giving up a ton just to bring in a goalie who will hold fort while Reimer’s hurt – that’s what has to be remembered here. Brian Burke is probably planning on Ben Scrivens being the backup of this team next season. Brian Huddle tweeted out that Ben Scrivens is susceptible to waivers next year, so they are throwing him in the fire pit right now to see if he can handle the heat, and regardless of how he plays after this, he’s shown something here and the rest of the season. No matter where he plays it will benefit him.

So with that in mind, the Leafs are most likely zeroing in on a guy that they can get for next to nothing, and who will be gone by the start of next season. Truthfully, Scott Clemmensen makes the most sense, a real pro and an established veteran. His contract is over after this season and with Jacob Markstrom’s strong showing, the Panthers must want to make room for him at the NHL level. But hey, what do I know, Burke has always surprised us.

The acquisition of a real pro goalie still allows Ben Scrivens to get starts with the Leafs as long as Reimer is hurt, and it gives both of these goalies a strong resource to fall back on in hard times. Burke has always moved at his own pace, and it took him three weeks to complete the Francois Beauchemin deal, so you can only imagine the kind of hurry he is in in the middle of November, prior to American Thanksgiving. But give it some time, and eventually a move should be made.

Time will tell, but Reimer, Scrivens, Gustavsson (by virtue of leaving), and most importantly the Leafs, would all stand to benefit. It’s your move, Burke.

Anthony Petrielli has been writing Leafs Notebooks, also known as short stories, on MLHS since the beginning of the 2011 season. He'd rather let his work do the talking but Alec and Declan have been bugging him about writing a bio, so here it is. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli

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