Circumstance the detriment to Gustavsson’s season

Circumstance the detriment to Gustavsson’s season

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Photo: CBC.ca

In the big picture, Jonas Gustavsson has had his best NHL season yet. When given opportunity, he’s usually excelled and shown the potential for stardom. He’s also battled inconsistency issues, for the exact same reason – the opportunity wasn’t enough. Many will often point to Jonas as being the victim of his own demise here in Toronto. I call foul. The notion that it’s Jonas’ own fault he won’t receive a contract extension is absurd. I wouldn’t even put it on Ron Wilson more than the simple fact that Gustavsson was in an unfavourable situation this season. He was finally performing to his capability, but at the wrong time.

Despite his concussion, James Reimer was always the team’s number one goaltender. That’s why he received the majority of the starts in December, despite his inconsistencies and Gustavsson’s success. At the time, the coaches were trying to get Reimer into a groove, which was hypothetically the beneficial move long-term. He was under contract for two more years, and starting Gustavsson over him would have only stalled the 24 year old Reimer’s development. There was no denying that Gustavsson had been better. A 92.2 SP in games leading up to Reimer’s return and his three December starts far exceeded James’ number of 87.3 in the same time frame. It was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For that, I don’t blame anyone. Starting Reimer was undoubtedly the logical move.

However, when given the opportunity, Gustavsson’s shown his starting capability. Brian Burke keeps on reiterating how ‘Monster’ had saved the team’s season, that before it fell off the cliff. Though that is a slight exaggeration, his strong January play – a run of 11 starts and a sparkling save percentage of 92.7 – was certainly a large factor in the Leafs keeping up in the playoff race at the time. It was only when the Leafs started to free fall during the month of February did everyone realize how important Gustavsson’s play really was.

With a new coach comes new opportunity. Gustavsson was given the first chance and he’s excelled, imitating his exceptional January play with an averaged 92.5 save percentage since Carlyle’s arrival despite only winning once in four games. It’s a shame most will remember Gustavsson’s 2011-12 season by the OT goal against New Jersey.

With the confidence of his coaches all season, I cannot imagine what could have been this season. Would he be maintaining all-star numbers? Probably not, he’s been through 6-8 game stretches this year where his save percentage was well below 90.0. However, he’s proven his worth as a capable starting goaltender when given the right chance, as the good has far outweighed the bad with Jonas this season. He’s recorded a quality start percentage of 53.1 this season, which would put him in some pretty decent company (Price, Vokoun, etc.). This is also forgetting to mention that, despite his February save percentage of below 90.0, he was facing a league high 35 shots a game.

Given the circumstances here, his opportunity probably won’t be with the Leafs, and it’s a shame, too.  Playing on a team which gives him more security in net and is more defensively responsible will probably result in a fine next season for Gustavsson. He’s a workhorse and the more pucks he sees, the better he plays. Not nearly enough pucks were coming his way here. He was starting to come around too, just perhaps at the wrong time.

Twitter: @degratesports

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