The move creates an immediateÂ two-fold benefit for the Leafs: (1) a chance for Gustavsson to re-discover his early-season form, and (2) an extended opportunity for James Reimer to continue his stellar play at the NHL level.
With theÂ emergence of James Reimer, and theÂ steady presence ofÂ Jean-Sebastien Giguere, one had to figure the Leafs could only go forward with a three-goalie rotation for so long.Â It has been an unfortunate start to 2011 for Gustavsson; in order to get his game back to where it needs to be to compete in the NHL, heÂ requires regularÂ playing time. But with the Leafs in desperate need of wins, offering regular ice time to a goaltender plagued by inconsistency and confidence issues simply has not beenÂ a possibility.
The question many would ask is, why did it take so long for the Leafs to make this decision?
It’s the sort of question that really doesn’t have one hard and fast answer.Â The truth is, there are oftenÂ several factors at work in this sort of scenario,Â all ofÂ which play a significant role in the final decision that is made:
- Part of it is management and the coaching staff wanting to ensure Reimer can handle regular duty in the NHL;
- Part of it is the outstandingÂ play ofÂ Ben Scrivens at the AHL level (due to roster constraints any move to send Gustavsson to the AHL would result in Scrivens returning to the lesser-competition of the ECHL);
- Part of it is keeping Gustavsson on the roster to be able to work closely with the Leafs’ coaches, and moreso Giguere, in practice;
- And it’s entirely possible a part of it may be injury-related as well. This is, of course,Â my own conjecture, butÂ it isÂ no secretÂ thatÂ bumps and bruises which allow a player to practice, but keep him in the press box during games, are rarely listed on the injury reports.Â It is by no means a stretch to wonder if the same thing has been happening with Gustavsson … under which circumstance, if he has reached the point where he is ready for game action again, a conditioning loan to the Marlies to get back into game shape would be the logical move.Â
Fans should not look at this move as a lack of confidence in GustavssonÂ on the part of the team; rather, they are giving him a chance to re-focus, get himself back into game shape, and to recover some of his lost confidence via regular playing time. With a year leftÂ on his contract, and with Giguere not expected back next season,Â Gustavsson remainsÂ very muchÂ a part ofÂ the team’s plans moving forward.
For the time being (or, more specifically, for the next 14 days), the Leafs will rely on a Giguere / Reimer tandem in net. What happens after Gustavsson’s conditioning loan ends is anyone’s guess: the likeliest scenario is Reimer would be sent back to the AHLÂ and Gustavsson would be given anotherÂ chanceÂ to prove himselfÂ at the NHL level.Â Should Giguere be traded at some point, as many expect, the LeafsÂ would in that caseÂ run with a Gustavsson / ReimerÂ combinationÂ down the final stretchÂ as a preview to next season’s much-anticipated netmindingÂ tandem.
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,