While there’s no debate that James Reimer has risen to assume the mantle of starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, his rise has opened to door for some debate over which direction the team will take with their goaltending as the conclusion of the regular season fast approaches. With just eleven games remaining, and Reimer having started 15 straight, the general consensus seems to be that Giguere will start tonight in Sunrise Florida as the Leafs take on the Panthers in a game the Leafs simply have to get two points from.
There always exists the possibility that Wilson is just playing games and keeping his cards close to the chest, as there was speculation Giguere would receive the start Wednesday night against Carolina after Reimer had a rough outing against the Lightning on Monday. If Reimer does in fact get his sixteenth straight start this evening and Giguere is on the bench backing him up, Jonas Gustavsson will once again find himself watching the game from a press box.
Questions surrounding Giguere’s health are valid, considering he’s suffered through a few injuries earlier in the season, and gave up all three Atlanta goals in a 3-2 overtime loss when he came on in relief of Reimer back on February 27th. While he hasn’t started a game in a while, his relief appearances haven’t really given much reason to feel confident in his current condition, as brief and infrequent as those appearances have been. It was quite obvious that the coaching staff lost confidence in Gustavsson when he began to struggle in January, but that fact that some fans have taken to referring to Giguere as “the white towel” on twitter shows that confidence in Giguere isn’t at an all-time high either.
At season’s end, the Leafs are faced with some serious decisions in net, as Giguere is an unrestricted free agent and Reimer is a restricted free agent. The only goalie under contract for next season is Jonas Gustavsson, and despite the shaky play in his prior starts, he’s shown flashes of brilliance and provided the Leafs with some very good goaltending even when the team was struggling earlier in the season. In his conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies, Gustavsson posted a very good 0.955SV% and 1.14GAA in his five games played.
The Leafs still have a shot at the playoffs, but it requires a nearly perfect run through the remainder of the regular season to make it reality, and it looks like Ron Wilson is willing to live or die with Reimer carrying to bulk of the work – if not all of it – but unless the team has plans to re-sign Giguere, then it should be Jonas Gustavsson sitting on the bench and taking shots in warm up, if only to be around the team he is still a part of.
If Brian Burke does sign Giguere to a new contract, it would seem to counter the majority of the moves he’s made to rebuild this team so far, with an emphasis on youth and upside. Giguere has had a good career in the NHL, highlighted by a Conn Smythe trophy in a losing effort in 2003, and a Stanley Cup in 2007, but his best work is behind him at age 33 (soon to be 34) and a possibly chronic groin problem developing. At this point, it doesn’t seem logical to keep dressing a less than healthy Giguere as a contingency for Reimer when the situation could be used as opportunity for Gustavsson to begin regaining the confidence of Wilson and the coaching staff.
If Giguere does need off-season surgery as some have suggested, then it would seem most beneficial to everyone involved that he shut down and focus on getting healthy and earning a contract for next season. Whether or not that contract is with the Leafs, Giguere can only expect to get a look if he’s healthy enough to compete at his best on a nightly basis because the market for goaltenders has diminished in recent years with so many younger and less expensive options available between the pipes. For all the neglect Gustavsson has put up with for a month and a half, he has quietly gone about his business without complaining or sulking. Instead, he’s worked hard with the Marlies, shown up to practice every day, and shown patience as he waits for his next opportunity.