Yes, patience is finally paying off.
When I write or have conversations about the typical Toronto Maple Leaf fan, the easiest thing to do is to criticize about what seems to be a general disregard for anything even coming close to resembling what it means to be patient! And rightfully so—this symptom seems to run rampant amongst the fanbase.
Now, that's not to say that all Leafs fans are the same. But, as it often happens, the minority can tend to be vocal enough to convince people that they actually represent the majority. Fortunately, once in awhile, a story develops in Leaf Land that helps all fans realize that patience is a virtue!
Jonas 'The Monster' Gustavsson is now at the center of one such story.
Brian Burke personally flew to Sweden in 2009 to pursue the lanky goaltender and shortly thereafter announced the signing to the world. In typically robust, proud, and throw-it-in-your-face fashion, Burke announced the one-year entry level deal to anyone who would listen.
At the time, it seemed as though this signing would be "the answer" the Leafs needed. Seriously, Vesa Toskala was #1 in town when Gustavsson was imported. In fact, Brian Burke told ESPN:
"Our feeling is that Jonas Gustavsson has a chance to be a pretty special NHL player," Burke said. "He has yet to play an NHL game, so we want to manage expectations here, but it's not just our assessment that he ranks that highly -- the number of teams that [originally] pursued him was in double-digits."
To start his tenure in Toronto off with a bang, Gustavsson opened his first pre-season of professional hockey with a ridiculous save on a 2-on-0 breakway by the Detroit Redwings. I will always remember that moment. Yes, it was a save on Johan Rhyno (who?), and it was pre-season, but this was the new kid in town that Burke travelled halfway across the globe to sign! Leaf fans around the world were drunk with appreciation and hope—even the ones who hadn't been sipping on anything that night. Here is video of the save:
To his credit, The Monster had a fairly good showing in his rookie year in 2009/2010 considering it was his first time playing NHL hockey. He posted a 16-15-10 record with a .902 save percentage and 2.87 GAA. Hardly numbers that would take the Leafs anywhere near the playoffs that year, but the blame for the team's struggles absolutely cannot have been placed on his shoulders. To offer a yardstick, the oh-so-epic Vesa Toskala posted a 7-12-4 record that year with a .874 save percentage and 3.66 GAA.
His sophomore season in 2010/2011 did not exactly go as he had planned. It was uninamous amongst the fan base—Burke wasted his time because this kid will never live up to the expectations he set. The numbers seemed to back that notion up. Jonas goaltended himself to an underwhelming 6-13-2 record with a .890 save percentage and 3.29 GAA. Bad, but not Toskala bad. Regardless, the bitterness and anger across the fan base was thick and relentless.
James Reimer burst onto the scene in the second half of that season and Leafs fans had a new saviour to turn to. Optimus Reim did play extremely well and I will never try to take that away from him. However, a few months later, Brian Gionta levelled Reimer in the crease with a shot to the head and that same saviour demonstrated, seemingly for the first time, that he is human. It comes as no surprise that Reimer is having a tough season this year.
What IS surprising to Leaf fans and media alike (did I forget to mention that the hysteria within the Toronto media is twice as bad as the fan base's?) is that Jonas Gustavsson appears to have taken over the #1 role based on merit alone, not just because Reimer was injured.
The Leafs' record with the Monster in net is 15-10-3 and he appears to be well on his way to the best season of his career with a .910 save percentage and 2.73 GAA. These numbers can probably be described with one word: average.
However, they are not necessarily indicative of the type of play the Monster has put forth recently. Gustavsson did struggle earlier in the season. Flash forward and in the month of January, Gustavsson has played nine of ten games. His record is 6-3-0 with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA. He has three shutouts in this span alone to bump his career total to four.
So, the million dollar question, of course, is whether or not he can sustain this type of performance for the rest of the season.
Finishing with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA is unlikely. But I am willing to bet that his numbers to end the season will improve from where they are now at .910 and 2.73. Of course, this is merely a matter of opinion and it carries no more weight than those who would disagree with it. However, the fact of the matter is, the Monster is playing with a poise, drive, and confidence that we have never seen out of him in the past.
What's more important is that with that kind of support in goal, there will be absolutely no excuses for the Toronto Maple Leafs if they do not see at least one round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
Jobs will be lost in that scenario. It could be Burke, Wilson, any of the players, or all of the above.
For now, one thing is for certain. Gustavsson is finally starting to meet the expectations set forth by Brian Burke in that fateful summer of 2009—even if it's only been for a month.
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to follow Jason on Twitter @Jason_Ham
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