Every morning (or at least from Tuesday to Friday), I get in the car and my mom drives me to the nearest GO Train station. This ride typically lasts anywhere between five to nine minutes. I have the radio tuned to Sportsnet 590 The Fan, and the Brady and Lang morning show.
It seems like everyday, the two are debating which goalie the Leafs should be playing. Greg Brady argues James Reimer, Jim Lang supports Jonas Gustavsson.
Back in November, I wrote a piece about the Maple Leafs goaltending for this very site. Reimer was nowhere near return from injury, and Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens were struggling to get the Leafs into the win column.
In that piece, I wrote about a few veterans the Leafs should look into acquiring to shore up the situation between the pipes.
I guess it’s a good thing I’m not one of the 800 assistant general managers to Brian Burke.
Last night, Gustavsson posted a shutout against the New York Islanders. His counterpart—Evgeni Nabokov—was on my list. Oops.
‘The Monster’ is playing the best hockey of his Maple Leafs’ career right now, and has clearly become the starter over Reimer. He’s started nine of 10 games since the calendar flipped to 2012. He’s 6-3 with three shutouts in that span, and has pushed Reimer to the back of the minds of most Leafs fans.
As Gustavsson prepares to make his eleventh start of the calendar year (and attempts to tie his career high 16 wins set in his rookie season), let’s examine what Ron Wilson and the Leafs should be doing moving forward.
Gustavsson, of course, arrived as the ‘best goalie outside the NHL’ as a highly-coveted free agent in the summer of 2009.
Reimer was the Miracle Man from Morweena (TM pending) who led the Leafs on an improbably playoff push last season.
Reimer started off the 2011-12 season with as much gusto as he finished last year with, but has not looked the same since returning from a concussion (or whiplash, or concussion-like symptoms. Whatever.)
This situation reminds me a lot of the Montreal Canadiens two years ago. Jaroslav Halak was significantly outplaying Carey Price. Jacques Martin continued to play Price, almost forcing him to get back on track. Halak did well in every spot start he received, and eventually earned the starter’s job late in the season and into the playoffs.
While the Canadiens did ride Halak through three rounds of the post-season, you have to wonder if maybe they could have done better if he was given the reigns earlier. Maybe they would have finished higher than eighth, wouldn’t have needed to fight like dogs just to make the playoffs, and could have gone all the way.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but I think Wilson is trying to avoid doing what Martin did. He’s giving Gustavsson the starts because he’s winning. Granted, Reimer hasn’t had a chance to prove himself in almost a month. He got one start, and that was against arguably the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. He let in one (maybe two) shaky goals, and has been stapled to the bench since then.
Meanwhile, Gustavsson has gotten to play the Minnesota Wild (11 straight road losses), the Winnipeg Jets (six games below .500 on the road), the Buffalo Sabres (suddenly last in the Eastern Conference), and the New York Islanders (second-last in the Eastern Conference).
Brady made a great analogy on the radio this morning. Saying Reimer is struggling is akin to returning a car and complaining it’s not working well when you’ve only driven it twice in the last month.
I think we’ll continue to see Gustavsson until he starts playing like the Gustavsson of old. If that never happens, then he’ll probably lead the Leafs into the playoffs. But if it does, we certainly haven’t seen the last of Reimer as the number one man in Toronto.
After all, Reimer is locked up for two more years, so he’s not going anywhere. Gustavsson is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. And as much as he loves living and playing in Toronto, it’s hard to imagine him sticking around without some acknowledgement that he’ll get a heavy workload. The Leafs aren’t going to be in a position to guarantee that, unless he leads them on a long playoff run.
The goaltending was supposed to be a source of stability this season. So far, it has been anything but that. It just gets more and more curious. I have a feeling I’ll be writing a part III to this series before the season is over.
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