Not long ago, I posted a piece here simply called, “Set The Monster free”. Why? Well, those who follow this site know that I’ve said for a long time that Gustavsson is obviously a talented guy, but for a variety of reasons (health, injuries, confidence, style, Allaire, fan pressure—who knows?) has never quite settled comfortably here.
As management clearly has not been confident in him or with him in net (Burke indicated as much not long ago, when he basically said the team did not want to put the pressure of being the number-one guy in goal on Gus while Reimer was down), my thought was essentially: let the guy go somewhere where he can play, unfettered by a goalie coach that wants something (someone?) different, coaches who pull him or sit him at the first sign of trouble, and a management team that has found, in their minds (and by luck, a Ferguson draft choice) someone better in James Reimer.
The truth is, as I mentioned in that earlier post, the organization has never let him, say, play a run of 8 or 10 games where he knew, no matter what, he would be in net the next night—and the night after that. That’s hugely important for any athlete, and certainly for an inexperienced NHL goaltender. You could persuasively argue that the player has to first play well enough to earn that opportunity, and I would tend to nod in agreement. But reality seems to suggest some guys- favored at times for reasons that are hard to pinpoint- simply are given a much longer leash than others.
Gustavsson, at least in my mind, has drawn a much shorter leash.
So my conclusion was simply: if the organization doesn’t believe in the guy, if they don’t like his style, if they are not comfortable with him even as a “back-up”, then let the guy go elsewhere where a different team (and goalie coach) might appreciate what he does bring to a team, instead of focusing on what he doesn’t seem to bring—yet.
I mentioned the other night that young (not so young now, at 28) Lehtonen in Dallas was also a highly-prized prospect when he was drafted in 2002. He was largely considered an out-of-shape bust, often inconsistent in Atlanta (though as someone posted here the other day—in disagreement with my assessment of Lehtonen—he did have some good “numbers” in Atlanta at times, and I certainly grant that). My sense is that he was seen as talented, but not consistent and not what people had hoped for or expected.
Yet, here he is, in a different market, playing in Dallas and now considered one of the more elite goalies in the game.
Bottom line—these things do happen. I’m not proclaiming that The Monster will be Lehtonen (just injured again Saturday night), or become Martin Brodeur or Chris Osgood, for that matter. I’m simply saying that guys mature at different rates as athletes, whether we are talking about teenage, youth-level athletes or young professionals. So much goes into what separates the young athlete who progresses steadily, or even has setbacks but ultimately survives the highly-competitive sports ‘jungle’ and ultimately prospers, versus the player who doesn't "make it".
Which brings us to the current mini-streak that the Monster is on. Has he been out- of-his-head brilliant? I don’t really think so. Has he allowed some “soft” goals? At times. But has he also been a winning, “bend but don’t break” kind of goalie over this relatively short sample-size of activity? Yes, he has.
He has helped the Leafs win some games. He has maybe, just maybe, begun to establish himself as a “dependable” guy, someone teammates can feel may just bail them out at times.
This is not to suggest that Gustavsson won’t turn around and have a terrible game next time out, or sometime soon, or make a late-game mistake that may cost the Leafs.
But if you look at the history of most good goalies, they had to have someone believe in them at some point, give them a second chance, and sometimes a third and fourth and fifth. And I don’t just mean a game here and there, where we expect a guy to be great after sitting for three weeks. I mean really giving the guy the ball and letting him run with it for an extended period of time, so he knows he will be back out there again soon- even if he falters.
As I often like to say, you can’t play high-level athletics to your full potential if you play with a piano on your back. That is, you need to know one mistake won’t mean you are back on the bench. Or even two mistakes, or three….
When you feel like those around you believe in you, oh boy, what a difference it makes.
So yes, we are all, in Leafworld, welcoming the idea the Reimer is healthy again and ready to resume his spot in the Leaf goal. And we like a lot of what we’ve seen in young Scrivens.
My guess is Gustavsson will get shuttled back to the bench, and resume his place as the quirky (and seen as un-relaible by many) back-up.
But I still maintain he is more than that, whether he gets the chance to show that here, or elsewhere. The last few games have demonstrated he deserves at least the chance.