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One early thing I prefer about Carlyle: he is letting goalies have a run of games

One of the things I’ve harped on quite a bit over the past couple of seasons has been the fact that Jonas Gustavsson has often seemed to get the short end of the stick with the Leafs.  (This goes back to even before James Reimer arrived on the scene.)  It’s not that I think Gutsvasson has been all-world in his time with the Leafs.  But I just think the guy has ability.  And a number of NHL teams obviously thought he had the ability to play at the NHL level when the Leafs signed him as a free-agent three summers ago.

Maybe I’m “mis-remembering”, but it just feels as though he seldom received the opportunity to play a lengthy string of games, and know that he was going to have the net regularly—even if he gave up a soft goal or had a tough game.  Whenever I thought he might get on a roll, something happened.  Sometimes it was poor play, yes, but sometimes it was just, well, the coach wanted to play someone else.  And that continued pretty much through Ron Wilson’s time here.  Monster would have mini-strings where he played pretty well, and looked good in net—sometimes very good.  But inevitably he would lose his spot, often after a rough game, and then he would go back to playing sporadically- and not always very well.

He looked fidgety, uncertain- like a guy caught between playing the way he was most comfortable playing, and what he was being told to do.

As a result, and as many of you know, I’ve been suggesting here for close to two seasons that he would likely be happier and thrive much more elsewhere—with a different team, in a different market—and with a new coach, including a new goalie coach.  And that may still be the case, especially given the Monster will be a free-agent come summertime.

But interestingly, when Carlyle took over a couple of weeks ago, Gus immediately played a number of games—such that we began to wonder if we’d ever see Reimer before the end of the season.  This speculation was heightened when Carlyle basically said he’d play Reimer “at some point”, sparking the notion that Gustavsson may have claimed the (for what it’s worth, at this late juncture of the season) nominal “number-one” designation in the Leaf net.

That was before, of course, Reimer played again earlier this week, and earned a shutout against the Lightning in Tampa Bay.

Now, Reimer has played three games in succession and who knows, he may keep playing for a while yet.  And I’m good with this, as long as Carlyle doesn’t bury the other guy (Gustavsson) and make him feel like he’s a bench-warmer before his next opportunity to play.

I like the idea of letting a goalie have a run of games…seven, eight games where he will have the net even if he plays poorly at times.  How else do you build a guy's confidence, and let him know you believe in him? That’s why I was so happy that Carlyle gave Reimer the start after his uneven, rather shaky performance earlier in the week against Florida.  The young Leaf net minder must have felt uplifted when, after his Florida outing, Carlyle went right back with him.  That goes a long way to giving a young guy confidence.  And Reimer rewarded Carlyle with a sterling outing against the Lightning, and followed that up with another solid effort against the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night.

We’re all well aware of the fragile, hot and cold nature of the goaltending position, and we also realize that both of these guys has been less than brilliant often this season, for a host of reasons.  Some say they aren’t NHL goalies (which I don't agree with, as I've stated here many times).  Others blame injuries.  Or coaching (coaching "decisions" and the influence of the goalie coach, which we have also talked about here...).  Poor performance can be attributed to many things, but ultimately, at the NHL level, you have to set all that aside and just play—and play well enough to not only stay here, but to be the backbone guy that can help lead the team to success.

That all said, as I’ve posted here many times, I like both goalies.  But I well realize Gustavsson is a pending free agent, and I doubt, as I’ve written before, that Burke will go into a new season with the same goaltending duo that helped lead the Leafs to another hot and cold (and playoff-free) season in 2011-’12.

We’ll see, of course.  But for now, I choose to think that Carlyle knows what he’s doing, that he wants to give both guys a solid shot to play a string of games, and demonstrate they can help the Leafs (or somebody else) down the road.


  1. As has been mentioned before, Hockey is the team game par excellence. And TV cameras, because they have to follow the puck, often don't show you how a missed assignment at center ice can result in a good scoring chance. So what's becoming clear is that out assessment of the goalies had slack defensive play by other guys on the ice factored into it. As Carlyle's increased focus on team defence starts to take shape, both goalies have suddenly become "better". And what I like about Carlyle is that when Reimer let in 5 the other day, he didn't throw him under the bus. He correctly stated that his teammates had hung him out to dry thanks to their sloppy play, and no NHL goalie could've stopped those shots. Then he put Reimer back in the next day.
    I also like the way he immediately praises or lectures guys on the bench. It does appear he rewards good effort. Finally, the "meritocracy" may have arrived!

  2. Ron Wilson's management of the Leafs goalies has been one of the most baffling things about this season to me. Even after Gustavsson's excellent work in January (and in November as well), one bad goal was enough to see him benched for nearly the entirety of February. I know that Reimer was the one with the contract, but it still seems strange that on-ice play wouldn't dictate who gets the net. It certainly didn't seem beneficial to Reimer's self-confidence to continually force him into the #1 spot after he'd been struggling for months.
    (I don't like to put much stock in rumours, but sometimes I wonder about the rumblings that Wilson had a personal dislike of Gustavsson. But maybe that's a bit too soap-opera-ish for hockey.)

    Something I read on the Goalie Guild's website gave me a bit of a different perspective on the subject of Gustavsson and the pressures of the Toronto market- one of the scout's mentioned something to the effect of "if you push [Gus], he pushes back". They were speaking of his on-ice effort, but I'm actually thinking it could apply to his time in Toronto overall. A lot of people (myself included) have wondered if this city's spotlight was too much for him, and yet...despite his struggles in the first two years (some of which were from adjusting to NHL ice-surfaces, health problems, etc.), Gustavsson may actually be the first goaltender the Leafs have had in a while who has actually improved since coming to Toronto. He's got that competitive spirit, so...Bent but not Broken, maybe? (If only he'd had a coach who'd have let him play!)

    I know I'm a bit of a minority in this opinion, but I feel it's a damn shame if they let the Monster walk at season's end.

    (Sorry for how long this comment became- I'd just like to finish by saying this site is my favourite bit of Leafland online. Really lovely combination of history/analysis, and it's also free of some of the hysterics found on other fansites.)

  3. Yes, Carlyle does a much better job of managing the goalies. This might turn out to be the difference between not making the playoffs. I often thought Wilson was mishandling his goalie selection.

    Depending on the price and term I would be tempted to sign Gustavsson again.

    I have this fear that a team like Detroit could pickup Gustavsson (I think he is better than Joey MacDonald.)

    The tandem of Howard and Gustavsson could be very good for Detroit for the next 5 or 6 years and Leaf fans would be wondering: Why didn't we keep that guy? could see the potential.

  4. Thanks Gerund O'....we're on the same page on this one. I like the fact that it's not "win and you're in", or one bad goal, or one tough game, and you're out.

    Both of these guys, in the right circumstances, can play.

  5. I agree, Alexandra, that Gus has had some periods of fairly stellar work before, even going back to last season. But something has always interrupted his opportunity to "prove" himself.

    You make a very good point about his "competitive spirit". The guy has worked through serious health issues, media scrutiny and the brass (in my view) not showing confidence in him. Yet he has played through it all, and sometimes very well.

    My view about him being happier elsewhere has been less about the pressure he feels here in this "market" and more about the over-coaching he has had. Maybe that coaching (Allaire) will end up having been the right thing for him- I'm no expert on goalie development. But it has struck me that while he, like most goalies, can use work on technique, a guy needs to be able to do what is natural to them and at some point just be allowed to play the game, free of worrying about every little thing. (Apparently that was Allaire's message to Reimer before the Tampa game, and it has seemed to hit home. I wish that had been Allaire's message much earlier on...)

    It will be interesting to see if the Leafs let Gustavsson walk. If they re-sign him, it means no "veteran" goalie, much talked about in recent times in Toronto. (Unless they trade Reimer...)

    Great post Alexandra. Drop by any time. And thank you for the kind words.

  6. Gus in Detroit? Interesting thought, DP.

    I wonder if, despite my oft-stated assertion that Gus would be happier elsewhere, Gus would indeed want to stay here....

    Thanks DP.

  7. I think Gustavsson would like to stay in Toronto, but depending on the price and term I could see 10 teams interested in him.

    Look at Pitsburgh...Brent Johnson is 35 years old with a .882 save percentage and his contract ends this year.

    Wouldn't Gustavsson look good as the number 2 behind Fleury for 20 games a year and more if Fleury is injured?

    Roloson's contract is ending. If you are TB wouldn't you rather have Gustavsson?

    If Gustavsson isn't asking the moon for salary lots of teams will be interested.

  8. You're probably right, DP. Gus has a track record- not sterling, but he has played in the league off and on for three seasons. He is a big, athletic goalie. Teams could do worse.

    Will be interesting to see what kind of contact he gets- 1.5 a year maybe? Three years somewhere?

  9. Just a quick update on Jaime Devane our 6'5" 220 pound enforcer down in the OHL...

    He's up to 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) and plus 15 in 59 games.

    He had 2 goals and an assist on the 9th and was first star.

    Orr and Rosehill never did things like that.