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Former Leaf netminders have their moment in the sun…

If we were to poll Leaf fans around the globe, I doubt many, if any, would express dissatisfaction with the current netminding duo of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer.  No one is looking to return to the days of ‘yesteryear’ (unless maybe we’re talking about the hey-day of Curtis Joseph, or perhaps Mike Palmateer, Bernie Parent - seen lower right in early '70s game action with Bobby Baun, in a wonderful old Dan Balliotti photo - or Johnny Bower).

But I couldn’t help but notice that two recent Leaf goaltenders, somewhat dismissed and forgotten, I sense, have come up big for their new clubs in recent days.  Ben Scrivens, part of the big deal that brought Bernier east from the LA Kings, earned his first shutout of the season—and first as a member of the Kings—on Sunday night against the Panthers in Florida.   He subsequently gave up a couple of goals in a relief performance against Tampa Bay after starter Jonathan Quick was pulled on Tuesday, but even so, Scrivens' early totals are not too bad: a .939 save percentage and a goal-against average of 1.22, albeit in very limited minutes.

I thought Scrivens was a real battler here in Toronto, and did nothing but distinguish himself as a competitor who, while never the 'number-one' guy in goal, was nonetheless a real team player—and someone who could play well, too.

That brings us to the much-maligned Jonas Gustavsson.  Hardly a pillar of popularity here in Toronto, the former Leaf has struggled in Detroit as well since he signed there in the summer of 2012—mostly because of a series of nagging injuries that continued to plague him through the 2012-’13 NHL season. He did have a couple of nice outings a year ago, but he was essentiially an afterthought, it seemed, as last season ended.

The Wings have some young goalies in their system looking for their shot. Interestingly, however, with starter Jimmy Howard on the shelf temporarily because of injury, the Wings turned to Gustavsson again in return days.  (He himself was returning from yet another injury.)  Surprise, surprise (or perhaps not, for those who still see his abilities), the former Swedish Elite League star has turned in two top-of-the-line performances for Mike Babock and the Wings.  So much so that he was named the game’s first star against both Columbus and the Bruins.

His numbers so far, for what it’s worth?  A goals against average of 1.50 and a save percentage of .955.

Now, I hardly imagine those ‘stats’ will last for either of these former Leafs.  But I highlight this today simply because we too often forget about former Leafs once they’re gone, and sometimes we are even unduly critical on their way out the door.

As flawed as the current Leafs may still be (though yes, they are winning) it is reasonable to suggest that this is a much better outfit than anything Gustavsson, for example, played behind in his challenging and health-impacted years in Toronto.  To me, both Gustavsson and Scrivens wore the Leaf crest with pride and battled as best they could to overcome challenging circumstances along the way.  They are no longer here, but I wish them both well.

8 comments:

  1. Last season I said the Leafs should hang on to Scrivens one more year, give him enough games backing up Reimer to prove last year's performance was no fluke, then trade him to a team in need of a number 1.

    Obviously if the first 7 games of this season are any indication, the Reimer/Bernier duo is a huge improvement, and when/if one of them is traded they will bring more of a return than Scrivens would have. But none of this takes away from what Scrivens is. He may not be a top 5 talent, but how many teams really have that (not meant to be taken literally, so don't answer "five"! :) )? Anyway, to be a starter you only need to be top 30, which I think Scrivens has proven he is.

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  2. Going back maybe a few years, we could probably say, without hesitation, that Hasek, Roy, Belfour and Brodeur were the elite guys at the goaltending position, with someone like CuJo maybe a bit behind them.

    In the current era, I'm not sure how many proven, year-after-year elite guys there are. Quick, I guess. Lundqvist, maybe. Luongo once upon a time. There certainly are some really good goalies like Ward, Price, etc. But there are not really that many superstar netminders, it seems. Thanks Oliver.

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  3. I was sorry to see Ben go. I think he was under-rated as a goalie, which was baffling because his stats were almost identical to Reimer's for much of the year. He often played the second of back to back games behind a tired team. His puck handling skills and rebound control were very good and he always competed. He was also calm in the net and was not afraid to clear his crease of players either. I too believe Ben could handle a starting role on many teams. In an ideal world he would have gone to a team like Edmonton. He's capable of impressing if he can get enough playing time. C.N.

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    1. I think a lot of Leaf fans would like to see Scrivens do well, whether in LA or elsewhere. Thanks C.N.

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  4. I have most often been very happy to see former Leafs succeed elsewhere, whether for sentimental reasons or simply because I have always believed trades are designed to help both teams. For the individual player, it is quite often a chance to go to a new team and system where they are a better fit, whether because of their playing style, chemistry with the coach, or simply because of a numbers game.

    This goes more toward your post the other day as you reminisced about goaltending tandems, but I'll respond here because I wasn't able to prior. Recent history has shown that goaltending has become a one-man show for the best teams in the NHL. In my early years of watching hockey, I watched Chico Resch get pushed out of a great tandem in New York when Billy Smith proved to be the "money" goalie for the Islanders after their first Stanley Cup. The next dynasty up saw the Oilers eventually cut bait with Andy Moog when they determined they were comfortable riding Grant Fuhr through the playoffs.

    Dynasties don't exist in the same sense anymore, but in the past twenty or so years, goalies such as Brodeur and Roy have played throughout the playoffs without a break as their teams won multiple cups. Even Chicago, who hadn't solidified their goaltending all year long, settled on Niemi a few years ago, and Crawford last year once playoffs started, in spite of Ray Emery's nearly flawless regular season.

    As much as I may root for Gustavsson and Scrivens in their new homes, I do think they would be best served for accepting that they were brought in to be a backup goalie and nothing more, save for a long-term injury. Come playoff time, Howard and Quick will not fear a goaltending controversy, no matter how well they have played. As it applies to the Leafs? Well we have talked that subject quite a bit, but I do think it brings up a great point. When the Leafs are ready for a serious playoff run, will they ignore what has led to success historically in the NHL and try to platoon Reimer and Bernier? I think not.

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  5. Gustavsson and Scrivens are no doubt aware of their "situation". There will be no controversies in those markets, agreed, Pete..

    Your last sentence is the bottom line: there will be no platoon come playoff time in Toronto. Ultimately, this is why, in this day and age, the two-goalie tandem will not work. Two young, competitive guys both not only want but need to play. Beyond ego and desire to compete, playing (or not playing) determines that next contract. Thanks Pete.

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  6. Gustavsson was ruined in Toronto by a dysfunctional coaching situation. Wilson did not reward his performance and some of his assistants meddled with the work of the goaltending coach. It was a sad, stupid scenario. I am delighted if Gustavsson has recovered from this terrible case of goaltending management incompetence. Apparently, Allaire has recovered too and now finds himself in a situation in Colorado which he can coach without having his work undermined. I assume he was hand-picked for the job in Denver. But, then again, what would Patrick Roy know about goaltending?

    I said it when the trade occurred, and I will say it again, in the long run Ben Scrivens may well turn out to be the best of the three outstanding young goaltenders. Despite Bernier’s hot start and obvious talent, I have never felt sold on that particular trade. As we have since heard, no other team made a serious pitch for Bernier. Therefore, as I also said at the time, Nonis overpaid for Bernier when he really did not have to trade at all. He sent multiple assets, including what may turn out to be the best asset in the deal to the Kings for one player and sent the Leafs into a cap purgatory which will ultimately result in paying through the nose to retain Franson. No, I still don’t understand the trade and I wish Scrivens well. Given his potential, his future will probably not lie in LA. More likely, he will find a better situation via his impending free agency or another trade.

    We should note that several of the top young goalies in the league today are Leafs or former Leafs – Reimer, Bernier, Scrivens and Rask. I am not sure how these players ended up on the Leaf roster, I guess each one is different but apparently something is going well with the talent evaluation of the young goaltenders being brought into the organization. Is it Mike Palmateer behind these evaluations and decisions? I, for one, would sure like to know.

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    1. While Gustavsson had plenty of critics here who felt he played poorly in Toronto, I've always tended to your thought process on this one, Bobby C. It's too easy sometimes to lay all on the goaltender when things go south. Of course you'd like your goalie to bail you out every night, but how many goalies can really do that? As you often say, it's generally the work of the 'whole' that creates results, not just the goalie in isolation.

      Gustavsson's situation here was odd, to be sure. Whether he contributed to that I don't know, but the off-ice machinations you cite were clearly a hindrance for him (and for the team, I'm guessing) when what he needed was a stable support system.

      To your point about Leaf goaltending evaluation: very good question. It would indeed be interesting to know if Palmateer is a bit player or quite influential in this regard. Thanks Bobby, hope you're well.

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