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Leafs have nothing to lose bringing Reimer back, or do they?

There probably isn’t as living, breathing Maple Leaf supporter who is upset that young James Reimer is back with the big team.  Reimer played well enough, often enough, in his earlier short stint with the club that everyone knew he would be back as soon as there was a way to rationalize—publicly—that he was needed.

Interestingly, the Leaf brass did not wait for that moment.  That “moment”, that situation, could have been a trade, illness, or an injury to Giggy or The Monster.  Instead, they will apparently (according to media reports) send Gustavsson back down to the minors while Reimer shares time with the veteran Giguere, at least over the All-Star break.

How is this a problem?

Well, it’s clear that management is not satisfied that Gustavsson has played to what they see as his potential, especially the second time that Giggy went down with his groin problem.  (I’m sensing that fans have already moved ahead, imagining Giguere somewhere else next season.  In a league with not too many goaltenders, besides Luongo and Miller, getting 5-7 million in a restrictive cap system, it’s hard to figure the Leafs will pay Giguere another big contract when they don’t know if he can still go the distance in terms of health, age and performance.)

So Giguere is not an issue for Leaf fans, who anticipate he won’t be back next season, anyway, though you never know what the Leafs might be thinking.

But Gustavsson is (though, in fairness, it’s never been explicitly stated) the expected number-one guy of the future.  Yes, he did sign a new two-year deal this past summer which gives him short-term financial security at least.  And he definitely has showed glimpses this season of being the competitive, athletic goaltender Burke wanted so badly in the summer of 2009.

I just wonder what the repercussions are to The Monster if he goes to the Marlies, even on a so-called “conditioning stint”?  Now, he won’t be the first guy to go to the AHL after playing first in the NHL.  But, I can’t help but think that, in his mind, it’s a big step backwards.  It doesn’t affect his salary, but might affect how he feels about his game—and the organization.

He no doubt feels he has played well enough to stay with the Leafs.  Does he really need to restore his confidence?  Will he actually benefit by playing in a league he had already moved past?

It’s funny.  We often hear the TV analysts and coaches say the NHL is a much different league than the AHL, that the game is less scrambly in the NHL and easier for goalies to read and anticipate things, etc.

If that is indeed the case, how does Gustavsson get “better” or more confident playing in a league, at the age of 26, that he had bypassed when he signed with the Leafs out of the Swedish Elite League?

I don’t think he’s played badly enough to warrant a demotion, though it’s hard to argue that Reimer doesn’t deserve at least an opportunity to play more with the big club.

The Monster has played in the Olympics and the World Championships.  What he needs now is to play here, and feel that the team will be there for him if he lets in a soft one.

He kept the Leafs afloat at times earlier this season, when his save percentage was well above .900 (better than Giggy’s at the time), particularly when they had a hard time scoring.

Now, he needs the team and the organization to show confidence in him.  Remember how Pat Burns would skate with young Felix Potvin after a rough game, telling him not to worry, that he’d bounce back the next time?  More often than not, Potvin came back and played well.

The Leafs need a happy, healthy and confident Gustavsson.  Yes, he has struggled a bit of late, but he has no doubt felt the increasing pressure of expectations.  When things started to go south a bit, he looked shakier, no question.  But many goalies go through this.  When Carey Price struggled, the Habs didn’t send him back down to the minors.  In fact, they got rid of the guy (Halak) who led them in the playoffs last spring, showing their support for and belief in Price.

Now, Price, while far from perfect, is good more often than not and the Habs are solidly entrenched as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs want to give Reimer more games?  No problem.  But don’t let Gustavsson twist in the wind.  When this team gets good, my sense is Gustavsson will be a guy they will need.

Unless he is asking for this assignment to the Marlies, don’t lose him now.  Support him.  Let him play.  The Leafs aren’t winning the Cup this season.  But they do want to win it some day.

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