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Gustavsson Could Be Answer In Net

Thursday, 15.04.2010 / 8:12 PM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
   
RELATED: Leafs Re-Sign Gustavsson | Three Leafs In Worlds
RELATED VIDEO: Gustavsson On His Rookie Season | Burke's Take
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The Curtis Joseph curse could be over.

The Maple Leafs signed goalie Jonas Gustavsson to a two-year deal Thursday. The contract has been reported as a two-year, $2.7 million deal. That sounds about right.

Gustavsson’s numbers in his rookie season were far from awe inspiring. His 16-15-9 record won’t get him into the Hall of Fame. Nor will a .902 save percentage or 2.87 goals against average.

But Gustavsson, more than Vesa Toskala, more than Andrew Raycroft, more than Ed Belfour seems able to fill the paw prints left by Joseph when he left for Detroit in 2001.

For one thing, Gustavsson endured the most hair-raising rookie season imaginable. Two years ago, Gustavsson wouldn’t have garnered much NHL interest.  Backups in the Swedish Elite League rarely do. Then came last season’s breakthrough season, a lively bidding war won by the Maple Leafs and then two ablation surgeries and a tough groin injury.

Now pile games hung on a rookie goalie still trying to navigate a new culture, league and rink size because incumbent Vesa Toskala was routinely torched by the opposition. Just to season things a bit more, Toskala declined instruction from goalie coach Francois Allaire, leaving Gustavsson caught between his coach and his teammate.

With the arrival of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a more understated goalie emerged in the season’s dying days.  Gustavsson won seven games in a row, surrendering 14 goals along the way. He started handling the puck better. Mostly, he let the puck come to him.

Gustavsson trusts Giguere, a proven mentor who has one more year left on his contract. The two are devotees of Allaire and they compete against each other in practice like siblings.

Giguerre likens Gustavsson to a five-tool player in baseball, someone who proficient, if not masterful, in every element from skating to reflexes, recovery and athleticism.

He has miles to go before he justifies that praise, of course. Gustavsson’s clearing attempts, like Joseph’s, are potentially explosive and he struggled through much of the season to direct rebounds.

But there is in Gustavsson a raw talent who survived dreadful circumstances but still managed to dramatically improve. And like Joseph, there are moments where he resembles nothing less than a fortress in the nets.
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