Jonas Gustavsson "The Monster" has retained his position as the backup goalie for the Leafs. In the days of old before salary caps and team parity the "backup goalie" could be considerably weaker than the "starting goalie." Now with team parity and size and speed dominating the game both goalies need to be bigger, faster and better than goalies of days gone by. To win games Gus has to be "The Monster."
On the face of it not many players are wooed to the NHL from the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the playoffs of the SEL, Gus however played 16 games and had a .961 save percentage. During that playoff run he had a 1.03 GAA and led his team to the championship and won the MVP award. Gus was "Super Gus"!
Gus was then wooed by several teams including Toronto and Dallas and eventually Toronto won. If you looked at our goaltending situation at the time it was obvious that a starter job was a possibility for a young and upcoming goaltender. Vesa Toskala was the current starting goalie and Toronto probably looked like a place he could contend for a starting job.
Gus moved to Toronto and played backup and played fantastically, eventually winning the day-to-day starting job. He moves like a big Dominik Hasek or a Felix Potvin. He is big but not huge by today's goaltending standards. He is 6'3" but that makes him tall but not the tallest, big but not the biggest. James Reimer is 6'2" tall and outweighs Gus by 15 lbs.
"The Monster" is quite a complement in a league full of large tall lanky goalies who all have the Patrick Roy size and shape as opposed to the Ron Tugnutt, Dominik Hasek or Grant Fuhr size. It is fairly common for an NHL goalie to be 6'2" to 6'4".
But Gus "The Monster" when he is at his best is not only a Monster in size but also attitude.
With this attitude he is a very aggressive goalie who wants the puck. He is very agile and can cover the entire bottom of the net with his legs.
He often kicks out his leg and does "The Monster Slide" using the six-foot leg span and then bending and snatching the puck, allowing him to manufacture unbelievable saves.
Gus is more like a Tim Thomas in that respect than a James Reimer. Reimes is a goalie that is in the right place at the right time. It's almost a bit baffling to watch him. He leans towards a Roy-like style where he is dropping and blocking and blocking and blocking with what seems to be very little movement.
Gus needs to be aggressive at the top of the circle knowing that he can do "The Monster Slide" and stop the puck and recover. If you watch Tim Thomas he literally never gives up on a puck. Long after the rebound of the rebound should have gone in Thomas is still fighting his way to stop puck after puck and it makes him the No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
Save percentages for the top 30 goalies have gone up 10 points in the last 10 years. The top 30 goalies used to be roughly between .895 and .920, but now for the last five years the top 30 have been between .905 and .930. The modern goalie is stopping more pucks.
Winning teams now have backup goalies with statistics that would have made them starting goalies 10 years ago. But with NHL parity there are very few teams where you can put in a significantly weaker goalie and expect to win the game. If you give up four goals expect to lose, two goals and expect to win. But with the faster game more shots are coming faster and harder. The margin between winning and losing is smaller and smaller.
Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks had slightly better stats than Roberto Luongo and it is predictable that Vancouver could finish first. Goaltending should be like it is over at the Washington Capitals where the coach Bruce Boudreau isn't sure who he might start on a nightly basis.
Last year in the Western Conference there were 10 teams still unsure of their playoff standing with two weeks left to go. There wasn't a game being played anywhere in the NHL where you wanted to put in the weaker goalie.
Now back to Toronto. Gus dropped 15 points overall to .890 last year which means he let in 1.5 more goals per 100 shots. Or last year with 600 shots about nine more goals which adds up to three to four more wins, which means six to eight more points, and the Leafs make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gus alone did not lose the chance to make the playoffs but for any NHL team to make the playoffs they need to have a near starting goalie as a backup. Gus will need to return to his "Monster" form to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. If he is playing at a save percentage of .910 that would be 25 saves more per 1,000 shots, and that means winning 12 more games. Those 12 games will be critical to making the playoffs.
Jonas Gustavsson can definitely be that super goalie backup guy as long as he plays with his "Monster" style and aggressiveness. Toronto needs Gus to come out and compete for the starting job every day, and make Ron Wilson have as difficult a choice as Bruce Boudreau every night.