It seems everyone believes that the Leafs newest goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, is being brought in to help ease Gustavsson’s transition into a starting NHL goalie and act as a veteran mentor and tutor for the remainder of this season and next. But should we really assume that both Giguere and Gustavsson will be Leafs next year?
Next season Giguere is set to make $7 million and will have a cap hit of $6 million. That is a lot of money to spend on a tutor and mentor. Today coach Ron Wilson said that Giguere will get the majority of the starts through the remainder of the year. If Gustavsson is the goalie of the future (and Burke yesterday said Gustavsson is still in the Leafs long term plans) then why give Giguere the majority of the starts? Wouldn’t a 50-50 split be more prudent if in fact Gustavsson is the long term answer to the Leafs goaltending woes?
My theory is that the Leafs management believes that Gustavsson hasn’t shown enough to be given the starting job (or even the majority of the starts) next season so they need a goalie capable of playing in around 50 or so games next year at a reasonably good level. That would give Gustavsson the opportunity to develop in a lower pressure situation than he has this year when Toskala just wasn’t getting the job done. But is Giguere that goalie? Is he good enough to give the Leafs average or preferably better than average, goaltending for 50 or so games next year? I don’t know and I am not certain the Leafs know either so that is why they intend on giving Giguere a lot of starts the remainder of the season.
The outcome of this third of a season stretch with Giguere as the Leafs starting goaltender will guide what the Leafs do with their goaltending in the off season. Based on this Giguere tryout I can envision three scenarios unfolding.
- Giguere plays great and shows he can be a top starting goalie in the NHL again. If this is the case, I can envision a scenario where the Leafs consider using Gustavsson as a tradable commodity to possibly acquire much needed help up front. Both San Jose and Dallas were highly interested in signing Gustavsson last year and both will potentially have goaltending issues to deal with this upcoming off season as both Turco (who won’t be re-signed) and Nabokov are set to be unrestricted free agents.
- Giguere plays well enough that Leaf management feels they can give him 50-55 starts next year and he’ll play well enough and consistent enough to give the Leafs a chance to win the majority of those games and in the process he can help tutor and mentor Gustavsson.
- Giguere doesn’t perform well and doesn’t look like he could even be a second tier starter in the NHL. In this scenario the Leafs might simply buy out Giguere’s contract for a cap hit of $1,333,333 next season and $2,333,333 in 2011-12. That would still present a significant savings over what Jason Blake’s cap hit ($4M in each of those seasons) or Jason Blake’s buyout cap hit ($2M in each of the next 2 seasons and $1M for the following 2 seasons) would have been so the trade still makes sense even in a buyout scenario. Alternatively they might hide his contract in the AHL (I believe he has a no trade clause, not a no movement clause) and have a full $6M in extra cap space out and find another goalie (Nabokov, Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Turco, Biron, etc) to be the starter or a cheaper Gustavsson mentor.
Part of me really feels that scenario 2, where both Giguere and Gustavsson are Leafs next season, might in fact be the least likely scenario. It might cost $2-3 million per season to re-sign Gustavsson on a 2-3 year deal an does it really make sense to allocate $8-9 million in cap space to a pair of goalies where neither of them are really quality #1 goalies? No, it doesn’t, so I have my doubts it will happen. My belief is the Leafs might be hoping for scenario 1 but when they made the trade they were in fact expecting scenario 3 to be the likely outcome.