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It wasn’t shocking to see the Boston Bruins extend a training camp invite to goaltender Jonas Gustavsson
. At the same time, though, it most definitely was. (Welcome to the B’s offseason.)
The Life of Jonas the NHL Goaltender has been a rough one, to say the least. The Swedish netminder spent the first three years of his NHL career on some absolutely disastrous Toronto Maple Leafs clubs -- which of course leads to ‘Were they bad because they had subpar goaltending from Gustavsson?’ or ‘Was Gustavsson subpar because the team in front of him was a complete trainwreck?’ debates that nobody cares about -- and has since played for the Detroit Red Wings. Well, kinda, anyways.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Gustavsson has played in just 41 of a possible 212 games. Obviously, playing backup to Jimmy Howard
or Petr Mrazek
during that stretch has limited that number to a considerable degree, but there’s been more than a fair share of injuries, too.
In 2013, Gustavsson missed 14 games with a groin ailment. The following season, the 6-foot-3 netminder missed 21 games with groin and neck issues. And last year, Gustavsson missed a combined 57 contests (64 if you care to include postseason play) with shoulder injuries and a concussion.
So, let’s be blunt about this situation-- Does he have an actual chance with the Black and Gold?
The positives? Gustavsson did
post career-highs in both save percentage (.911) and goals against average (2.56) this past season. But that also came in a seven-game sample, so. Over the past three seasons, Gustavsson ranks 47th among NHL netminders with at least 40 games played in terms of his even-strength save percentage (.915), putting him around the likes of a Jake Allen, Ondrej Pavelec, and Cam Ward goaltender. That is, seemingly anyways, solid enough for a backup.
But, keep in mind that Svedberg, who went 7-5-1, posted a .926 save percentage at even-strength last season and still
didn’t have the trust of B’s head coach Claude Julien
When it comes to Julien’s trust, Gustavsson has prior NHL experience, which for better or worse, has always been something that Julien feels he can rely upon. But still, proving his potential worth to the B’s in something as simple and short as training camp is more than just a hill to climb for the Monster.
Given his more than affordable contract ($600,000) and play with the Providence Bruins last season, Jeremy Smith
is undoubtedly aligned as Gustavsson’s biggest competitor for that spot at the end of the Boston bench for 55-60 nights next season. In a 39-game workload, Smith finished the season with a .933 save percentage, the third-best among AHL goaltenders while his 2.05 goals against average was the fourth-best in that category. Smith nearly drew into a few NHL contests last year, too, serving as the B’s backup in emergency situations on numerous occasions throughout the year.
After 205 AHL affairs with three different organizations, and with improving figures in the Boston organization, reasoning would suggest that Smith is in line for a legitimate NHL opportunity.
At least over the likes of a complete unknown -- in every sense of the word -- like Gustavsson.
But let’s say that Gustavsson impresses Julien, and general manager Don Sweeney
for that matter, enough to earn himself a contract with the Big B’s. There’s absolutely no way it could be for more than Smith’s $600,000, and if it were, what’s the point? As much as it helps to have a capable backup netminder -- and I think the Bruins had one in Svedberg despite what the coaching staff clearly felt -- it’s not an area of major need given the fact that Tuukka Rask’s workload is good for 60 games at the very least if he’s fully healthy. Spending closer to $1 million on that just seems unnecessary.
Again, though, let’s say Gustavsson makes the team. What becomes of (a surely disgruntled) Smith? Well, for one, he’s thrown down the minors, where he’ll once again serve in a platoon role with former first-round pick Malcolm Subban
. That move presumably then throws Zane McIntyre
, who left college a year early to turn pro with the Bruins, down into the ECHL. That’s probably not what McIntyre envision when he decided to leave North Dakota for Boston this summer.
The moving pieces that are potentially at play here almost seem like too much for Gustavsson to have a serious shot at making this work in the Hub. And that’s without touching on the ifs that come with Gustavsson’s game; If
he earns the trust of Julien. If
he’s healthy. If
he plays with more consistency. The list goes on and on and without a real answer anywhere.
But in September, all most of these veterans want is a chance. Gustavsson, unlike most, has that.
And at this time of year, that’s enough.
Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com