When the Wings signed Jonas Gustavsson last summer, this isn't how they envisioned his season going. This statement brought to you courtesy of Captain Obvious. That statement was brought to you by Sergeant Sarcasm.
There's been talk about whether the Wings should trade Gustavsson over the summer, and even whispers that he should be a candidate for a compliance buyout. I don't think the Wings are considering either of these options, nor should they. Why shouldn't we consider either of those options when Gustavsson is 2-2-1 on the season with a SV% of .879 and a GAA of2.92? I'm glad you asked.
When we signed Gustavsson last summer, I was excited and eager to see him redeem himself and get his groove back. When the Leafs aggressively pursued and then signed Gustavsson, he played an explosive, athletic style that showcased his natural reflexes and strengths. The Leafs fell in love with him, but after signing him, Francois Allaire and the goaltending staff in Toronto proceeded to take the very things that made Gustavsson so good, and change them. Allaire wanted Gus to play more of a drop and block style that neither fit Gus, not worked with his natural style and strengths. Goalies don't have time to think when they're playing, they have to react with their reflexes and abilities. If a goalie is trying to focus on changing his style, or fitting into an unnatural mold, he can't focus of stopping pucks and playing his game. Playing behind a not so good Toronto team, dealing with a minor heart condition that's required three heart ablation surgeries so far, and trying to change his goalie DNA all resulted in less than stellar numbers for the Monster.
The plan was for him to have a summer of rehab with the Wings, and let him work with a couple of the best goalie coaches around in Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood, and getting Monster back to playing the way that made him so successful before. Just like pretty much everything else last summer and this season, nothing went according to plan and, Gustavsson didn't even get a training camp or a few preseason games to find his groove with his new team and get back on his game.
The last game he played with Toronto was March 27, 2012 and his first game with the Wings was in relief of Jimmy Howard (there was no relief for anyone) on January 19th in the dumpster fire of a season opener. He strained his groin and didn't play for a month, came back and played in the OT loss in Nashville and a SO win in San Jose.
He's only started 4 games and came on in relief of Jimmy in 3. Two of the relief games (season opener against the Blues, and the Easter game against Chicago) were dumpster fire games where the team played like a flaming bag of poo. We have 5 games to judge Gustavsson, and that's a pretty small sample size to make a judgment on, especially with how poorly the team as a whole has played this season. Aside from the Calgary game, he hasn't looked that bad. He's looked rusty, shaky, uncertain, and rough, but not nearly as bad as the game results would indicate. It's really hard for a goalie to play so little and get anything good going.
He has a good game then sits for a week with no chance to get any momentum or confidence going. He has a bad game and then sits for a couple weeks, no chance to redeem himself or bounce back. Monster has the mental fortitude necessary to persevere, but given all the circumstances, his confidence is probably at an all time low, and not playing or getting a chance to prove himself and get back on track isn't helping him.
The team is in a tricky position because we can't afford to gamble on any games, and it's not looking like we'll see Gustavsson start any more games this season unless there's a dire need. Right now I'm ok with that, I'd like Jimmy to get some rest so he's not ragged for the playoffs *cough* 2011 *cough*, but he's playing very well and right now we need our goalie at the top of his game, so it's gotta be Jimmy. I would have liked Gustavsson to get more starts earlier in the season but nothing can be done about that now.
Trading him, or buying him out doesn't make any sense for a few reasons. His trade value isn't much right now, so I don't think we'd get much for him. If we decided to trade/buy him out with little or nothing in return, who gets to back up Jimmy? Mrazek isn't quite ready yet, he still needs to work on a few things and he's still in his first pro season. So if we dump Monster, we'd need to sign a backup who would be willing to sign a one year deal, because there's a high probability that Mrazek will be ready in '14-'15. I'll let you speculate, but I don't see anyone available this summer that fits that description, would be better than I think Monster can be, and would fit into our budget.
I want to see Monster get back to playing the athletic, explosive, reactive style that got him to the NHL. Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood are very skilled at working with goalies' strengths and natural style to bring out the best in them, and that's exactly what Gustavsson needs. We haven't seen the real Monster yet, but I think we still can.