The big moves in goal between Toronto and Anaheim may come as no surprise, but the impact will still send shockwaves through both systems. On the heels of Jonas Hiller’s new four-year deal, the Ducks finally found a way to reunite J-S Giguere with Francois Allaire and Brian Burke. All is well that ends well I guess, as the fan’s favorite scapegoat, Vesa Toskala, was released from Leafs prison and will now probably end up as a free agent this summer.
The big goalie buzz from these moves is focused in Toronto, where Giguere is now the subject of a revival story. I like the move by Toronto to sign him for a couple of different reasons. First of all, it gives them some pretty solid options heading into the summer. Either Giguere regains his old form from years ago and makes the Leafs a truly competitive team, or he splits time with Gustavsson and turns into a perfect backup mentor by parlaying all of his NHL wisdom and experiences into a steadily improving Monster.
One of the most important aspects to keep in mind with this trade is the influence Giguere will have on Gustavsson. Every aspect of the position, from stance and style to preparation, demeanor and attitude will slightly rub off in a positive manner. When a wise sage is brought in to play with an apprentice, the educational element is at the forefront of the relationship. Giguere is there to teach (indirectly and directly) and Gustavsson is there to learn.
I’m not a fan of Giguere’s blocking style at all and I’ve spoken plenty on the fact that he has dehydration issues, which causes him to tire out by the third period and lose his focus and a grip on games. But in a new situation like this, everything can change. I can no longer rule out the possibility that Giguere’s fantasy value will continue to be trash. There’s a chance he could become quite valuable, actually, but only time will tell.
There are elements of Giguere’s game that can greatly benefit Gustavsson. I can see Gustavsson watching Giguere go through drills while standing next to Allaire, who is reinforcing and pointing out certain aspects of Giguere’s game verbally to Gustavsson. Sometimes the best and most effective way for a young, raw-talented goalie to learn how to execute things correctly is to see a veteran doing it right in front of them.
So my favorite aspect of the trade is that Giguere becomes a perfect role model for a goalie that has recently sparked the ire of many fantasy managers. This was revealed in the School of Block forums over the weekend in a somewhat surprising manner, as it seems a lot of people think Gustavsson is already a bust. To this I can only shake my head in bewilderment, as this same dynamic took place just a year ago with Jonas Hiller.
Speaking of Hiller, it was really interesting to hear Burke explain to reporters just how much potential Gustavsson has compared to Hiller a few years ago. Allaire mentioned that he thought Gustavsson was more talented at this point in this career, which is all the proof you need that Gustavsson is not even close to being a bust yet. And anything Allaire says I’ll gladly take to the bank any day.
With only one year left on Giguere’s contract, it seems to me that Toronto has bought some time when it comes to deciding whether or not Gustavsson is the future. And for all intensive purposes, it should mean the same for all fantasy managers. To decide right now whether or not he’s a bust is a little premature, as he has only been playing in the NHL for four months. When goalies suddenly rise up in Europe and are shipped overseas and thrown into the fire quickly, it’s only fair and smart to evaluate their progress over a more extended period of time.
There are a ton of things to consider when looking at Gustavsson’s recent play. It is really obvious that his biggest issue is seeing the puck through traffic and playing with bodies in front of him. Because of the spacing of plays coming at him and the speed at which they happen, he’s being forced to move a lot quicker than usual. Therefore he is caught off balanced, hunched over and falling on his stomach a lot. You could almost say he's moving TOO fast for his own good, as the speed of the NHL game is something he is simply not familiar with. His timing is all janky.
But that’s not the same thing as simply saying he’s caught out of position all the time and doesn’t know where he is on the ice. That would lead me to believe he is slow and doesn’t have the footwork to move effectively, which is clearly not the case. Gustavsson has great lateral movement and is extremely quick. It’s just a matter of placement, angles and depth that is detracting him from ending up in better position. The kid needs time to learn, adjust, re-focus and adjust again. And that won’t happen until he has a few months away from the grueling NHL schedule. Let’s not forget it is also the Olympic season, which impacts even a veteran goalie’s schedule and play.
So even though Gustavsson may look bad on the highlight reels, these positional aspects of his game will improve as time goes on. He will get more confident with more instruction. The coaching staff will keep things positive as they realize every goalie has a different learning curve. When I see his ability to stop pucks and make big saves, I’m slapped in the face with potential. It is CLEARLY there, leading me to realize he’s just a massive work in progress.
Earlier in the season, I noticed Gustavsson had an awestruck and hesitant demeanor. He literally seemed afraid to compete and be more active. Yet the fact he's even competing and winning some games at the NHL level on a wishy-washy Leafs team is an amazing feat that has been overlooked. Regardless of his stats and losses, he has handled the pressures well and is thriving mentally. Losing games as a rookie is not necessarily a bad thing long-term, as he is developing a tough skin and learning what it means to battle hard for the puck and focus in a one-goal game.
In conclusion, from a fantasy side of things, I think owning him is a give-and-take process. If you're having second thoughts about him now, other managers will as well. And that means you shouldn't be afraid to give him up now and if things change, get him back at a later time. If you are hesitant and you understand the learning curve associated with a raw talent like Gustavsson, you might want to hang on to him for the rest of the season in case he comes out looking like a totally different and more effective creature in September.
Whatever you have to do to make ends meet for your fantasy team, and depending on whatever offers you get, just know he is a work in progress. He will continue to improve with every game he plays and it will all play an integral part in honing his great potential and size. Those are the facts. He's raw-skilled lanky monster. He can make big saves. Any team would want that moving forward, as well as a skilled veteran mentor and teacher. It’s a perfect combination.
If there's one goalie I will be most interested to see when September rolls around, it will be Gustavsson. What did he learn over the summer? How has he improved at tracking pucks and playing through traffic and screens? What influence will Giguere have on his style, stance, execution and demeanor? Those are the real keys when it comes to determining his future and none of those things can be truly understood or revealed without a little more time.