What would make Brian Burke miss the end of the season in Toronto?
Well, he had a date in Sweden, with a tall blonde.
That blonde was Jonas Gustavsson, who has the inside track on becoming the Leafs’ number-two goalie.
How good is this kid? At 24 he was the best goalie by far in the Swedish Elite league. He had a 1.96 GAA—the first to achieve a GAA under 2.00 since 2006—then led his team to a championship.
How sure is it that he will come to the NHL? This has been decided. “He cannot get better than he has already here at home….it is right to go,” says his current goalie coach Erik Granqvist.
How sure is it that he will come to Toronto? It seems to be a done deal. The other team pushing hard is the Dallas Stars, who have had scout Johan Garpenlov practically living in Sweden courting the goaltender. Andy Moog and Tim Bernhardt, both working for the Stars, have also made pilgrimages.
The Leafs have been equally aggressive, however. Long before Burke’s trip, Leaf’s Corey Hirsch was living the hard life of a goalie coach spending time and dining out in an effort to woo the kids. Hirsch is actually a star in Sweden, having appeared on postage stamps as the goalie who let in Peter Forsberg’s overtime goal to give Sweden gold in the 1994 Olympics.
The Leafs’ trump card is the very real promise that he will play in 2009, and even compete for the number-one spot, which Gustavsson’s people have made clear is a must. Dallas has Marty Turco clearly taking the majority of ice time in Dallas, so they simply can’t make similar assurances.
“It is important that he comes to a club where he may continue to develop their own style and not come to a goalie coach who wants to make of him. Moreover, it should be a team where he can be there fighting for the spot as first goalkeeper. In the case of Toronto, Corey Hirsch called me and he is completely on my line,” Granqvist was quoted as saying in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
Importantly, like Hanson and Bozak, Gustavsson can earn a maximum of $900,000 in his rookie year, so there will be no bidding war.
Okay, so Leafs look good to land him. How good can he be?
Leaf fans will be chomping at the bit hoping for another Henrik Lundqvist, but Gustavsson is not the proven entity Lunqvist was before he immediately starred in the NHL. Lundqvist had already proven himself on the world stage, having been named best goalie at the World Championships in 2004, and had been named goalie of the year in Sweden three years in a row.
Gustavsson has only ever played one-game internationally (in which he gave up four goals and posted an .840 save percentage). Prior to this season, Gustavsson’s best numbers came at the U-18 level. He has been improving steadily, but at this point he may still be just a “flash in the pan” type player.
Net net, Gustavsson could become great, but he won’t walk in dominating the way Lundqvist has. He would be an amazing addition, however, a very strong young player at the most important position. He is fun to watch, and should quickly become a fan favourite.
If Burke can land him, after already landing two prospects at no cost, Toronto's GM will be on the fast track to become NHL executive of the year before the summer even starts.