Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Gustavsson signs with Maple Leafs
By Pierre LeBrun ESPN.com
Jonas Gustavsson, hotly pursued by four NHL teams, has chosen the Toronto Maple Leafs as his first NHL home.
The 24-year-old Swedish netminder, who was an unrestricted free agent, signed a one-year, entry-level deal worth $810,000 plus a combined $90,000 in signing bonus money and other potential incentives.
The 6-foot-3-inch Jonas Gustavsson, known as "The Monster" in Sweden, chose the Maple Leafs over Dallas, San Jose and Colorado.
"I want to thank [Toronto general manager] Brian Burke and his staff for giving me the opportunity to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs," Gustavsson said in a statement. "Toronto is a great city, with tremendous fan support, and I am very excited about the future."
Dallas, San Jose and Colorado had also made offers to Gustavsson, nicknamed "The Monster."
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said Gustavsson has a unique combination of size and agility.
"Our feeling is that Jonas Gustavsson has a chance to be a pretty special NHL player," Burke said. "He has yet to play an NHL game, so we want to manage expectations here, but it's not just our assessment that he ranks that highly -- the number of teams that [originally] pursued him was in double-digits."
Last season Gustavsson led Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League to the league championship, allowing just 14 goals in 13 playoff games and posting five shutouts. In 42 regular-season games he led the league with a 1.96 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. He also won a bronze medal with Sweden at the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland.
"It is truly an honor and privilege and I feel very fortunate to wear the Blue and White sweater," Gustavsson said. "Toronto is a great city, with tremendous fan support, and I am very excited about the future."
The Leafs allowed a league-high 293 goals last season but have incumbent Vesa Toskala penciled in atop their goaltender depth chart.
"He's not coming in trying to unseat a guy who has been here a long time, has a long-term contract and has had a lot of success," Burke said. "That being said, we were very frank with Jonas that we feel Vesa is going to have a big-time, bounce-back year now that he's healthy.
"Don't think you're going to walk in here and knock this kid out of the net. You're going to have to do something to do that."
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Toskala played in 53 games last season with Toronto, going 22-17. He posted a 3.26 goals-against average with one shutout and .891 save percentage.
But he underwent season-ending hip surgery in March and missed Toronto's final 18 regular-season games. Toskala is entering the final year of his contract with the Leafs and is slated to earn $4 million.
At worst, Burke figures that Gustavsson will play behind Toskala and serve as a solid insurance policy should he get hurt again.
"He's a butterfly goaltender that also has superb athletic ability and can make athletic saves," Burke said. "Goaltending in our league has become the art of shot-blocking and that's what a butterfly goaltender does.
"He doesn't make saves, he blocks shots, he gets to the right place, makes himself big and the puck hits him. We think Jonas Gustavsson can do those technically sound things, get in position where a lot of pucks are going to hit him, but when he needs to he can make the athletic saves, as well."
Gustavsson's agent, Joe Resnick, said the decision was not easy for him.
"This wasn't a one-year decision. This was for years three and four. We were looking at the long term, that was a major factor in the decision," Resnick said. "At the end of the day it still was a very difficult decision because all four teams were good options. We couldn't have made a bad decision."
In other Maple Leafs news, Burke confirmed that the NHL is investigating possible tampering by Toronto coach Ron Wilson, who during a radio interview last week spoke of the team's interest in free-agent twin forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
The Sedins ended up re-signing with the Vancouver Canucks last week.
"It's in the league's hands, the league is looking into it. We will abide by whatever decision they make," Burke said. "We don't like tampering. If they deem this to be tampering ... and they fine us or they fine the coach, you're not going to hear a peep out of us."
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.