A “Big” Help
Standing at 6′ 3” Jonas Gustavsson makes his presence felt wherever he goes. Throughout the 2013-2014 NHL season, the man known as “The Monster” in Detroit asserted himself to be much more than the tallest guy in the room. Starting the season 8-0-1, Gustavsson remained a rock-solid backup for Jimmy Howard for the duration of the season. In a year that saw Howard struggle early on, soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Gustavsson’s presence should not be discounted as a major factor in Detroit’s late resurgence and ultimate securing of a playoff berth.
Gustavsson ended the regular season with a record of 16-5-4 over 27 starts, and a .907 save percentage. His 2.63 GAA is the best of his career while playing in the NHL. In short, Gustavsson found his confidence and stepped up when it mattered most. Fans may remember Gustavsson’s time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his play was lukewarm at best. Even last season with the Red Wings, his play was disappointing. In 2013-2014, Coach Mike Babcock has had no problem starting his number two netminder in must-win situations for the Red Wings, at one point dispelling any talk of a goalie controversy.
His turnaround this season should not only be seen as a testament to Red Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard and other staff, but to Gustavsson as a goalie as well. This summer, the Red Wings would be wise to reward his success with a short term extension.
To say what kind of deal would be best for the Red Wings, it is necessary to examine the other factors in play.
Petr “Griffin” Mrazek
First, there is the question of goalie prospect Petr Mrazek. Mrazek, a Calder Cup Champion with the Grand Rapids Griffins and frequent Red Wings call-up, got 9 appearances in the NHL this year, going 2-4-0. While these numbers do not appear stellar at first glance, both of his victories were shutouts, and three of his four of losses came against playoff teams.
At 22, Mrazek still needs more time to develop before taking over the backup position full-time. One more season in the AHL would allow him to mature mentally and physically while still playing under his entry-level contract. While still the Red Wings goalie of the future, it would be in the best interest of the Red Wings to go forward with Gustavsson for one more year….if his price is right.
Summer of ’14: Goalie Bonanza
It is in important to realize that this summer’s UFA goalie list is plentiful and talented, including names like Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller, Tim Thomas, Jaroslav Halak, and “still got something in the tank” Martin Brodeur. Many NHL quality backups are also unrestricted free agents, such as former All-Star Brian Elliot and Philadelphia’s Ray Emery. The vast selection will keep prices reasonable, which works in Detroit’s favor.
The issue of wether or not Gustavsson desires to test the market looms large. Coming off his best season yet, his market value is at an all-time high, and it is very possible that he wants to follow the money. If the Red Wings can sign him to a 1 (or even 2) year deal comparable to his current cap hit of $1,500,000, they should do it. Gustavsson provides a confident backup with high trade value should Detroit desire to promote Mrazek full time within the next two years. If Gustavsson decides to test the market, overpayment would be disastrous in a year when the Red Wings have many young players needing extensions. While Gustavsson is the best route for the Red Wings number two goalie, Mrazek could conceivably do the job, perhaps at the expense of a few wins.
Another season or two in the AHL for Mrazek would be common of the Red Wings system, where prospects often dwell in Grand Rapids until they are “overripe” and ready to excel at the NHL level. In this case, the system would also allow for the Red Wings to bring back a goalie who has proven that he has what it takes to win games consistently in the NHL.
Provided that Gustavsson does not look for a “Monster” contract, he is the most steady option for next season’s backup.