The training camp battle for the backup goalie job in Boston began as a three-horse race.
Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre were the three original players slated to contend for the right to back up Tuukka Rask. However, general manager Don Sweeney decided to give free agent netminder Jonas Gustavsson an opportunity to contend for the job by inviting him to camp on a professional tryout.
Over a month later, the Swedish Olympian has turned his tryout into a contract.
Jonas Gustavsson turns his PTO into a $700,000, one-year deal from #bruins.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 4, 2015
The Bruins announced on Sunday that they signed Gustavsson to a one-year, one-way contract worth $700,000 after his performances during the preseason. The deal means it’s a mere formality that the soon-to-be 31-year old goaltender will start the year backing up Rask on Causeway Street.
Bruins fans took to Twitter soon after the announcement was made to express their thoughts on the signing. Some liked the deal…
…while others were not so fond of the move.
Surprised by the Jonas Gustavsson signing. Little track record of being an NHL goalie of consequence.
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) October 4, 2015
It’s a smart move by Sweeney (sorry, Fluto) to sign Gustavsson in more ways than one. Here’s my take on why Bruins Nation should welcome their new backup with open arms.
Last season, Boston decided to go with Niklas Svedberg in a backup role. The 26-year-old rookie played in 18 games (14 starts) with a 7-5-1 record, 2.33 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Considering he had no previous NHL experience outside of a start in the 2013-14 campaign, Svedberg held his own.
However, the problem lies with how much he played down the stretch. The Swedish netminder made just four appearances in the final six weeks of the season, forcing the Bruins to rely heavily on Rask. As a result, the Finnish goaltender made a club-record 70 appearances all season and felt the fatigue in the last few games.
Congrats to Jonas Gustavsson on contract with Boston. Not surprised though as teams often like to have a backup with experience
— Mike Zanier (@MikeZanier) October 5, 2015
Boston surely doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Signing a guy with six years of experience in Gustavsson gives coach Claude Julien a little more trust to give his franchise netminder a rest. Of the other three contenders, Subban is the only one with any in-game NHL experience and we all know how poorly that went.
For those who argue that Smith earned the job, take a look at his performance against the New York Rangers on September 24. The 26-year-old allowed two bad goals to Brady Skjei and Kevin Hayes to the glove side and, even though he made some good stops, was not at his best.
Gustavsson will have to earn the trust of the coaching staff but (for the most part) is a known NHL commodity; something his three other combatants cannot say.
Developing The Future
Aside from the experience he brings to the table, the Bruins can shift their focus to the development of their goaltending prospects.
Subban and McIntyre are both raw prospects at the tender age of 21. For the first-round pick in 2012, Subban is looking to take the next step in his development after two pedestrian seasons with Providence.
He is arguably one of Boston’s top prospects next to Alex Khoklachev and, after struggling at times last year, is in serious need of a bounce back campaign to regain the confidence he’ll need if he wants to contend for the backup job next season.
For McIntyre, his confidence will be high after an impressive junior year at the University of North Dakota. Boston’s sixth-round pick in 2010 recorded a stat line (29-10-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 save percentage) that made him a worthy finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s best collegiate hockey player.
Now, McIntyre will enter the professional ranks for the first time down in Providence. The 6’2 netminder will hope to continue riding the wave of momentum he built for himself after three solid season at UND.
With Gustavsson signed, Subban and McIntyre can get some seasoning down on the farm and improve their prospects for next season. Throwing either one of them into the fire this season could have been harmful to their development, so it was a smart move to go with experience over potential in a season that will define the short-term direction of the Bruins.
As the season opener is fast approaching, Boston has found themselves a goaltender who will offer insurance for Tuukka Rask.
Signing Jonas Gustavsson was a smart move. It’s now on him to repay the faith Boston’s brass have in their new backup.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW