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(MARK BLINCH)
(MARK BLINCH)

What's really wrong with Jonas Gustavsson? Add to ...

One thing that I have learned from a few other successful NHL goalie coaches over the last year is this: A goaltender should always be coached to play as relaxed and comfortable as possible. If a certain style works for them, it is often good for the goalie coach to adjust their teachings to the goalie.

If you look at Nashville's two European goaltenders, they are being allowed to play to their strengths [under coach Mitch Korn] Pekka Rinne isn't being taught to play a positional or "blocking" style because that's not what makes him successful.

If you look at the Stars goalies, Kari Lehtonen is playing that really "reactive" style where his hands control a lot of shots down low and he's pretty scrambly at times. This is what makes Lehtonen feel the most comfortable and it eliminates a lot of mental noise and just allows him to play to his strengths. Andrew Raycroft is playing the hybrid style of positional butterfly that makes him very successful as well. Both goalies on both teams are playing to their strengths and that's why they have been so successful this year.

In that same fashion, if you look at [Leafs prospect]James Reimer, he's clearly the kind of goalie that will have an easier time adjusting or absorbing the teachings of Allaire's blocking style. He's a positionally sound goalie that likes to let pucks come to him. He'll move less to absorb shots and that's what has made him successful since his junior days.

What's the future hold for Gustavsson? Are these temporary issues or long-term ones?

Personally, I think Gustavsson just so happens to be the type of Swedish import that takes longer to transition to the smaller ice surface. Because he didn't have any time to hone or refine his game in the AHL, he has been under intense pressure to win games and evolve at a faster rate than should be expected of him. He's been thrown into the proverbial fire and has suffered some very frustrating losses in the last year. It probably really frustrates him because he clearly has the potential to be an elite NHL goaltender. He just needs more time. If the Leafs will stay patient and positive with him, he can be a full-time starting goalie in the NHL.

Everyone knows he showed tremendous promise after the Olympics last year. And he's capable of being even better than that. But he needs to relax and go back to playing a style that makes him successful. He needs to play to his strengths, not try and mold his style into something he's really not. If the Leafs really want him to do that, they need to put him in the AHL and give him ample playing time so he can refine his style into what Allaire wants. But that's not easy to accomplish in the NHL, especially when he sits on the bench every other game.

If you look at how the Leafs are handling Jussi Rynnas, another raw-skilled prospect, I have to say it's a much better progression path than how they are handling Gustavsson.

I feel bad for Gustavsson because he's a very hard-working goalie. I love his work ethic, his energy, his combination of size, speed and agility. He has all of the traits to be an elite NHL goalie. But he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders right now. And if you look at everything he's had to deal with and process away from the rink (family issues, the whole moving overseas situation), it's just not an easy situation to be in mentally. I think expectations are too high (internally and externally) and his development path has been too rushed for him to truly be successful right now. Yes, he should be done "transitioning" to a smaller ice surface, but every goalie is different and unique. Every goalie has their own blueprint and every goalie should be treated as an unique entity.

All of those problems reveal themselves in the bad rebounds, the untimely goals against, the negative reactions, the frustration, the lack of confidence from his teammates, and sometimes with himself.

All of that being said, it won't take much for him to snap back into a positive situation and continue to evolve. He's still learning with each game that goes by. The tough losses only make him stronger mentally. But the Leafs need to be patient and they need to set him up to be successful. They need to give him some easy starts (very few in the NHL these days) and they need to nurture him a little bit and give him some consistent minutes. If so, I won't be surprised when he goes on a run similar to the one he had post-Olympics last year.



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