TORONTO – Jonas Gustavsson signed a US$900,000, one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, but GM Brian Burke isn’t about to hand the coveted free-agent goaltender a starting job.
Toronto beat out Dallas, San Jose and Colorado, among others, to secure the services of the 24-year-old from Danderyd, Sweden. But Burke said Vesa Toskala remains the Leafs’ starter and Gustavsson will have to beat out the veteran Finn to secure the No. 1 position.
“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.”
Toskala appeared in 53 games last season with Toronto, compiling a 22-17 record. 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 US$4 million.
At worst, Burke figures the six-foot-three, 192-pound Gustavsson will serve as Toronto’s backup goaltender and a solid insurance policy should Toskala suffer injury 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.”
Burke also said Tuesday there are teams interested in acquiring Tomas Kaberle. But the Leafs’ GM firmly believes the veteran defenceman will still be in Toronto when the NHL regular season begins.
“There is interest but nothing that requires thinking about,” Burke said. “It’s going to take a tough deal to get Tomas Kaberle out of here.
“If I had to handicap this, he will be a Leaf at the start of the year. That could change with one phone call but I’ve not been given any offers that approach what I think we need to make that deal.”
Kaberle has spent the past 10 seasons in Toronto has is under contract for another two years. He does have a no-trade clause but a window exists where he could be dealt during the off-season.
Gustavsson played for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League last season, registering four shutouts with a league-leading goals-against average of 1.96 and .932 save percentage in 42 games.
He also led Farjestads to the league championship after allowing just 14 goals in 13 playoff games with five shutouts.
“I want to thank Brian Burke and his staff for giving me the opportunity to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Gustavsson said in a release. “Toronto is a great city, with tremendous fan support, and I am very excited about the future.”
Gustavsson’s deal is the second big signing in consecutive days for the Maple Leafs, who signed defenceman Francois Beauchemin to a 11.4-million, three-year contract Monday.
Burke said he believes his record, as well as that of the Leafs’ organization with Swedish players, played a role in Gustavsson deciding to sign with Toronto. Burke was instrumental in securing Daniel and Henrik Sedin when he was the Vancouver Canucks GM while the Leafs have had a host of Swedes don the blue and white, including such popular players as defenceman Borje Salming and former captain Mat Sundin.
In fact, Burke said Salming went so far as to call Gustavsson during the negotiation process.
But Burke also said another factor working in Toronto’s favour was the club’s recent hiring of heralded goalie coach Francois Allaire, the godfather of the butterfly.
Gustavsson also played for Sweden at the world championship, posting a 3-2-0 record with a 2.83 GAA and .914 save percentage en route to a bronze medal and again catching Burke’s eye.
“Playing against Team USA he made a save with the shaft of his stick and I said, ‘Well, that was a lucky save,’ ” Burke said. “He said, ‘I practise that all the time,’ totally deadpan.
“I don’t know if he was pulling my leg or not.”
NOTES – Burke confirmed that the NHL is investigating possible tampering by Toronto head coach Ron Wilson, who during a radio interview last week spoke of the Leafs’ interest in the Sedins, who both re-signed with Vancouver shortly afterwards. “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.”