Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz/USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers got away with a bad gamble on Jonas Gustavsson

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 50 G Jonas Gustavsson

The career of Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli makes it clear that he considers the backup goalie position a place where he can save some cap space.

It’s an approach that has worked fairly well for him over the years. In Boston players such as Anton Khudobin, Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg have delivered strong performances on the cheap. In his first year running Edmonton, Anders Nilsson briefly supplanted Cam Talbot as starter for a modest $1.0 million cap hit.

So it wasn’t a big shock when Chiarelli again decided to go cheap on his backup goaltender. What was a surprise was his choice: Jonas Gustavsson.

Khudobin, Johnson, Svedberg and Nilsson all have one thing in common, besides being cheap: they were virtual unknowns at the NHL level when Chiarelli employed them. Gustavsson, with seven seasons and 172 games under his belt, joined the Oilers as a known quantity. Worse, his career 0.902 save percentage marked him as one of the worst goaltenders in the majors.

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It didn’t take long for Gustavsson to show his quality. In his sixth game with the Oilers, in mid-December, Gustavsson was lit up for six goals by the Philadelphia Flyers. That dropped his save percentage on the season to 0.893, just one goal worse than his prior career mark of 0.902.

The next week, while people like me wrote that the Oilers needed to find a reliable backup, Chiarelli was questioned about the performance of his backup goaltender. His response might be the greatest example of damning with faint praise that I’ve ever seen from an NHL GM:

Gus has been giving us two good games and two bad games. He’s a good person. He understands his role. As a backup, when you have a goalie as a No. 1 who takes a lot of the net it’s hard; he’s done it before, so he knows where he sits in out goaltending universe.

When a boss in any field is asked about the job performance of an employee and responds with “he’s a good person” it’s pretty easy to read between the lines.

Tyler Benson skating with UofA, awaiting Europe assignment

Gustavsson would sit for a full month, watching as Talbot played 12 consecutive games through the rest of December and the start of January. Finally, with a pair of games on back-to-back nights, Edmonton would start Gustavsson against the Senators on January 8. He would allow four goals on 17 shots in his final game with the Oilers and what (with his signing this summer in Sweden) may turn out to have been his last start in the NHL.

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Gustavsson would then be dispatched to Bakersfield to make room for Laurent Brossoit. He would initially play well in the minors, but slumped late in the year, losing his last four games (and ultimately the net to prospect Nick Ellis) as the Condors fell five points short of the final playoff berth in their division.

The good news for the Oilers? Thanks to Talbot’s tremendous play, the team didn’t pay too heavily for investing in a poor backup goaltender, and when Brossoit got his opportunity he made the most of it. Edmonton now enters next year with a starter who has proven he can handle a heavy load and a backup the coach should have more confidence in.

Bottom line: Gustavsson played poorly, and his NHL career is probably over as a result. But because Edmonton had good goalies above and below him on the depth chart, for once a poor decision in net didn’t really hurt the Oilers very much.

Previous year-end reviews:

  • RyanCoke

    Unlike the goalie carousel down south. They are hopeless at picking goalies right now. Smith has been a bum for awhile now and only looked good behind a stifling boring defence first game that made every goalie look amazing(cool bryz). Eddie lack hasn’t stayed anywhere even though when he left vancouver they said he was a number 1 goalie who got caught behind a better goalie. Now both those goalies are gone from there and lack hasn’t caught on anywhere. I almost feel bad for Calgary because if they had a kipper again they would be deadly.

  • madliberation93

    That game in Ottawa was terribad on Gustavsson’s part. Oilers had 66% of the HDC’s and out shot them 35-19, after that I knew I couldn’t stomach another start from this sieve.

  • Mitch92

    Back-ups are back-ups for a reason. They, for whatever reason are not capable of handling a starters workload. As is such it can be looked at as a smart place to save cap space. It takes balls and luck to come out unscathed by your back-up in today’s NHL. Not many teams can boast two bonafide starters. That is one reason that the Pens have been able to win two cups in a row. Now we will see how they fair with only Murray now that Flower is drying up in the desert. If we are ready to make a cup run then trade for a decent back-up at the deadline. Until then continue to get a lot for a little.

  • “Chiarelli again decided to go cheap on his backup.”
    High risk move with little reward. It didn’t cost him but it could have. Had things gone wrong, Chiarelli’s balls would be bookends, as oilers nation explodes with criticism.

  • DerpSolo

    I remember watching a game against the wild, and seeing Gus make a wild diving poke check stop and thinking ” That was amazing, he’s a genius!”. Then koivu came in, and Gus tried the same thing again, except this time it went in the net. That’s when I realized… “Hey, this guy really sucks”

  • Juniore

    “When a boss in any field is asked about the job performance of an employee and responds with “he’s a good person” it’s pretty easy to read between the lines.” – Willis, care to elaborate?

    • Florescent Oil Orange

      I can’t speak for Willis but I kind of get the feeling he meant it is sorta like when one person sets another up on a blind date and says she has a nice personality…….kinda means she ugly

    • abbeef

      Pretty straightforward, if someone asks how is Jim doing with the new clients in accounting and the answer is Jim is a really nice guy. You know Jim isn’t doing well but the guy answering doesn’t want to crap on Jim or lie about his performance.

  • TKB2677

    With the failed experiment of Gus last year, that is why I really wasn’t keen on the Oilers going out and bringing in a different goalie and preferred them to keep LB as their back up.

    The first reason I wanted them to go with LB is they have been developing this guy for several years. What is the point in spending all that time and money into developing a goalie if you aren’t going to give him a shot.

    Second and this is the biggest one, is the Oilers know LB and LB knows them. LB knows the coaches, he knows the players, he knows the system. The Oilers know him, know how he plays, know his strengths and weaknesses, they know how he is with the guys and in the room.

    If you bring in a different guy, all you know is what you have seen on video and whatever viewings you had. But there is no way you had a complete idea on the goalie he is, how he interacts with the team. Everyone knows that a team and it’s system can help mask a goalie to some degree. So how do you know a different guy will come in and excel. How do you know the other goalie will get along with Talbot or the team. LB has shown he has the ability to play well at the NHL level, its just a question of him being consistent. The only way you gain consistency is to practice and PLAY.

  • toprightcorner

    I think people are forgetting about 2 major items that would have come into play when choosing Gus, no defending the choice but there was more involved.

    1) The NHL was supposed to have made the equipment smaller, meaning an athletic goaltender should adjust more easily and with a backup only playing 15 games, it is important for them to adjust quickly. Gus is an athletic style goaltender.

    2) Talbot was the clear #1 that was going to play at least 65 games. Chad Johnson went to Calgary, where there was no clear #1 so he had a shot to get more games and raise his stock.

    Svedberg was in the KHL and had only 19 NHL games of experience tough gamble to bring a guy over.

    Nilsson was just traded from the Oilers and maybe it wasn’t a fit or didn’t want to come back.

    Khudobin has had some great seasons, but the past 2 years as a back up his SV% was lower than Gustavsson’s for the same time frame.

    The thing everyone forgets is that we don’t know if Chairelli spoke to any of these other goalies, maybe they wee asking for more at the time (they all signed quite a bit later) or maybe they weren’t interested in coming to Edmonton.

    Chairelli did not make a great choice but for all we know, he could have been the only interested option. I also can’t blame him for trying to go with an athletic goaltender not knowing the NHL were complete idiots regarding goalie equipment change.

  • camdog

    Gustavsson’s NHL career was over before he came to Edmonton. He got one last chance because of loyalty. His positioning has been bad for a number of years, smaller equipment and he’s even more out of position. The Gustavsson signing wasn’t even a gamble, everybody knew he was bad, this was one where the analytics guys and the eye ball guys could agree on.