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.
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.
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.
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:
- Centre: Leon Draisaitl, Drake Caggiula, David Desharnais, Anton Lander
- Left Wing: Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Matt Hendricks, Jujhar Khaira
- Right Wing: Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Tyler Pitlick, Iiro Pakarinen
- Left Defence: Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart
- Right Defence: Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Mark Fayne
- Goal: Cam Talbot, Laurent Brossoit