Bill Guerin does not tolerate whining. When Guerin brought in Marc-Andre Fleury, his former teammate, to play goalie down the stretch run during the 2021-22 campaign, then signed him, he hoped to have a timeshare in net. But when things started getting ugly with Cam Talbot‘s camp, the writing was on the wall for this tandem.
Talbot was incredibly unhappy in Minnesota after not playing until a Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues. His wife even called out the organization. At that point, everyone could see that there would not be a happy 50-50 split between Fleury and Talbot.
So Guerin shipped Talbot to the Ottawa Senators and rolled with Fleury and Filip Gustavsson, who came back in the Talbot deal. Over the summer, Guerin went from having two veteran starting goalies to Fleury and a young, unproven netminder. Wild fans and media were suspicious about Guerin making that trade in the summer to acquire a young, unproven goaltender.
But remember, Guerin was familiar with Gustavsson, who was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization when they picked him in the second round of the 2016 Draft. Just as he did with Fleury, Guerin made a move to acquire a goalie he was familiar with.
There were durability concerns with Fleury, 38. Dean Evason established that Fleury would be the starter and Gustavsson would be a true backup, rather than a 1A-1B tandem like Talbot and Fleury would have been. Fleury was in line for around 55 starts, and Gustavsson would be getting somewhere in the 25 range, assuming everyone stays healthy.
However, historically teams that ride a workhorse goaltender all year hurt their playoff performance. *cough cough Devan Dubnyk cough cough*
Yet, it seemed Minnesota was determined to ride with the man they call “Flower.” Gustavsson played sparingly even though Fleury struggled immediately for the Wild. Luckily, Fleury got back to playing at an elite level and dragged the Wild and their anemic offense back to .500.
I mean, shoot, I’d pick this too…
Then tragedy struck, and Fleury went on IR with an upper-body injury.
There was a bit of a panic when Fleury went down with an injury, and the Wild had to put him on IR. Gustavsson had been okay, a bit up and down. He would play incredibly well in some games and very poorly in others. There were calls from fans for the Wild to bring up first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt when the Wild goaltending faced struggles early in the year. The Wild management wisely did not engage in such tomfoolery and rolled with Gus.
In the past month, Gustavsson has been in the top ten in the NHL in GSAA (goals saved above expected). He sits ahead of Fleury and Talbot during that time.
Gustavsson had two outstanding starts before Fleury’s injury. Aside from his first start against the team that drafted him, he’s been excellent. In Fleury’s absence, the Wild went 2-1 in Gustavsson’s three starts, and Gus only allowed a single goal in each of his wins against premier teams in the NHL.
The biggest knock on Gustavsson has been the soft goals he’s allowed. He let in a really soft goal against Nico Sturm that cost the Wild an extra point in that game. That was fresh in the minds of the Wild fanbase as Fleury went down with an injury before a crucial homestand.
Those are saves you just have to make. Maybe a team that is struggling offensively like the Wild cannot lean on a 24-year-old netminder, but they had to with Fleury out.
If you overlook these gaffes and consider his work as a whole this year, he has been better than expected. A.914 save percentage, and 2.62 GAA are solid numbers. You can’t ask for much more for a guy who was only expected to play 20 to 25 games.
The Wild would be wise not to overwork Fleury and give Gus a few more starts.
Has Gustavsson become a better option for the Wild than Talbot?
Talbot has not been bad. He’s been a top-15 goaltender in terms of GSAA and GSAx through eight starts. Ottawa has not had the success they would have hoped, but Talbot has come as advertised for the Senators.
The Senators are a bottom-six team in shots allowed but put up solid Corsi numbers, and their offensive production has been good. Talbot started the year hurt, and the Sens had to explore alternate goaltending options. Talbot and the Senators sit at the bottom of the Atlantic and are struggling mightily. Would this Senators team be better with Gustavsson in the net? Not with the way they play defense, he wouldn’t.
Would the Wild be in a better place with their goalies at a combined age of 73? Talbot has not outplayed Gustavsson to a level where you would want to keep Cam over Gustavsson in the long term. Who will play better hockey over the next two to three years while Wallstedt develops in the minors?
Talbot did not want to be in Minnesota after they traded for Fleury, and the Wild wanted a bridge goalie to ease the arrival of the best goaltending prospect in the world. Kappo Kahkonen was not cutting it in the eyes of management, so they brought in a new option.
It was a risky move to part with the goalie who delivered you stability in the net during the formation of Bill Guerin’s tenure in favor of a young goalie who was extremely inconsistent and unproven. Not to mention a 38-year-old goalie with over 900 games played.
Talbot got his wish, and the Wild seem to have gotten theirs. Gustavsson is in a position where he can thrive and develop into a quality back stopper. He would not be able to do that in a bottom-feeding defensive nightmare in Ottawa.
Gus has proven he has the stuff and has made Bill Guerin’s gamble on the young Swede look very sweet.
All stats via Evolving Hockey and HockeyDB.