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.
“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.
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.