Jonas Gustavsson stopped 42 of 45 shots he faced in the preseason. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Now, the waiting game begins for Jonas Gustavsson.
After going through training camp and playing one and a half preseason games for the Bruins on a professional tryout, the 30-year-old netminder can do nothing but hope that the work he put in was good enough to earn him a contract and a spot on the bench as Tuukka Rask‘s backup.
Claude Julien said Friday morning that Gustavsson would not travel with the team for Friday’s preseason finale against the Capitals, with Rask starting and Jeremy Smith serving as backup. That means the preseason book is closed on Gustavsson, who stopped 42 of 45 shots over parts of two preseason games for a .933 save percentage.
“I’m not trying to think about it too much; I’m trying to do whatever I usually do – just practice, play games whenever I get a chance to play and have some fun,” Gustavsson said after Friday’s practice. “All the other stuff, that’s not in my hands. I guess I’m waiting, but on the other hand, at the same time, I’m just taking it day-by-day like I always do.”
Smith, a 26-year-old who was drafted in the second round by the Predators in 2007, is the favorite to win the backup job after a strong showing last season in Providence. That leaves Gustavsson, who played formerly with the Leafs and Red Wings but was limited to seven games with the Wings by injuries last season, potentially on the outside looking in.
Julien insisted Friday morning that a decision has not been made on the backup goaltender.
“There’s a lot that’s going to come into play there in that decision-making. It’s going to be a group decision,” he said. “We’re going to look at the pros and cons and everything else that goes into it. Unfortunately, that’s where it would be nice to have more preseason games and give a lot of those guys an opportunity to play even more and us assess them even longer, but that’s the way it is. Tuukka’s got to play. He’s our goaltender that we’ve got to get ready for the start of the season.”
Gustavsson’s preseason availability was limited by the birth of his first child, which cost him a preseason start that was perhaps made up when he played all of Wednesday’s game against the Rangers. Malcolm Subban (who started two preseason games) and Zane McIntyre are already back in Providence having been cut from camp.
Julien has noted that the decision the team makes for Rask’s backup will not necessarily be the team’s final decision. If the team loses confidence in the backup, as the Bruins did with Niklas Svedberg last season, they won’t hesitate to call up Subban and give him his shot. Should Smith get the first crack at the gig, such a scenario would do Gustavsson no good unless he remains unsigned.
Gustavsson saw his injuries create that situation last season in Detroit. As he battled a shoulder injury, AHL callup Petr Mrazek emerged as a starting option for the Red Wings, which made his services no longer required. If Gustavsson does happen to win a job in Boston, he intends to keep it.
“Every time you’re on the ice, you’re trying to prove yourself,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do, no matter if you have a contract or not. There’s always going to be competition. You can’t really take any spots for granted, no matter if you’re on a one-way or two-way or tryout or whatever it is. If you’re not going to perform over time, some younger kid or some other goalie’s going to take your spot. There’s only 60 spots in the league and there’s tons of good goalies.”
Gustavsson still considers himself one of them. He’ll have to wait to see if the Bruins agree.