Almost every year – usually when hockey news goes drier than Steven Wright in the Mojave desert – there seems to be a European Elite League flavor of the month. The off-color guys at Pensblog made Janne Pesonen a borderline Internet sensation. The Dallas Stars were super-excited when they won the Fabian Brunnstrom “sweepstakes.”
Last summer, a few NHL teams were in the bidding to land mammoth goalie Jonas “Monster” Gustavsson. He certainly had the size (6-3) and Internet love angles covered considerably well. That being said, he’s also had his growing pains – not to mention the pains in his heart. (No, I’m not saying he lacks “guts.” He’s had heart surgery this season. Yeah.)
Still, after leading the Leafs to a 30 save, 4-1 win over the free falling Ottawa Senators there are some who are getting awfully excited about the goalie again. One of those people is Mark Zwolinski of the Ottawa Star.
This is what the Leafs wanted to see when they outbid three other teams, and crossed the Atlantic, to woo Jonas Gustavsson to Toronto.
The rookie Swedish goalie has been a factor in Leaf wins of late and also a big part of the new culture the club is building for next season and beyond.
Eh, let’s not get carried away there Mark. Still, despite flops such as the aforementioned Brunnstrom and Pesonen, some of these mid-prime transfers can really work out. I don’t claim to be an authority on European leagues (and I’m leaving out players who only stayed out of North American hockey because of the Cold War). However, there are two recent transfers who have been wild successes since moving to the NHL. Let’s take a look at those two before we go, perhaps to tantalize Toronto fans.
(Oddly enough, both are Swiss-born players. Maybe the NHL just needs to scout the country a bit more? No? OK, I’ll shut up.)
Mark Streit – It only took a season for Streit to get used to the NHL, as he went from 11 points to 36 and 62 points with Montreal. Few liked the sound of his signing with the Islanders, but he managed 56 points last season and has 37 so far this year. Streit also shined on an undermanned Swiss team during the Olympics.
Jonas Hiller – Speaking of shining on an undermanned Swiss team, Hiller was almost good as the other “iller” (uh, Ryan Miller) in the tournament. Sure, J.S. Giguere had his struggles, but it still takes some gusto to beat out a Stanley Cup-winning goalie and Hiller did just that in Anaheim. (And, hey, Gustavsson has Hiller’s first NHL goalie coach and shares the same first name! See, Maple Leafs fans, you’re like … 2/3 of the way to having Jonas Hiller!)
So will the Monster turn out to be a great find or a monstrous bust? The answer isn’t clear just yet.