Going into this offseason, the Dallas Stars had two glaring needs to address over the summer: defensive depth and the backup goaltender situation. Stars scouts and executives have been working on the latter for a long time already, way before the season ended, when they started to visit Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson during this past season.
Gustavsson is late-bloomer of sorts, and was completely passed over by the NHL when he eligible for the draft. But the past few seasons he's emerged as a genuine beast in net while playing in Sweden (his nickname is The Monster), and led his Swedish elite team to playoff championship with an incredible 1.03 goals against-average and a .967 save percentage. Since it became known that he would like to make the move to the NHL, he's become one of the more highly courted free agents in a very long time.
What makes his situation interesting is that money is not an issue for whom he decides to sign with. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement states that an entry-level contract for a player his age cannot exceed $900,000. So now teams must use recruiting methods not unlike those a college team does when trying to sign highly-touted high school prospects.
Gustavsson has narrowed down the teams on his list to Dallas, Toronto, Colorado and San Jose. He's spent the last week traveling North America, visiting with the coaches and players and touring team's facilities and arenas. Dallas is his third stop, and he's set to fly in this afternoon and visit with the team tomorrow. He'll be at the Texasgame tomorrow with Joe Nieuwendyk, who is set to throw the first pitch before tomorrow night's game.
There seems to be a prevailing theme growing that Toronto and Colorado are the front runners, since they can give him the best opportunity to be the starting goaltender. Not completely true.
While Gustavsson certainly would like to go to a team where he can start, he's not looking for a guaranteed spot as the team's starting goaltender right off the bat. Instead he's looking for the best team, the best organization and the one that gives him the best chance to compete. The Dallas Stars can offer all of that.
Joe Nieuwendyk has stated that for the Stars to be successful Marty Turco needs to start somewhere between 55-65 games a season. That is when he is at his best, that is when he has historically been his sharpest when the season ended. That leaves 20-25 games for the backup goaltender to start but that only happens if the Stars can acquire a solid backup that the team has faith in. If he does choose the Stars, then he is in perfect position to make the transition to North American hockey without the immediate pressure of being the full-time starter. He'll have one of the league's most successful goaltenders to learn from and he'll have a great coach in Andy Moog. It's a nearly perfect situation.
Let's not forget that Turco is also in the final season of his contract. If Gustavsson comes to the Stars and plays up to the potential many believe he has, then has more than a decent chance to become the starting goaltender for the Dallas Stars in 2010. He'll also have plenty of opportunity to compete for playing time this season as well; if Turco has the kind of start to this next season like he did in 2008, you can be certain that Gustavsson will be given the chance to pick up the slack.
He can't ask for a better situation than that.
Signing Gustavsson fills an immediate and possibly a long-term need for the Dallas Stars. They have time to continue to develop their goalie prospects in the minors, while also securing an extremely talented backup who has the potential to be the full time starter in the future. They also represent a low-pressure, high reward opportunity for Gustavsson.
It's a perfect match.