DETROIT – The Wings signed a free agent on the first day of free agency, but it’s not one of the ones they had hoped to land.
Detroit agreed on a deal for a backup goalie, Jonas Gustavsson.
“I heard Detroit wanted me, I was happy about that,” said Gustavsson, who got a two-year deal worth $1.5 million a season. “It’s a great team with a lot of history and they always have a good roster.”
Gustavsson played his first three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he went 39-45-8 and had a 2.98 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
The Leafs traded his rights to the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013 prior to the draft.
The two-year deal gives the Wings a bit of an insurance policy if they have trouble signing Jimmy Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent next season. Howard will make $2.25 million this season.
This also relegates Joey MacDonald to the Grand Rapids Griffins. MacDonald flourished last season when he stepped in for the injured Howard, but a back injury ended his season on March 14. The back injury concerned the Wings.
Gustavsson made some noise when he first got to Toronto saying he was going to ‘try to steal as many games from Vesa Toskala.’ Toskala was the starter.
During a phone interview Sunday, Gustavsson wasn’t as bold when talking of playing time.
“I think playing time is something you earn, it’s nothing you think about before the season,” Gustavsson said. “I feel if you just push yourself and you’re moving in the right direction sooner or later you’ll get the chance. Then it’s up to you to take that chance. That’s what I expect from myself. I’ll keep pushing myself every day in practice and playing games to help the team win games. That’s what it’s all about.”
Gustavsson earned $1.35 million last season.
“I’m here to help the team and it doesn’t matter how that is,” Gustavsson said. “If that’s being the backup goalie that pushes the other goalie and helps pushes my teammates then that’s the role I’m going to take. For me it’s all about trying to become a better goalie everyday and maybe one day I’ll be the guy that plays all the games. For me it’s all about helping the team and it doesn’t matter where that is.
“But of course everyone wants to play, that’s why you play hockey,” Gustavsson continued. “That’s my long term goal, to become the goalie that plays a lot of games and helps the team that way. I haven’t thought about how many games I’m going to play. I’m going to push myself and push Jimmy and hopefully we’ll have success from that.”
Gustavsson does however come with a health concern relating to his heart, which is says is fine.
“Last year I felt great,” Gustavsson said. “I didn’t feel anything with my heart problems, like I had before. Overall, the only small minor issue that I had was that game that I missed when I took a shot on my knee. That was just for a few days that it hurt and after that I was fine. My health I would say is 100 percent.”
His heart issues were first noticed on the first day of training camp his first season in Toronto. An ablation surgery process needed to be preformed on his heart.
In 2009, he had a heart murmur, which led to a second ablation surgery.
In 2011, he was pulled from a conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies due to an accelerated heart beat and two days later he had a third minor heart ablation surgery.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Gustavsson said. “I think about it like you have a knee, leg or back injury and you go through the process of getting healthy and when you get healthy you can play. It’s the same thing with my heart. I’ve been feeling great for a long time.
“When it happened I didn’t’ feel that bad, it was just when it happened during like that hour or so is when I felt bad,” Gustavsson added. “After that I felt good and could play right away. Of course when it comes to heart issues you don’t want to deal with that, but from what I’ve been told it’s nothing that’s going to effect me or nothing that’s real serious so it’s a relief for me and I can put it behind me and move on. Now that I haven’t had anything in the last year I really don’t think about it at all.”