It’s becoming a familiar sight at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility.
Dozens of cameras and reporters all huddled in one end, grouped around the team’s two netminders – who sit side-by-side – for a prolonged question-and-answer period.
After James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson were both talked out, goalie coach François Allaire then made a rare appearance of his own to try and quiet the storm.
Just another day in Toronto for the backstops in the wake of an ugly loss.
And general manager Brian Burke added a little more fuel to the fire when he revealed on TSN Radio on Wednesday night that he may acquire a netminder before the trade deadline Monday.
“I’m not sure that we’re not going to be in the market [for a goalie]before we’re done,” Burke said. “It’s something that we have to at least explore what the price tags are. The fact is we’re losing games because we’re not stopping the puck enough. … We’ve got to get our goaltenders to stop the puck.”
That is a distinct change from what’s been said in the past, when Burke and company stood behind their goalies through various ups and downs.
Toronto’s loss Tuesday, however, was particularly ugly, with Gustavsson allowing three bad goals against the New Jersey Devils and may mark a turning point for the organization if they do add a goalie.
Several could be available, from Josh Harding to Jonathan Bernier or Ben Bishop, although Burke made it clear he was most interested in immediate help rather than prospects.
Where that leaves the Leafs two current goalies remains to be seen, although with Reimer under contract for two more years and Gustavsson a pending unrestricted free agent, that decision may already be made.
To their credit, neither netminder seemed all that down at practice on Wednesday despite all the attention and coming off their worst stretches of the year.
Gustavsson, in particular, was relatively cheery for a fellow who was stuck with the goat horns after an overtime loss to the Devils.
Then again, he seems to know how to handle bad goals, and bad losses, better than most.
“That’s something that, maybe not the day you decide to be the goalie, but as you get older and you play more competitive [hockey] that’s something you learn,” Gustavsson said. “As a goalie, you’re either the hero or the guy that everyone blames.
“I don’t take too much credit when we win, when everyone thinks I play unbelievable. Same thing when we lose and everyone thinks I’m the worst goalie [in the league] I don’t really take that to heart.”
Part of the problem for Leafs management in bringing in another goaltender is giving up on one they’ve spent considerable time developing midway through the season.
Both Reimer and Gustavsson are eminently likeable people. They work hard, fit in well with the team and have overcome long odds and adversity to be in the NHL.
Their stories are great ones – whether it’s Reimer first playing organized hockey at 12 in the middle of nowhere or Gustavsson’s charity work with children with heart conditions after his own health scare – and they’re doing their best whenever Wilson gives them the nod.
In the NHL, however, likeability doesn’t win games, and some of the sourest souls in pro sports have at times been the oddballs that man the crease.
And Reimer and Gustavsson’s best simply hasn’t been enough on many nights.
What’s more clear than ever these days is that one of the two isn’t coming back next season, not after this bumpy ride. Given they haven’t talked contract at all, it appears Gustavsson is the one headed out the door.
COULD THESE MASKED MEN HELP THE LEAFS?
1. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks: All indications are that general manager Mike Gillis wants to hang onto his 25-year-old backup as insurance in the playoffs, but Schneider’s terrific .928 save percentage will certainly mean he’ll have suitors. Can’t be kept behind Roberto Luongo forever.
2. Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings: Another highly touted youngster, Bernier is just 23 but has had a tough season as the backup behind Jonathan Quick. The Kings would move the former 11th overall pick for help up front.
3. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: One of the more intriguing pending unrestricted free agents in goal, Harding is still just 27 and has rebounded nicely to a .919 save percentage after missing all of 2010-11 because of injury. Harding has yet to play as a starter in the NHL, however.
4. Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders: The veteran from Kazakhstan has impressed Isles GM Garth Snow to the point they’re working on a contract, although Nabokov’s name had been in trade rumours for months. He was a Vézina Trophy runner-up while playing under Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson in San Jose.
5. Ben Bishop, St. Louis Blues: A behemoth at 6 foot 7, Bishop is another pending UFA who will likely be playing in the NHL in the near future. He is currently one of the save percentage leaders (.928) in the American Hockey League.
6. Curtis Sanford, Columbus Blue Jackets: A 32-year-old journeyman who has spent much of his career in the minors, Sanford nonetheless has played well for the struggling Blue Jackets en route to a .915 save percentage. May be available cheaply given his contract is up at the end of the season.
7. Antero Niittymaki, San Jose Sharks: Essentially free to a good home after clearing waivers, the 31-year-old Finn is playing in the minors after missing nearly the entire season because of a hip injury. Was the most valuable player of the 2006 Olympics but has been up and down since.