Toskala Deserves Benefit of the Doubt... For now

As I was carefully selecting the sharpest and jaggiest stones for the public sacrifice of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Vesa Toskala, I thought of something.

Pre-season.

Yup, that’s right. It was just pre-season. The reaction the 32-year-old has garnered throughout Leaf Nation might suggest otherwise, but yes, these games were basically meaningless—except for a select few.

So drop your barbaric weapons, take a Valium and give the once-praised Toskala the benefit of the doubt—for now. I’m aware that Jonas Gustavsson—who is clearly the reincarnation of Jesus Christ— and Joey Macdonald have both proven to be more reliable in their respective stints, but this job has been Toskala’s to lose since training camp debuted. And head coach Ron Wilson wasn’t about to hand the starting job to one of the two unproven goaltenders over a few pre-season games.

Let’s take a few things into consideration here—and this is NOT to defend Toskala’s horrid display of goaltending last night. For one, he is coming off two major surgeries to the hip and groin area. He played all of last season wounded, and hasn’t played to his abilities in an extended period of time. And with the acquistion of new goalie coach Francois Allaire this off-season, Toskala is now learning a new system to which he is not—obviously—accustomed to yet.

So give the guy a break.

I’m not saying to generate a bunch of excuses for the Finnish netminder, but atleast give him the benefit of the doubt. Despite his woeful save percentage, Leafs fans should hold judgment on whether or not he’s capable of maintaining his role as the starting goaltender until he atleast plays ONE regular season game.

While many have been venting their frustrations with Toskala on internet forums, no one is as furious as the man himself. When Wilson pulled him off the ice in the dying minutes to deploy an extra attacker, Toskala banged the boards with his goalie stick in anger, showing signs of emotion Leafs fans have rarely seen from the soft-spoken and mellow goaltender. After the game, Toskala had few things to say about his performance, but he did say that “when the season opens on Thursday, things are going to very different.”

Should he falter against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, then it is likely Gustavsson will get the nod against the Washington Capitals on the first night of Hockey Night in Canada.

For now, I’ll be wearing my Toskala jersey with pride and will support him heading into Thursday night’s tilt. If he fails, then I’ve already arranged a pack of lions to maul him in the Air Canada Centre after the game, Roman-style.

ronguillet@gmail.com