J.S. Giguere moved out of his Toronto home over the weekend and isn’t sure if he’ll be back.
The 34-year-old goaltender is at a crossroads in his NHL career as he prepares to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. At this point, there’s little he can do but sit and wait before finding out if he’ll be back with the Maple Leafs next season or playing elsewhere.
“Hockey has given me a lot of good things in my life and we’ll see where it brings me now,” Giguere said Wednesday from Montreal. “I started playing in the NHL when I was 19 … and it’s the first time in my life that I’m a free agent so I can say that I was really truly blessed. I had 10 wonderful years in Anaheim and a couple good years in Toronto.
“There’s no reason to be worried or nervous. We’ll let the game dictate where I go.”
Six weeks removed from his second career sports hernia surgery, Giguere’s primary focus is on getting himself healthy for training camp.
The injury was a major source of frustration last season—”every time I started to get on a bit of a roll, I felt my body would just not let me do it”—and resulted in a more involved surgical procedure than the one he had after winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2006.
Once it was completed, Giguere made regular visits to the Air Canada Centre for training sessions with Leafs strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza. He’ll start working with another trainer now that he and his family are back in Montreal for the summer.
“I’m feeling great,” said Giguere. “I’m able to work out to my full (ability), I’m not holding back any more. The reason I stayed in Toronto so long is I wanted to make sure that I was working with the trainers there and make sure I would rehab the right way.
“It’s been very beneficial for me.”
Giguere was Toronto’s second-highest paid player last season at US$6 million—the final year of a contract Brian Burke originally signed him to while both were in Anaheim. He finished the injury-plagued campaign with a 11-11-4 record, .900 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against average in 33 appearances.
Burke confirmed in an email on Wednesday that the veteran remains an option for the Maple Leafs, but the team will likely wait to see how he recovers from surgery. Giguere extended the lease on his residence in Toronto until August and figures he’ll know by then if he’s moving back to the city in the fall.
It remains his preference.
“I would love to, but I don’t know what the management have in mind,” said Giguere. “I feel like I could be a good fit in Toronto working with (James Reimer). It’s going to be a tough season for him next year having that pressure of coming back to Toronto. We all know that all the journalists when we go back to camp are going to be after him—asking him questions and stuff like that.
“I think I can be helpful to him. I have no doubt that he can handle it himself, but I think a veteran presence might help him a little bit.”
Reimer stole the Leafs No. 1 job this year and is a restricted free agent himself this summer. Toronto also has Jonas Gustavsson under contract for another year at $1.35 million.
At this stage, Giguere figures the ideal situation is one where he can mentor a young goalie. But the competitive fires still burn white hot and he believes he can compete for playing time.
“I feel like I can still play in the NHL,” said Giguere. “You always have to prove yourself. You need to be the best you can and you need to show that you can play because there’s always a young guy waiting to take your spot.”
No matter how an uncertain summer ends up playing out, one thing that won’t change is how he feels about Burke. The two men go back a long way and have had some dialogue about the current situation.
“He knows my intentions, he knows I’d like to come back,” said Giguere. “No matter what’s going to happen I have an enormous amount of respect for Burkie. Whether he takes me back or not, it doesn’t change that—I’ll always respect the way he conducts himself and the way he wants his team to play.”