Has James Reimer Surpassed Jonathan Bernier As Toronto’s Starter?
Heading into the 2013-14 season, one of the more interesting debates for the Toronto Maple Leafs management team and fans was which netminder (James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier) would emerge as the number one starter for the Blue and White.
Despite posting a 19-8-5 record, a respectable 2.46 goals against average and an impressive 0.924 save percentage during the shortened 2012-13 NHL season, there were still doubts whether or not Reimer could get the job done in the playoffs. Reimer followed up his decent regular season work with an up and down playoff series against the Boston Bruins, emerging with a 3-4 record, 0.923 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average.
With many questioning Reimer’s ability to handle the puck, control rebounds and his penchant for giving up bad goals aimed at a perceived weak glove hand, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis chose to attempt to upgrade his netminder by acquiring Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.
For the most part, Maple Leaf fans applauded the move, betting on Bernier living up to the expectations that come with being a former first round draft choice (11th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft).
Bernier, brought a small body of work to the Maple Leafs, but the 29-20-6 record and six shutouts he brought with him from Los Angeles was thought to be superior to the numbers Reimer had put up with the Maple Leafs (53-32-0).
Since the acquisition of Bernier, both management (mainly, Dave Nonis) and the coaching staff (head coach Randy Carlyle) have seemed head strong on anointing Bernier as the number one goalie.
Bernier has been the benefactor of 15 games played to Reimer’s ten games played and, for the most part, has taken advantage of those opportunities. Still, questions remain as to whether or not Bernier should be Toronto’s number one goalie or if Reimer is ready to step up and assume the role.
Of course, when questioned about which netminder would be his number one, Carlyle often states he will run with the hot hand, but, in the minds of many fans, there is evidence to suggest Bernier has been shown a measure of favoritism in the form of “Gucci” starts against some of the NHL’s lesser teams.
To date, Reimer is thought to have been given a more difficult body of assignments, facing the Montreal Canadiens on the road on opening night, followed by tough starts against some of the NHL’s best teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins (tenth overall), Vancouver Canucks (15th overall), Boston Bruins (eighth overall) and Minnesota Wild (sixth overall).
While those suspicions may seem true, let’s not forget that Bernier has been asked to start against the Anaheim Ducks (first overall), Chicago Blackhawks (second overall) and Colorado Avalanche (fifth overall), so it’s not like Bernier has been given the “easy” assignments as many suggest he has.
Through ten games played, Reimer has amassed a record of 6-2-0 to go along with one shutout, a tidy 2.10 goals against average (ninth overall) and a league-leading (taking his number of starts into consideration) 0.947 save percentage to boot!
During that ten game span, Reimer has faced a total of 342 shots, stopping 324 of them, giving up just 18 goals in the process. That’s amazing considering Reimer was widely viewed as a netminder with considerable weakness in his glove hand, puck handling and rebound control.
Comparatively, through 15 games played, Bernier has amassed a record of 8-6-1 to go along with a more than respectable 2.19 goals against average (seventh overall) and a nifty 0.934 save percentage (12th overall).
Given their stellar play between the pipes, Both netminders have been credited for getting the Maple Leafs to where they are heading into Monday night’s tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets—14-8-1 (29 points), good enough for 11th overall in the League standings.
Given the fact that both Bernier and Reimer have excellent numbers, it is hard to say which goalie deserves to be Toronto’s true number one. I have always put a lot of stock in the numbers, but I am also a fan of playing the hot hand, as are many NHL coaches and general managers.
When you add it all up (the goaltenders’ overall numbers, the team success and the individual stats) one thing sticks out—James Reimer leads the NHL with a 0.947 save percentage.
Reimer’s save percentage is hard to ignore and his goals against average of 2.19 is seventh best— better than the likes of Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Kari Lehtonen, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, Mike Smith and Antti Niemi, to name a few.
With their team giving up a league-leading 36.2 shots per game, neither Reimer nor Bernier has been getting much support. That said, Reimer and Bernier have combined to keep the Maple Leafs respectable in the goals against department, giving up an average of just 2.30 per contest (tenth overall).
When you consider the entire picture, Reimer never should have lost his job to Bernier. Sure, Reimer’s perceived weaknesses were, at times, alarming last season, but the 2013-14 season should have been a fresh start for Reimer. Instead, to date, Reimer appears to have lost his starters job to Bernier, even though Reimer has the better numbers, albeit in spot duty.
There are other examples of little used goaltenders getting it done this season.
Through six starts, New York Rangers netminder Cam Talbot (5-1-0) has a superior save percentage to Reimer’s at 0.949. San Jose’s Alex Stalock (3-0-0) has a 0.952 save percentage through three games, while Reimer’s former understudy Ben Scrivens (5-1-3 through 11 starts) has put up admiral numbers in Los Angeles, including an excellent 1.37 goals against average and an equally impressive 0.946 save percentage.
None of the goaltenders that those little used netminders play behind are in jeopardy of losing their starting jobs, so should Bernier be nervous?
Truth be told, given their limited body of work, neither Bernier nor Reimer has earned the right to be called the Maple Leafs’ true number one goaltender.
Sure, Reimer looks to be the hot hand, as Bernier was earlier in the season, but can either one sustain this level of play for an entire season and subsequent playoffs?
If Carlyle holds true to his promise that he will play the hot hand, Reimer is the guy until further notice. If Carlyle chooses to bump Reimer in favor of Bernier, then we know something is rotten in Denmark…or, at least, Toronto!