The Maple Leafs Need James Reimer

March 15th, 2014 No Comments

1aleafsreimer123Originally drafted in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, goaltender James Reimer was never expected to be an elite goaltender.

What the Maple Leafs had hoped they had drafted was a capable netminder, who, if all went well, could be counted on to assume the back up role in Toronto.

After a brief stint with the Toronto Marlies during the 2008-09 season in which he played in three games, recording a 1-2 record, Reimer continued honing his trade in the East Coast Hockey League with the Reading Royals and South Carolina Stingrays in 2008-09.

Reimer would follow up a relatively good season in the ECHL with a chance to be the number one goalie with the Marlies in 2009-10. Reimer would accumulate a 18-8-0-2 record with the Marlies that season, in which he boasted a 2.25 goals against average and an impressive 0.925 save percentage.

Reimer (26) continued his success the following season, registering a 9-5-0-1 record with the Marlies before being called up to the big club during the 2010-11 season to back up Jonas Gustavsson, who was the de-facto number one netminder in Toronto due to an injury suffered by veteran netminder, Jean Sebastien Giguere.

Reimer made his NHL debut on December 20, 2010 against the Atlanta Thrashers. Reimer’s debut was short lived as he played just 14 minutes in relief of Gustavsson.

Reimer would make his first start a few weeks later, beating the Maple Leafs hated Provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators by a final score of 5-1. Reimer made 32 saves that night, which caused more than a few fans and management to take notice of the young goaltender.

With both Gustavsson and Giguere playing poorly, and injuries taking their toll on both netminders as well, Reimer was given the opportunity to take the reins, assuming the number one netminder’s job.

Reimer would go on to put up excellent numbers that season, posting a 20-10-0-5 record to go along with a 2.60 goals against average and a 0.921 save percentage.

Reimer would build on his early success by starting the following season with a 4-0-1 record. Unfortunately, Reimer would suffer an upper body injury (whiplash) against the Montreal Canadiens when Montreal forward Brian Gionta ran into Reimer in the crease.

After an initial 19 game absence, Reimer would return to the Maple Leafs lineup. Reimer would finish the 2011-12 NHL season with an upper body injury (Neck), limiting his play and taking a toll on his overall numbers which stood at a 14-14-4 record with a bloated 3.10 GAA and a paltry 0.900 SV%.

While Reimer’s numbers were not horrible, they were far from the excellent statistics he put up in 2010-11, bringing question marks about his future with the club and causing many to question his ability to remain healthy.

With the NHL locking it’s doors, Reimer was able to heal his injuries before starting the 2012-13 season in January. With Gustavsson signing with the Detroit Red Wings during the lockout, the Maple Leafs called up and coming netminder Ben Scrivens to push Reimer.

While there were a few bumps along the way, Reimer put up excellent numbers during the 2012-13 season, leading the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, posting a 2.46 GAA and an excellent 0.924 SV%.

Despite a decent effort, Reimer and his team would succumb to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, losing in game seven in what many refer to as an epic collapse by the entire team.

Reimer would finish the playoffs with a 3-4 record, 2.88 GAA and a 0.922 SV%.

While Reimer should be applauded for getting the Maple Leafs to the playoffs, there were still rumblings about his overall abilities, which were being questioned by the fans, coaching staff and management. A weak glove hand, an inability to handle the puck and questionable rebound control were just  a few of the question marks facing Reimer, many of which left the Maple Leafs wanting more.

With doubt swirling around Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis pulled off a huge deal with the Los Angeles Kings, which ultimately brought highly-touted netminder Jonathan Bernier to Toronto in exchange for netminder Ben Scrivens, prospect Matt Frattin and a second round draft choice.

While many Maple Leaf fans felt Reimer should automatically be given the nod as the teams’ number one netminder, head coach Randy Carlyle chose to let Reimer and Bernier duel it out. Ultimately, Bernier would win out over Reimer, posting better overall numbers and making big saves night after night.

In fact, Bernier has played so well for the Maple Leafs, that some experts are looking for him to emerge as a candidate to play for Team Canada in four years time, while others foresee a perennial All-Star caliber goaltender in the making. Either way, when you consider Bernier’s 25-16-7 record, combined with his 0.925 SV% and 2.61 GAA and the fact that he sees more rubber on a nightly basis than any other NHL netminder, he is nothing short of impressive.

reims1Through all the changes and challenges, Reimer has remained the consummate professional. Overall, Reimer’s numbers have been solid, registering an 11-8-1 record while earning a 0.914 SV%. Reimer’s only flaw has been his bloated GAA, which currently sits at 3.23 through 27 games played.

Numbers aside, the Maple Leafs need Reimer and, from the outside looking in, Reimer needs the Maple Leafs as well.

A quick look around the NHL suggests that, despite some early success in his career, Reimer would likely be hard-pressed to earn a starting role in another NHL city.

While Reimer is probably unhappy with being the backup in Toronto, he is loved by the fans, seems comfortable in the over-hyped media market that is Toronto and has the respect of his teammates. Those intangibles, combined with the chance to be a part of something special in Toronto might just be enough to keep him in his Blue and White uniform.

Money and term will be factors in re-signing Reimer, as will playing time. But, overall, the Maple Leafs can offer Reimer a solid gig, on a team with upside and the chance to taste playoff success. What more do you want as a backup?

It is also worth noting that Reimer’s favorite hockey team growing up was the Maple Leafs and his favorite player was former Maple Leafs netminder, Ed Belfour. A small factor for sure, but one that could sway him from leaving to be a backup in another market.

Of course, Reimer could chose to leave Toronto, but why? Outside of maybe earning the number one job with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres or Vancouver Canucks, where could he be the undisputed number one goalie?

The Edmonton Oilers recently solidified their goaltending with the acquisitions of Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth. The Washington Capitals recently traded for veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak. The Philadelphia Flyers are happy with the play of netminder Steve Mason. Where is the opportunity? Where could Reimer bump a current number one off his throne?

Carolina? Ottawa? Winnipeg? Dallas? I am thinking “no”.

Should Reimer leave Toronto, the Maple Leafs would have to attempt to promote from within or hit the Free Agent market. At this point, Drew MacIntyre (25-15-3, 2.47 GAA, 0.919 SV% with the Marlies) would seem to be the most likely candidate within the system to take Reimer’s place, but he is not NHL tested and he too is a UFA this summer. For a team as close as the Maple Leafs are to having considerable playoff success, taking a chance on MacIntyre would not be a smart move.

More likely, the Maple Leafs would look outside of the organization and either trade for a backup or use free agency where the likes of Justin Peters, Devan Dubnyk, Brian Elliot, and Ray Emery may be available this summer.

In the end it appears as if the smart thing for both sides is to keep things status quo, which is to say Reimer should re-sign with the Maple Leafs, and Toronto should be happy to have him.

As the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Here is hoping the Maple Leafs and Reimer can hammer out a new contract this summer.

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