While I was interning at The Hockey News in early 2011, I was given the task of interviewing James Reimer for a story about goalie schools. After the morning skate prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, I proceeded into the dressing room to grab a quote or two from the goaltender. Upon entering I was introduced to how quickly the Toronto media can engulf a situation. This was the height of Reimer’s hot streak when he first joined the Maple Leafs and there must have been 30-plus reporters surrounding him. Carl Gunnarsson, who occupied the stall next to Reimer’s, was forced to wait patiently until the crowd subsided.
That was less than two years ago and things have changed drastically for both Reimer and the Maple Leafs. Where once the new sensational goaltender could do no wrong, has now given way to an uncertain future. Rumors have run rampant that the Leafs want to acquire Roberto Luongo and many have blamed Toronto’s recent failures on goaltending.
While play between the pipes has been an issue with the Leafs for almost a decade now, Reimer’s story may have another chapter or two left in it. Often times the media and fans in Toronto judge players faster than a Usain Bolt 100-metre dash, but should management do the same?
Due to all the hype that has surrounded Reimer during his time in Toronto, it’s easy to forget that he has only appeared in 71 NHL games. His first 37 came in the second half of the 2011-12 season and his efforts there were the only reason the words “Leafs” and “playoffs” were used in the same sentence. Reimer went 20-10-5 with three shutouts and a .921 save percentage, while nearly guiding the Leafs to a playoff spot.
Reimer appeared to pick up right where he left off last season when he started the year 4-0-1 with a shutout. However, a concussion then forced him to miss significant time and upon his return, coach Ron Wilson began rotating his goalies like Don Cherry changes suits. Reimer did not take well to the new system and seems to be at his best when he is allowed to remain in the crease for long stretches at a time. He was never able to gain any momentum and his save percentage dropped to just .900.
Drafting and developing goalies seems like one of the more challenging things for an organization to accomplish these days. More and more teams are looking to build other aspects of their squad first, and then hope to catch lightning in a bottle between the pipes. Stanley Cup winners Tim Thomas and Antti Niemi are good examples of that. However, trading away future building blocks for a proven goaltender really only makes sense if you are in a position to contend for the Cup, which the Leafs are nowhere close to at this point. Unless of course they could go back in time and bring in the 1993 playoff version of Patrick Roy, or the 1999 post-season excellence of one Dominik Hasek. I’m sure with all the money that MLSE has, they have Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future working on that somewhere right now.
Unless a trade happens in the coming days, Reimer heads into this 48-game season as the number one goalie by default. Such a small NHL sample is hardly enough evidence to make a decision to cast Reimer off at this point. With that being said, it’s not like you are going to get a ton of opportunities to prove yourself at the NHL level. With the growing belief that the Vancouver Canucks are in no hurry to deal Luongo, this shortened campaign will likely be Reimer’s last stand.
A stand he deserves the opportunity to make.