Leaf fans, you don’t need another goalie.
Maybe not ever. Certainly not now.
The Maple Leafs have 74 days between Saturday’s debut in Montreal and the April 3 trade deadline to find out whether they need to replace James Reimer.
I’m pretty sure they don’t.
What you have in Reimer is a goalie who excelled when he was healthy but sank while he was hurt. If James Reimer had never returned to the ice after being smacked in the crease by Brian Gionta last October, the Leafs would be giddy to entrust their future to a 24-year-old goalie with a 24-10-6 career record. He would have 2.63 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
To pluck a name out of the ether, Roberto Luongo’s career goals against average is 2.52. His career save percentage is .919.
Reimer has two years left at a cap hit of $1.8 million per. Luongo has 10 years left at $5.3 million per season. Bit of a difference there.
This is not to compare James Reimer to Luongo, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who might end his career as the NHL’s all-time games played leader.
But there are several dynamics at play.
- No one loses their job if the Leafs don’t make the post-season. By no means should this be a management crutch but the Maple Leafs are still in the asset recognition and apprenticeship stage. The Leafs are among the youngest teams in the league. Players such as Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Biggs have yet to impact the roster while another group, Matt Frattin and Jake Gardiner come to mind, are just getting their sea legs. The only person on the clock, Brian Burke, is gone. If you’re starting from scratch it takes a generation – between six and ten years in hockey terms – to accrue a roster that can aspire to an elite level. The train’s not yet near the station.
- The Leafs are looking at one of the great free agency seasons $21 million under the new cap beginning July 5. With many competitors, Boston, the Rangers, Philadelphia hamstrung by the new cap and existing contracts, the Leafs will have an opportunity to land unrestricted free agents such as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. If they can keep Reimer in goal, they have a promising window to address their most pressing need: a number one centre. As well all sorts of interesting names could come free as teams size up compliance buy-outs. The future for both players should be made more clear in a few weeks after the agents with both players meet with Duck executives.
- This isn’t the time to offload young talent. Young, cheaper players, will be imperative next year when the cap dips down to $64.3 million. The more inexpensive talent the team has on hand, the more money it can marshal when free agency returns. The $3.5 million the Leafs net with Reimer over Luongo over two seasons is significant because it underwrites what the team will need to re-sign Joffrey Lupul. If Getzlaf or Perry indicates they are not re-signing with Anaheim, the Leafs need young assets to make a deal.
- There are other names should Reimer be found wanting. Mike Smith, a standout in Phoenix is scheduled for free agency this summer. One of either Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott might need to be sprung from St. Louis so they can be a starter elsewhere. The same goes for the Kings’ Jonathan Bernier who will have some say in his future as a restricted free agent after this year. Last I heard, Tim Thomas wasn’t doing anything this winter. Take it from me, spending time with family is overrated.
- The Leafs will want to see how Reimer fares under new goalie coach Rick St. Croix. Reimer was a steadfast defender of former goalie consultant Francois Allaire but Allaire left the club in the off-season after conflicts with the club’s coaching staff and criticism that his methods were outdated.