It’s true. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Even if it’s gone short-term.
Which brings us back to James Reimer, out for at least a week with a knee sprained in the Leafs 5-2 win over Philadelphia.
“Ah,” you say. “What if it’s longer?”
Even if Reimer’s injury keeps him out for months instead of weeks the Leafs will likely still sit on their hands.
That would mean no deal for Roberto Luongo, no attempt to coax Tim Thomas out of his unfathomable retirement.
Reimer’s knee provides a fine benchmark to examine how rapidly things have changed in Leafsland from the blue line in.
The Leafs are 8-5. Their total of 16 points is three shy of first-place New Jersey with a quarter of the season already in the rearview.
Reimer proved that when healthy he can put up premier numbers (6-3, 2.31 goals against, .929 save percentage).
Likewise, Ben Scrivens has produced good stats (2-2-0, 2.56, .913).
The Maple Leafs have surrendered 33 goals or 2.53 a game so far this season. Last year the team surrendered 3.21 a contest.
Yes, it’s a small sample but there is no sign of the kind of weak goaltending that would precipitate any change.
Rapidly improving defensive hockey (1.83 goals per game in February) is key to the Leafs resurgence. Goaltending is the principal pillar of better defence but it is not the only one. Watch Nazem Kadri in the neutral zone or the career-best hockey delivered these days from Mark Fraser and Cody Franson. Dion Phaneuf has been very good. All this has happened with the club’s best prospect, defenceman Jake Gardiner, regaining his game with the Marlies after missing a month with a head injury. Clearly, Reimer and Scrivens have benefitted from better work from the red line on out. That wouldn’t change.
The most consequential day in the team’s progress won’t be the day Reimer comes back. It will be July 5. That’s when a banner free agent class that could include Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and heaven knows who else hits the market as teams slice payroll to meet the new $64.3 million ceiling. The Leafs have $17.5 million in cap room.
This is not to say this season is a write-off. Far from it. An incursion into the playoffs would revitalize the franchise and reposition the Leafs as an emerging franchise going into the free agent shopping season.
But ask yourself this question. Who would you had been willing to siphon off the roster to get goaltending help: Kadri, Matt Frattin, Gardiner, Morgan Rielly?
When your goalie gets hurt you put your next best guy in. That means the 26-year-old Scrivens with Jussi Rynnas, no kid at 25 behind him. Rynnas’ stats ( 8-7-1, .254, .914) are solid enough. He is six-foot-five. He could have gotten in the way when needed.
Barring a lengthier wait for Reimer, Rynnas likely won’t have to. But Reimer’s knee injury reinforced not just how central a piece he will be in the team’s renaissance but how faithful the Leafs must be to the plan that will make it possible.