Toronto Maple Leafs: The Resurgence of James Reimer


While he has had many chances to the leave the team, James Reimer decided to stick around because he wanted to be the starter of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It looks like he is getting the chance to be that again

Oct 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) makes a save against the Arizona Coyotes at Air Canada Centre. The Coyotes beat the Maple Leafs 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When James Reimer made his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2010-11 he became the first goalie since Mikael Tellqvist to start a game in goal for the Leafs as a draft pick.

The history of goaltending for the Leafs, which was once a formidable position for the franchise, has gone through a major decline since Ed Belfour left the team after the 2005-06 season.

That changed, however, after Reimer went on a 20-10-5 run posting a 2.60 GAA and a .921 sv% in his rookie season, giving the team a reason to be optimistic about the future.

Nov 6, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) makes a save against the post as Detroit Red Wings right wing Gustav Nyquist (14) tries to jam the puck into the net in overtime at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Since then Reimer has stuck with the club outlasting goalies like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, and Ben Scrivens.

The Leafs then made another deal to acquire a starting goaltending when they traded for Jonathan Bernier, and since then, it has been a struggle for Reimer.

Bernier played 55 plus games for two straight seasons, which put a dark cloud over Reimer’s future with the Leafs. For the past two seasons many wondered whether Reimer would be traded, but each time he stayed with the team.

When Mike Babcock joined the team he wanted either Bernier or Reimer to  seize the job and he chose Bernier before the season started. Bernier struggled out the gate going winless in seven starts with a 3.02 GAA and a .899 sv%. Then an injury to Bernier opened up a spot for Reimer.

Feb 20, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) and goalie James Reimer (34) before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Reimer has started nine games this season posting a 4-2-3 record with a .920 sv% and a 2.33 GAA. Since taking over for Bernier, Reimer has started six straight games going 3-1-2 with a .943 sv%, and a 1.83 GAA.

The question that many should be asking the next couple of week is whether Reimer can reclaim the starting job? Right now the job should be Reimer’s to lose because he has been the better goalie this season despite what has happened the past two seasons.

Babcock was not afraid to start Petr Mrazek in the playoffs last season over Jimmy Howard. Always trying to do what’s best for the team, Babcock gave the starting job to the player that deserved the job.

Could we be seeing that again here in Toronto?

While Reimer may not be as technically sound as Bernier, he makes up for it with his unwillingness to quit on a play, which has led to some unbelievable saves over the past couple of games.

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When it comes to trading for goaltenders the Leafs have never had much luck in that department. When the Leafs traded Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft, it was a move to improve the position quickly instead of waiting for Rask to develop. Raycroft played 72 games in 2006-07 and registered a dazzling 2.99 GAA and a .894 sv%.

The following season GM John Ferguson Jr. made another deal to acquire Vesa Toskala from the San Jose Sharks for the Leafs 2007 first-round pick. The Sharks then made a deal with the St. Louis Blues in order to move up to ninth and select Logan Couture. Toskala lasted three seasons with the Leafs before he was moved to the Anaheim Ducks in a deal to acquire J.S. Giguere.

Toskala never had a save percentage above .910 or a GAA below 2.70. Gustavsson had the best chance to win the Leafs starting job but lost that opportunity to Reimer who came in and gave the Leafs a chance to make the playoffs. Reimer’s play also ensured that the first-round pick that the Leafs traded to the Boston Bruins was not a top five pick again, instead the Bruins selected Dougie Hamilton ninth overall.

Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) enters the game as goalie James Reimer (34) exits against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This is the problem with trading for goalies. A team will trade for a goalie who they hope can come in a be a starter for them either because they were stuck behind a good starter or a top prospect in that position.

When the Leafs traded for Raycroft, he was coming off a Calder trophy season in 2003-04 but had a tough season in 2005-06. However, the team was hoping that they were getting the goalie that won the Rookie of the Year award, not the one that only lasted two seasons with the team.

The same goes for Bernier who had never started more than 25 games in the NHL before getting traded to Toronto, largely due to the fact that he played for the Los Angeles Kings, who were a superior defensive team and have Jonathan Quick between the pipes.

Bernier has put up solid numbers the past two season with a .923 sv% in his first season with the Leafs and a .912 sv% last season. But unless he can quickly get his game back on track,, and Reimer stumbles down the stretch, it will tough for Bernier to get more starts.

Next: What Were the Leafs' Prospects Up to in October?

Right now Leafs’ fans can enjoy the resurgence of Reimer. It has not been pretty the past couple of seasons, but at this point he could be turning things around. This is something that Mike Babcock has noticed and has given a lot of praise for.

"“He’s earned the right to play, so good for him,” Babcock said of Reimer. “If you continue to play well, you continue to start. (Tuesday’s win) doesn’t happen without great goaltending.” – Mike Babcock"