What Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Do With James Reimer?

Jan 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (34) goes to make a glove save as Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrej Nestrasil (15) looks on during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (34) goes to make a glove save as Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrej Nestrasil (15) looks on during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Though in the midst of a renaissance season, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer.

When healthy, James Reimer has been the Toronto Maple Leafs best player this year, and the numbers clearly indicate that.

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Following Thursday’s 40 save performance against the Carolina Hurricanes, Reimer boasts a league leading .937 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA. His record isn’t glamorous, sitting at 8-7-5, but that’s hardly Reimer’s fault. The Maple Leafs have only scored an average of 2.3 goals when Reimer starts between the pipes, and they have actually scored one goal or less in nine of his 20 starts this year.

Even with his stellar play, though, this ambiguous cloud of uncertainty hangs over his head. With unrestricted free agency looming, what the Toronto Maple Leafs should do with Reimer is a popular question among Leafs’ fans these days.

Again, when healthy, Reimer has easily been the Leafs best player this season. But health is a gigantic question mark for Reimer. He’s never played more than 37 games in a season, and although it’s a relatively small five-year sample size, it’s a genuine concern if you’re the Leafs’ brass.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Jan 13, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) gets back on his skates after making a save during the Leafs 3-1 loss to Columbus Blue Jackets at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Beyond his health, determining whether his performance this year is something to expect going forward, or just an outlier, is another question worth asking. In 197 career NHL games, Reimer owns a .915 save percentage and a 2.80 GAA. Prior to this year, his best season with the Leafs was 2012-13 where he posted a 19-8-5 record to go along with a .924 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Aside from that season it’s been a lot of inconsistent play from Reimer. Even when looking past the box score, though, questions surrounding his rebound control, glove, and overall positioning have always lingered.

Clearly Reimer has made some technical adjustments to his game this season, but so have the Leafs. The team finally has some structure and it’s led to not only better play in front of their goalies, but less shots as well.

Jonathan Bernier‘s struggles have been well documented this year, but if he was putting up the kind of numbers Reimer is, would Leafs’ fans anoint him as the “future goalie”, or would he be receiving similar doubt?

It’s a fair question to ask, especially with Reimer entering free agency and Bernier returning next season. Bernier’s future with the Leafs isn’t clear either, however, which is a large reason why re-signing Reimer this offseason might not be a bad idea.

When you look around the league,  Cam Talbot just received a three-year, $12.5 million contract with an average annual value of $4.167 million. If after serving two years as a backup on the New York Rangers, and half a season on an inconsistent Edmonton Oilers squad, earns you that kind of contract, then that’s certainly a starting point for when Reimer negotiates his next deal.

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Considering the team in front of Reimer, you could easily make a case he’s worth a contract similar to what Talbot got.

Or, has Reimer played well enough to earn a deal similar to what Devan Dubnyk got with the Minnesota Wild? Dubnyk signed a six-year, $26 million contract with an AAV of $4.33 million this past offseason.

I doubt the Leafs would be willing to sign Reimer to that long of a term, especially since it’s unlikely any other team would give him a long-term contract resembling Dubnyk’s, so the Leafs hold all the cards when it comes to that aspect of negotiations.

But cost wise, Reimer seems to fall into the mid-to-high $4 million range. His resume is somewhat similar to both Talbot and Dubnyk, and age wise Reimer is 27, while Talbot is 28 and Dubnyk is 29. If both of those players received deals with a minimum of three years attached to them, you have to figure Reimer and his agent will be asking for something similar.

One contrarian angle to all of this, however, is the idea of goalies being transient assets in the NHL. Unless a team has a bona fide elite No. 1 goalie, you frequently see backups or call-ups beat out “No. 1 goaltenders”.

Just look at Winnipeg, St. Louis, Anaheim, Ottawa last season, Dallas, and Detroit. Each of those teams has undergone a change in net, and to some degree, has either rode the hot hand or fully committed to a younger option. Jake Allen, John Gibson, Andrew Hammond and Petr Mrazek are all examples of this.

With that in mind, do you commit to Reimer if you’re the Leafs? You know you’re in the midst of a rebuild and as much as it eats at Mike Babcock’s soul, this team is not close to winning yet. So given the transient nature of goalies do you roll the dice if you’re the Leafs and hope to develop a goaltender from within your system? Or, do you ink Reimer to a new deal and hope he’s one piece to the rebuilding puzzle?

It’s a tough predicament for Toronto to be in.

If they don’t make a fair offer to Reimer, another team will sign him and the Leafs will be left with Jonathan Bernier, Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau entering next season. Not exactly a confidence inspiring group.

While I don’t mind the contrarian approach of viewing goalies as transient assets, there is also no denying how valuable an elite goalie is to a team. The problem for the Leafs is trying to decipher whether Reimer is potentially that guy, or if he’s just another transient asset in the NHL.

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If you were the Leafs, what would you do with James Reimer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.