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James Reimer: evoking memories of Mike Palmateer

I should be clear from the get-go:  I don’t think James Reimer could be much more different from 1970s Leaf netminder Mike Palmateer,  either regarding playing style or personality.  But the impact he is having on his team is similar, for sure.

Back in 1976-’77, the Leafs were relying on Wayne Thomas in goal.  Thomas had been acquired the summer before the 1975-’76 season from Montreal. The Leafs at that time had some emerging talent (Salming, Turnbull, Sittler, McDonald, etc.) but were desperate  for top-end goaltending, and Thomas provided just that in his first half-year or so with the blue and white.

But by the next season, Thomas was struggling and part way through the year Leaf GM Jim Gregory called up young Palmateer, the ex-Marlie Junior star drafted by the Leafs, from the AHL. (For the record, in today's terms, Palmy would have been a third-round selection, at about 85th overall.)

Upon being called up to the Leafs, Palmateer immediately made the famous public declaration:  “Mr. Gregory, your goaltending worries are over”, or words to that affect.

Palmateer (seen at right in his final season with Toronto, in 1983-'84, with a different style of mask than he originally used with the Leafs) had a pretty nice little run as the top guy in the Leaf net for the new few seasons.  He was brash and cocky, not at all lacking in outward confidence.  The Leafs played the rough and tumble Fyers well and should have probably beaten them in the playoffs in the spring of ’77 (they actually led the series 2-0 after winning the first two on the road.  Click here to read about how quickly it all slipped away in the spring of ’77…), and then did upset the heavily-favored Islanders in the quarter-finals in April of 1978, in part behind Palmateer’s strong play.

The Leafs, though, could not solve the powerful Habs that year, or in the playoffs in 1979.  The Canadiens in that era were perhaps the greatest team of all-time, and the Leafs were at least a couple of players away, maybe more, from being able to compete with them in a playoff series.

Palmateer was a lefty (he caught the puck with his right hand) - quick, athletic and acrobatic.  However, he fell victim to the Punch Imlach purge of the early 1980s.  This all happened after Punch had been fired by the Buffalo Sabres and was brought back by then Leaf owner Harold Ballard to replace the dismissed Jim Gregory.  (Punch moved Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams, Palmateer and just about anyone close to Darryl Sittler.)

Palmateer ended up back with the Leafs after his stint in Washington, but injuries had taken their toll and to me, he was never quite the same player he had been in his young, heady days.

For his part, Reimer presents as just happy to be here.  He is not a flashy goalie like Palmateer, and he's not a lefty.  But the way he is focused right now, we can use whatever hockey jargon comes to mind to describe him…he is square to the shooter, compact, plays in his crease, no wasted motion, etc.

Whatever, he is getting the job done—with minimal fuss.

Several weeks ago, before Reimer arrived on the scene, I posted that if the Leafs were to have a serious shot at a playoff berth, they would need one of their goalies to play “out of his head” for a period of time to carry the team.

I was thinking, at the time, about The Monster or Giguere.  Neither was ever quite able to play well long enough, or stay healthy long enough, to make that happen.  Little did I suspect a young guy, drafted quietly by John Ferguson a few years back, (and probably 4th or 5th on the Leaf goalie depth chart back in September), would be a difference-maker now.  But I probably wasn’t alone. 

I’ve said for weeks the East is a fairly weak Conference, with much roster parity.  I’m far from predicting the Leafs will make the playoffs, but it’s clear that bubble teams that play consistently well the last few weeks of the season have a shot, especially if one or more of Carolina, Montreal or New York falters.

As of this moment, Reimer is the straw that is stirring the drink.  Were would the Leafs be without him?  The Leaf offensive production is not really much better than earlier this season, but they are allowing fewer goals, thanks in part to a 22 year-old who suggested (refreshingly) earlier this week he sometimes feels guilty about how much money he is earning.

We don’t hear that from athletes very often these days, eh?

Let’s enjoy that attitude- and  this ride- while it lasts.


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