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I choose to believe James Reimer will be back to his old self next season

When a team has earned, what is it, 6 points in the last 17 games or something, it doesn’t require insightful analysis to determine that something is off.  And in recent weeks I’ve posted on various subjects (and will again, I’m sure) that cover part of the laundry list of things that have seemingly befallen the team—including some self-inflicted wounds from on high.

But it gets way too discouraging to simply sit back and criticize every night as the team comes up short game after game.  When they score they can’t stop the other team.  When they are fairly solid defensively, they aren’t scoring. It’s a mess.

(To be clear, I’m not someone who likes the idea of cheering for more losses and therefore, a high draft pick this summer.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I understand the allure of finally getting a potential superstar talent through the draft.  Who wouldn’t want that?  It’s just that…well, that is not what we are supposed to be thinking about, this far into the ongoing rebuild.  The idea was to make a splash in the playoffs, not back into a top pick by playing poorly.  While a nice top three or four pick might provide some solace (and maybe even that “superstar”) surely this is not where we’re supposed to be.  But I’ll deal with the above matters another time.

For now, my thoughts rest not on Carlyle, the new “system” or even the slump/slideskid—or whatever we want to call it.  I’m not even thinking about the Leaf goaltending “situation”.  I’m more reflecting specifically on the future of James Reimer, the guy we actually have signed to play goal for the next two seasons. (Not that we can sign or trade for someone else this summer…)

We all know the Reimer story.  A Ferguson draft choice, he climbed the Leaf system and by the middle of the 2010-’11 season, joined the big club and became an instant sensation in Leafland.  He was steady, even spectacular at times.  Most importantly, perhaps, when he gave up a bad early goal, he seemed to have the capacity to rebound and play well the rest of the night.  He was often particularly effective when the Leafs were fighting to get back into a game.  He rarely, for example, gave up the big “next” goal that would kill any hopes of a comeback.

This season, on the heels of a nice new three-year contract, he was the unabashed number-one guy—the goaltender Burke and Wilson were going to hang their hat on.  He was young and inexperienced, yes, but more and more teams were going young and “cheap” in goal.  And he was damn good last year.

However, a very unfortunate early-season injury kept him out of the lineup for weeks on end.  Since his return, he has had moments, for sure, but not the sustained kind of steady play that marked his game in his breakout season a year ago.

Of lat, Gustavsson has earned more time, including under Carlyle.  What if any impact that has had to further erode Reimer’s (fragile?) confidence, I have no idea.

I do want to say a few things, here.  I’m not a goaltending expert, by any stretch of the imagination.  Not even close.  I’ve observed the sport for five plus decades and have seen hundreds of NHL goalies come and go, but if you start asking me technical questions, my eyes will glaze over pretty quickly.

What I do know is when I’m seeing a goalie that is on his game, and feeling like he can’t be beat.  And, also like most of you, I can a see when a guy appears to be playing with a fairly shallow level of inner confidence.

That has been Reimer, for the most part, since his injury earlier this season.

I have written here often that I honestly believe the Leaf brass killed a lot of Gustavsson’s confidence—over the past couple of seasons, especially.  I won't go into all of that, again.  If you want to see some earlier posts, click on his name under the “Categories” section on the right-hand side of this site.  You may not agree, but my thoughts are there.

Whether they have now managed to skewer the confidence of another of their own goalies’, how can we know?  But right now, when he does play, Reimer is not looking like a guy who trusts his teammates (can we blame him?) or himself, very much.

All this said, it is not unusual for a young player, and yes, a young goalie, to see his game slip in his sophomore season.  In fact, I would argue that, for goalies, their entire careers can be a roller-coaster of hot periods and times when they struggle to stop a balloon. (I’ve posted on this subject before, citing a number of goalies that have fit this pattern through the years I have followed hockey.)

Bottom line, a few tough weeks, or even a bad season or two, don’t necessarily mean that the goalie in question is finished.  Didn’t many assume Jose Theodore was “done like dinner” years ago?  Yet, there he was in goal Tuesday night, for the Panthers—beating the Leafs.

Steve Mason was talked about like he was the worst goalie in hockey history through much the last two seasons, after his very impressive rookie year.  But before a recent injury, Mason won four in a row for a terrible Columbus team, with an astonishingly highs save percentage over that span.  At 23, is anyone really prepared to say he won’t be a very good NHL goaltender someday—especially if he works behind a good defense at some point, and re-gains that sometimes elusive confidence that most athletes need to be their best?

Look, I get that many are saying the Leafs simply have no had NHL-caliber goaltending this season.  At times, yes, I acknowledge that has been true.  But I make the comments I am today based on watching a lot of young goalies over, well, a long time.

This leads me to simply say, I still really like Reimer’s chances of a rebound next season and beyond, of being the Reimer we saw last year.

He is young.  He has a great temperament.  He has skills.  It strikes me that, as his confidence flagged at times this season, he was often caught “in between”, as in “Do I stay up, do I go down?”  Indecision can’t be a good for a goalie, eh?

I’ve seen enough of him to believe the young man will—after a summer to re-energize, get fully healthy and think on what he experienced this past season—come back better, stronger, wiser and more relaxed at training camp in September.

Could I be wrong?  Of course.  But I’m betting on Reimer, and I’m guessing the Leaf brass think he can be their guy, too.


  1. Michael, I had a whole long post going on your previous post, and I accidentally backspaced and lost the page... suffice to say I was getting all riled up. I may revisit it on another day.

    I want to make clear, I am not a "goalie's fault 100%" type. Unfortunate that twitter's 140 characters and the passions of some fans make it seem people only hate on goalies.

    I tend to agree with you on Reimer. My overall opinion is that management has made a serious miscalculation with their goaltending. And the past tends to show it...

    Bower and Sawchuk were vets who knew their roles. Parent had Plante in Toronto to mentor him. McRae and Harrison were no threat to Palmateer's starting job. But when this team tried to pit Bester against Wregget, Ing versus Reese, and all the other almost starters along the way, it does not work.

    Burke has NO veteran NHL goalie in the organization. He has a goalie coach he has 100% faith in. But even the most ardent Reimer or Gus fans have to admit neither has played well enough to steal games, and the defence has not played well enough to make it easy on their goalie. I don't mind Reimer as #1, but give him someone who's played in the NHL, someone who can spell him, teach him how to cheat, give him the book on guys. Maybe not Alex Auld or Peter Budaj... seems thewy had the guy in Giguere, someone who plays for Allaire, can mentor...

    Let me reiterate... I don't say the goalies are 'the problem'... but the D isn't very good, and the goalies are not game stealers. That results in losses when the offence isn't spotting you 4 or 5. One of those situations need to be fixed. Maybe Reimer can reset and be the January-March 2011 Reimer, that would solve one of the issues.

  2. Interesting that you mention the Bester/Wregget scenario, Mark. Maybe I'm off base, but I remember that era much the same way as you do. Two young guys who were good, not All-Stars, but potentially competent NHL goalies who both ended up elsewhere- and never as good in Toronto as they perhaps could have/should have been with better support and coaching...or if one had simply earned the job and been allowed to be "the man".

    It's funny, the irony in the current situation may indeed be that Giguere was precisely what Reimer needed.

    Thanks Mark.

  3. Watching the fourth goal tonight I couldn't help but think back a couple of weeks ago to something Ray Ferraoe said. He watched Riemers game and said he couldn't believe how small Riemer made himself in the net. During tonights game they had a replay from the back of the last goal. I couldn't believe how much the top of the net was open, even before Riemer went down. His head was basically just above his goal pads. Now Riemer is a big guy he should cover a good percentage of the net by just standing there. I'm guessing that this has got to be a product of low confidence and hopefully after an off-season to recover he'll be back to his normal self.

    On a side note my brother and I got to see Giguere play the year after Anahiem won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton. Watching him play was wierd. We were in the first row and Giguere bends forward at the waist, his back was almost touching the crossbar. That was how he played the game. Watching a game with Riemer a few weeks back it was like looking at a carbon copy. This is what makes me wonder if the goalies are being overcoached. To have two different guys and have them play exactly the same style seems like too much system not enough athlete. I'm not saying Allaire is a bad coach (he has cup rings and I don't) but maybe less is more in this instant. Riemer and Gustavson both got to the highest levels without Allaire around. Maybe it's time to let some of thier natural talent shine through and quit trying to remould them into something other than what got them to the big league. It kinda makes me wonder how much overcoaching is a problem throughout the whole league.

  4. I wonder what it is about Reimer that has so many of us pulling for him? Maybe it's that he's a competitive fellow, but polite and modest - all very "Canadian" traits, I might say, and ones we like in our heroes. I like him, too. But I think it was a major mistake to designate him our #1 goalie this year, based on 20 or so games in which many weaknesses were apparent, particularly once a few teams got a look at him. He wasn't ready, and almost every game he's played this year has borne that out. Even when he won a game, he didn't look comfortable in the net. And tonight he looked awful. I don't mean his play - he was certainly hung out to dry a few times - I mean his demeanour. He looks like he's feeling the pressure of going from hero to zero, and how this will affect him going forward remans to be seen. Most goalies I've known have shown a remarkable ability to mentally bounce back after bad games, and bad seasons. I wish him well.
    The question for the summer is: do we get rid of our better goalie - Gus - and bring in a vet to mentor Reimer, in the hope he might regain his short-lived form from last year and thus justify management's stubborn refusal to demote him? If it doesn't work, where does that leave us? (I think we can guess the answer to that one!)
    There are much greater problems facing us, of course. The way the team is playing right now, I'd swear there's a mini-revolt going on. I fear that for Leaf fans, the fun is just beginning!

  5. Hopefully Reimer will be his old self next season with the MARLIES!!!

  6. I just don't share your confidence, Michael. The league's history is rife with goalies who played well for a season and were never heard from again.

    Yes, many (most?) goalies go through growing pains before they break through, but Reimer just doesn't have the pedigree of most of those guys. Before last year, he was "just a guy".

    I think Reimer can be better, but I highly doubt that he is the solution in goal going forward. As horrid as Reim's stats are, I feel like he's actually been worse than his numbers for most of the year, looking incredibly shaky making routine saves and getting some timely posts here or there.

    I just don't see the skill set that you do. To me Reimer is a big guy who is good positionally, but doesn't bring a heck of a lot else to the table. To me, Gustavsson is the goalie with the higher upside-much more athletic and if he can cut out a stinker here or there he could be a Top 15 NHL goalie, I think. If he ever plays behind a good defensive team, I think we'll be surprised at how strong his stats are.

  7. Hi Willbur...The "Allaire" issue has been something I've posted about here for quite some time. Like you, I acknowledge the guy has had "success", but I really wonder how it is we have two goalies who aren't themselves- and have so little confidence.

    Trying to get a guy like Gustavsson to play the "Allaire way" makes little sense to me. But as I said in the post, I'm hardly a goaltending expert.

    Thanks Willbur.

  8. Gerund O' touch on several important points, including that Reimer's success a year ago was quite short-lived. Perhaps I'm hanging on that too much.

    And I agree, many of us like him because of his genuineness. I'd love to see him have success.

    But you mention something else- an allusion to a mini-revolt. I'm not sure why the players would feel that way, but they surely must be frustrated. (I'm not saying you're wrong, just wondering what would make them feel that way...)

    While they have moments where you can see they are playing hard, there are times they simply seem confused and not themselves out there, much like the goalies (at least Reimer last night). Maybe they are, as someone mentioned on Twitter to me last night, just do dispirited right now they are playing with little confidence.

    Thanks Gerund O'.

  9. Hi Craig....I quite agree with you on Gustavsson. As you may know, I've posted many times that Gus may be happier (and reach his potential) playing for someone other than Toronto (and Allaire).

    I'm just hopeful that Reimer will bounce back. But I don't deny that, for as many goalies who "bounce back", there are also many who struggle and don't make it back to form.

    Thanks Craig.

  10. I would like to believe Reimer has an NHL future, but I just can't. He could not even track pucks last night and seemed frozen over and over. IF he has any future, he needs the better chunk of a development season to find his game again, as we just can't afford to roll that big a set of dice for another year. We have to find a bona-fide goalie solution and we have to do it before season opener next year.

  11. I do hear you, KidK. You may well be right. I'm perhaps hoping that, as has happened with some other goaltenders in the past, Reimer will find his confidence, health and game again. We'll see!

  12. A rarity, I forgot to program my video recorder, and missed most of yesterday’s game, consequently I haven’t seen Reimer for a while. All through the slide, I was writing the following to the point that I began to bore myself, and I started to wonder about my own originality. While I was convinced that this was the biggest problem, I just stopped writing it for fear that people would skim over my comments – “Oh here comes Bobby C.’s old chestnut again”. No doubt, I was obsessed by this one point. However, as time passes it seems more and more true.

    While it is clearly time to move on to current problems, here is the problem (and source of the Leaf demise) as I see it. There is a monster difference (please pardon the pun) between Reimer pre and post injury. Ron Wilson should have seen this, but for some reason refused to see it, and stubbornly tried to will Reimer back to peak performance with undeserved starts. Meanwhile, a hot Gustavsson, check the stats – was winning at a near 70% clip and warming the bench. Wilson’s run-and-gun, despite what goalie scapegoaters feel, relies on sharp netminding, which Gustavsson was (wins trump all) providing. I know, stats monkeys will say: “but his save percentage was .914172 at that time and not 9.2736 the cutoff for an elite goaltender”. No you mischievous monkeys, he was winning games with a system that puts goalies in a tough position. The save percentage will vary according to a team’s systems. As we have seen, the Monster’s save percentage has shot up to elite numbers under Randy Carlyle and that system has not even been properly implemented yet.

    As the collapse was unfolding, and several of us here began to fret that everything would unravel because of bad “goaltending management”, well that is what happened. I wrote that if Wilson does not correct this problem quickly the Leaf “organism” would fall into disarray and he would lose his job. (A hockey team is not like a machine with replaceable parts, it is more like an organism). At the end of the day, Jean-Sébastien Giguère, the man who “saw a role for himself” in Toronto may have been the most insightful hockey person around. Of course, he was right, but it is too late to correct that tricky judgment call, one that would have almost required a crystal ball and Bob Goodenough standing victorious with his foot on the chest of a defeated Mr. Bettman (in other words, no salary cap).

    Since there is no turning back the pages of history, how do you fix this situation? I would say, do not let Ron Wilson pick the starting goaltender, but that problem is clearly behind us. We will have to see who is available this summer and at what cost. Elite goaltenders are rarely available, expensive when they are, and do not come with health and performance guarantees. Personally, I would cringe to see Jonas Gustavsson walk, and once he fully recovers, James Reimer may well prove to be the force he once, albeit briefly, was. It is a mess alright, one that could have been avoided with some simple common sense (attributed to none other than Brian Burke), something like: “Dance with the girl who brung you there.” (In other words, for heaven’s sakes Ron, play the win producing Monster, not the still recovering James Reimer.) PS: While the Leafs were playing last night I was doing some minor TV acting in which I was playing a medical examiner conducting a post-mortem having to do with ice. And here I am, scribbling away on our collective post-mortem. Who says life does not imitate art?

  13. Life seemingly forever imitates art, Bobby C!

    I've heard your point on Wilson and goaltending management these past several weeks, and have gravitated toward your thinking.

    I may have blinders on, but I think both Reimer and Gustavsson can play. That is, I think that both- if and when they are comfortable and just allowed to play without over-thinking every little thing- can be good goaltenders. As Willbur noted above, both of these guys got to the NHL without Allaire (well, Allaire probably worked at some point with Reimer when he was in the Leaf system...), but the point is they were good enough to be drafted and/or signed. Just like Gustavsson has often looked like a goaltender too much trying to do what someone else told him to do, Reimer looks that way now- indecisive, mechanical, like everything is a big deal.

    It was such a stark contrast watching a game a while back with Price in goal at the ACC for Montreal. He could not have seemed more relaxed and played an excellent game.

    P.S....I'd enjoy seeing your TV that something you do often? if you ever want to send an e-mail, my address is

    Thanks Bobby.....

  14. Thanks, Michael. I am not able to unravel this complicated situation at the moment, until the Leafs are able to sort out the team mess, and we are able to make more useful observations on their goaltending situation. A minor correction to some observations today, Gustavsson did in fact receive goaltending instruction from Allaire in Europe, and Allaire was likely a factor in his choosing Toronto over other offers (as I understand it).

    The Carey Price comparison is interesting for sure, and I think many of us noticed it. However, he too has had his ups and downs, and not that long ago was backing up Jaroslav Halak. (Those long-term performance rhythms you refer to in your article.) The Monster is a very intense competitor, who will certainly never look cool and collected like Carey Price. As my hockey-hating wife likes to say: ”The Monster has crazy eyes”. Of course, while he should avoid smashing his stick over his goalpost (something which must have unnerved his teammates) he should not try to emulate the bizarrely tranquil Carey Price. In the end, the Monster will have to dance “with the girl who brung him to the dance”. Jonas’ deceptively calm demeanour notwithstanding, that girl is not about flowers and incense. Then again, my advice to the Monster would have a decidedly Eastern slant: “Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.”

  15. I think you're correct about the Allaire and Gus connection...

    Agreed on Price. Yes, I've used him here as an example of a guy who became an "overnight" sensation with the Habs, only to lose his job, re-claim his status and, essentially, bounce between superb and maddeningly inconsistent. (And he's not along among NHL goaltenders in this regard, eh?)

    If we can get one or both of Reimer to land more often on superb, well, that would be OK.....

    A year ago, Elliot and Anderson were dealt by teams who no doubt thought they were giving up precious little- and here we are, that year later, and both of these guys have been virtual team MVP's. Things change for the worse- and the better....

    Thanks Bobby.