Leafs Goaltending Controversy Rears Its Head Again

By
Updated: January 8, 2014
James Reimer

When Jonathan Bernier was announced as the Leafs’ starting goaltender for Tuesday night’s matchup against the New York Islanders, there were quite a few from Leafs Nation who found fault with the decision, given the up until now somewhat split between Bernier and Reimer in net, as well as the fact that Bernier was most recently pulled in a 7-1 shelling at the hands of the New York Rangers. Here is just a sample of the many who felt Reimer was being unfairly treated.

Many Leaf fans felt there was never a need to trade for a goaltender in the first place, and the Bernier deal was a case of Nonis strengthening an area that was already a strength, while ignoring more pressing issues. Reimer had provided the first above average goaltending the club had seen since a pre 2004-2005 lockout Eddie Belfour, and took a consistently out-possessed team to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

There is, of course, the other side of Leafs Nation which believes Bernier is a significant upgrade in goal over Optimus Reim, who has a weak glove hand, and whose rebound control was the primary reason for the epic game 7 collapse against the mighty Boston Bruins. For them, Bernier becoming the clear-cut starter couldn’t have happened soon enough. In their eyes, he has the better reflexes, glove, and puck handling abilities.

I’m not here to argue if one side is right or wrong – evaluating goalies is tricky. That’s why Mike Smith went from top prospect and key piece in a Brad Richards trade, to being basically let go, to being a Vezina candidate and a goaltender for Team Canada. Both goalies are good, and both are young, with Bernier having turned 25 this past August, and Reimer only five months his senior.

It’s easy to see why Bernier is so favoured. He was a first round draft pick, and won the QMJHL’s version of the Conn Smythe, as well as the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s best goalkeeper in the 2009-2010 season. Reimer was a fourth round pick, who has started 60 games in a season only once, with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL in 2006-2007. However, despite a narrative that describes Bernier as the far superior goalie, I’m not sure I necessarily agree. At one point, Reimer’s play had led to him being considered one of Canada’s best goalies by a certain analyst. And for all the talk about Bernier’s deftness with the puck, he has shown a tendency to be overconfident in his own abilities, leading to some pretty bad goals. Reimer, knowing he’s no Brodeur with the puck, most likely plays those chances with much more caution.

The fact is the Leafs have themselves two capable netminders that are both signed to reasonable contracts, for now. Reimer becomes a restricted free agent this off-season and whether or not you believe Reimer deserves better, by keeping his playing time limited, the Leafs are probably keeping his next contract worth less, assuming he’s a) wiling to sign b) not traded in the meantime.

Even if he’s not too keen on re-signing, as a RFA, Reimer won’t really have much of a choice. That is, unless a team is willing to sign him to an offer sheet, giving up draft picks in the process. The second condition is tricky, and given Toronto’s lack of quality in areas other than goaltending, trading Reimer for talent seems to be a decent option. At this point, many of those on Team Reimer would welcome their darling getting the chance he deserves, even if it’s with another club.

If you ask me however, Reimer should be kept. You can sign him to a reasonable deal in the off-season, and then see what happens in the last year of Bernier’s deal before he becomes an RFA himself. As of now, both goalies are signed to a combined $4.7 million per year, which is a pretty good amount to pay for above average goaltending. I don’t see why Reimer’s next contract should be that much higher than the paltry $1.9 million he is currently earning, as long as he gets backup playing time.

Of course, given Bernier’s less than stellar performance against the Islanders on Tuesday, logic points to Reimer getting the start on Thursday against the Hurricanes, and with it, another chance to seize the net for good. Given that they play again the next night, he’d probably have to put on quite a performance in order to get two games in a row. Either way, for all the hand wringing over Nonis’ cap management last summer, he appears to be in good shape for at least this one position.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Jeff Veillette

    January 8, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Not to be a dick, but I’m not buying what the author here is selling.

    First off, “people on Twitter feel this” is the bulk of the intro, in an attempt to show a status quo in the fanbase. I can find multiple people saying that Randy Carlyle looks like a potato through a Twitter search. Does that mean Leafs Nation believes Randy Carlyle to be a potato? You can find enough random people to give a positive or negative opinion on anything hockey related.

    Secondarily, and this is minor, but when giving an analysis, one shouldn’t be referring to guys with nicknames. Mind you, the idea of this being taken seriously was already removed by the first point.
    Moving forward. High glove and rebound control are knocks that have been given to Reimer with no quantifiable evidence.

    Reimer does face more attempts per game, leaving some validity to the rebound control argument; but that may be because he’s been started against teams higher in the standings on average. The Leafs also attempt fewer shots with him on the ice. In any event, their even strength save percentages are an equal 0.932, so the stylistic difference may not matter.

    As for high glove, I wish there was a site with heat maps for every goaltender in the league. You’ll find that almost every goalie gets burned high glove, because, well, high glove is the most targeted and lethal place to aim. This is similar to Dion Phaneuf’s “missed shots” stigma; you’re looking for a mistake that is frequent to anybody in his position, but you’re only looking for it on one player.

    Blaming Game 7 v. Boston on these traits is a gross over simplification as well. Boston dominated possession throughout that entire third period; blaming Reimer for the Leafs getting out-attempted 25-8 after the 4-1 goal is ridiculous.

    Furthermore, throwing Reimer under the bus for only starting 60 games in a season once was a good catch! Actually, no it wasn’t, because Bernier has never started 60 games in a season. That’s an incredibly deceptive point. As well as using “a certain analyst” to give a guy with a limited reputation more clout; thought that’s language twisting more than anything.

    I’m also not a fan of using their draft positions from over half a decade ago to judge their current potential. If anything, Reimer has proven to be a consistently growing late bloomer, while Bernier’s development sputtered a little bit before catching the rail in his second full AHL season. Either way, it’s unimportant.

    Pointing out Bernier’s ability to let in “bad goals” is kind of irrelevant as well. The quality of what he allows really shouldn’t matter, the ends will always justify the means. If I had the choice between a 0.930 goalie who allowed all his goals from 200 feet away and a 0.925 goalie who only allowed breakaways, I’d take the former in a heart beat. Sure, weak goals came back to haunt him last night, but that’s the first time in a while that you could say sketchy goaltending lost the Leafs a game.

    Lastly, we come to the conclusion, which appears to be “the Leafs may have to let Reimer sign an offer sheet, so maybe should trade him, but they should actually keep him, oh and he’ll probably play Thursday”.

    Yes, through all of this, the author doesn’t draw an actual conclusion, basically landing at “shit is all weird and we’ll see what happens”. Which is fine; that’s actually how I feel about them too. Both are producing stellar results, and while I’d like to see Reimer get more starts in (to maintain value and confidence, while keeping him content with the team), I’m not prepared to call one or the other a better long term option.

    He doesn’t have to either. But his arguments, which are thrown away in the end anyway, are flawed.

    • Dan Russell, Contributor

      January 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      To be fair, I disagree with those who say Reimer has a bad glove, I was speaking through the eyes of the Bernier supporters.

      I agree with you that their draft position shouldn’t matter, I’m just pointing out why some seem so eager to anoint Bernier as the superior goalie. I think that’s a reason.

      I’m really only arguing that by keeping Reimer’s games played low, a happy consequence is that Nonis can sign him to a cheaper contract this summer.

      As for using twitter quotes.. I’ve seen a pretty good split in Leafs fans through social media and in person as to who deserves to start, I see no problem in using twitter to showcase.

      Anyway thanks for reading, this might be littered with typos as I’m on my phone. Your criticism is appreciated.

      Full thoughts can be found here: http://www.reddit.com/r/hockey/comments/1upy3e/leafs_goaltending_controversy_rears_its_head_again/

  2. MP

    January 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Ask those people who posted in support of Bernier before the game againts the Isles to reiterate their comments againt after the loss last night.

    I for one cannot see a 7th game loss blame going to one player. There were no support at the front of the goalie. Nonis is a douche…

  3. HOJU

    January 14, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Jeff, the use of a selection of comments made by fans is not irrelevant, these are legitimate thoughts that some people hold. Your not trying to be dick comment…., how does Russel’s words, “quite a few” mean the “status quo” (Your words).

    Your (Jeff) lengthy criticism is based on an aesthetics, or taste that you ascribe to. Your comments have little Merit and instead come across as convoluted and asinine. Here I’m specifically speaking of your assessment of judgment and interpretation on the part of the author. Also, noting Bernier’s ‘pedigre’ and percieved potential and upside are not irrelevant.

    AND HAVE you conisdered the fact that we might want to be bale to sign either or both to long term contracts, and use them as playable or trade-able assets, for the long term benefit of the franchise… Oh, wait….

  4. HOJU

    January 14, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    ALSO JEFF your “lastly” critique neglects to discuss the actual conclusion of the article… what a dick.

    What a stupid long post you wrote…. bad form bro.

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