Leafs Goaltending Controversy Rears Its Head Again

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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