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We all love what Reimer's doing—but history reminds us to hold our expectations a bit

It’s easy to fall in love with the newest thing.

In the case of young James Reimer, Leaf fans are believing—or at least hoping—that he is the real deal.  Most of us seem ready to cast Giguere aside, assuming, probably correctly, that he will not have the career revival that was always unlikely, but still worth a shot when Burke brought him in last season.

That leaves, for now, just Reimer and The Monster to vie for Wilson’s confidence down the stretch. (Yes, Giggy will get games, but the Leafs are obviously hoping they can move him somewhere.)

The danger in throwing Giggy aside and giving up on Gustavsson (no one will say they are giving up on him, but I still wonder how he will respond to a stint with the Marlies—and will it really be just a “stint”, or the rest of the season?) is this:  What do we know about Reimer?  Will he be an NHL goalie?  Will he be an elite NHL goalie?

He did his job again on Thursday night, leading the Leafs to a well-earned victory against a good squad, on a night when the Grabovski trio set the tone yet again, scoring the game's first marker.

Reimer has those qualities we all like to see in a goalie, including a kind of calm we haven't seen recently from Gustavsson.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  If he continues to play well, and, as we like to say, “gives the team the best chance to win”, then sure, play him, absolutely.

But while he may well turn out to be really good, maybe even the “answer” in goal, isn’t it just as possible that he is like many other young goalies before him:  he’s playing on adrenaline, on excitement, and he may return to earth at some point, later this season, next season, whenever.

I do not raise this to be pessimistic, or to in any way be critical of Reimer.  The young man presents in a manner that is impossible to dislike, and wouldn’t it be something if the Ferguson-era draft choice did indeed turn out to be something special?

It’s just that, like many of you, I’ve seen many, many young goalies hit the NHL on a high and never maintain the level of play that excited everyone in the first place.

There is no question that Reimer has given them solid goaltending in virtually every game of the nine he has played.  But it is indeed only nine games.  After fifty games, a hundred and fifty games, maybe then we can know.  Right now, we just don’t know.

And yes, we’ll only know if he plays.  But the same thing applies to Gustavsson.  Did we feel all that differently about Gustavsson when he played some very good games in the second half of last season?  Yes, Reimer seems more composed and technically sound versus the more acrobatic Gustavsson, but at the end of the day, does anyone care if it’s Hasek  (throwing himself all over the place) or Brodeur (a more modern classic style of goaltender), as long as your goalie keeps the puck out?

This is not the first time Leaf believers have been excited by a new goalie.  Wayne Thomas arrived from Montreal before the 1975-’76 season.  He looked tremendous the first half of that season.  He made, I well recall, many “memorable” saves.  By the next season, he had lost the job to Mike Palmateer.

In 1980-’81, Jiri Crha came out of nowhere, it seemed, and his unorthodox style had Leaf fans excited.  It didn’t last.  Young Vincent Tremblay had some moments in that same era. Later, Wreggett and Bester fought for the top job for years in the mid-later 1980s.  At times, both looked exceptional.  Yet neither had quite the career in Toronto that many of us hoped for at the time.

In the early ‘90s, Jeff Reese, Peter Ing and Damian Rhodes all had their moments.

My point?  The Leafs have had many young goalies who showed early promise through the years. Eric Fichaud was selected 16th overall in 1994 and was thought to be a "can’t miss" prospect.  (Like Tuukka Rask well after him, he was traded before he ever played for the Leafs.  He never quite had the career some had forecast.)  Felix Potvin, on the other hand, was not drafted as high, but worked out very nicely.

My point, I guess, is that goalies are a bit like NFL running backs.  There are lots of them out there with ability.  Most goalies, when they’re on, look fabulous.  Many look great- for a while.  But a variety of circumstances—injuries, a sudden loss of confidence, competition with a teammate, whatever—can see them fall out of sight as quickly as they arrived.  Relatively few are successful for the long haul.

I mentioned in an earlier column that Jim Carey of the Capitals was a rookie-of-the-year about twenty years ago, then gone from the league.  That’s just one example.  These things happen.

Right now, the Leafs don’t really have a “problem” in goal.  Yes, three goalies doesn’t work for any length of time, for obvious reasons.  Good goalies want to play.  But I have to believe this situation will be resolved soon.

While I think they have a shot at a playoff spot if they can build on their back-to-back-wins this week, it doesn’t really matter who the hot goalie is.  Any one of Giguere, Gustavsson or Reimer would be fine with most fans, I sense.

By all means we should enjoy Reimer while he is playing really well.  But maybe hold our expectations—because we’ve seen this movie before.

3 comments:

  1. Long suffering Leaf fanFebruary 4, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Key word here, when it comes to young players is “measure your expectations.” I agree completely with that assessment. Young players (especially goaltenders) need at least 3 to 4 years in the league before we really see their potential. Remember it was not until the 73-74 season before Bernie Parent really establish himself as one of the “greats”. Before then, Parent was look upon as a technically sound goalie with loads of potential. Even though, I believe he was the Leafs future, however, his two seasons with the Leafs were not actually stellar, steady yes, but not superstardom. In fact, his first two years in the Boston organization, Parent had a difficult time tending the crease for the Bruins. His goal against average was a whooping 3.67! On hear of in those days. Only through his trials and errors, and an opportunity to be mentor by his boyhood hero Jacques Plante, made Bernie Parent a hall of famer, as we know him today. I say all this, because I am a big supporter of Reimer and Gustavsson. I truly believe that they have the qualities to be very good NHL goalies. Reimer reminds me of his boyhood hero Ed Belfour, while Gustavsson is a little like Felix’s “the Cat” Potvin. The problem with the Monster, I honestly believe, is that he is having a hard time adapting to Alairs goaltender techniques. The Monster at times looks completely confused on what he should do in certain situation, when he turns himself into a pretzel trying to stop the puck. Maybe it is time that the goaltending coach back off a little and allow the Monster to be his acrobatic best. After all, playing goal isn’t all science! Natural talent also has to play a major role.

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  2. Long suffering...I have the same memory of Parent. Good with the Leafs, but we felt we saw what he "could be"-- and then become later with the Flyers (unfortunately!)

    It's funny that you mention Allaire. I've been thinking about his infuence on The Monster, too. As much as people seem to build up Allaire, he's not a fit for every goalie. I don't think you can "cookie-cutter" goalies. Imagine if he had tried to coach Hasek? I agree with your point that a goalie has to be himself, use his natural talents and Gustavsson has loads of talent. He probably needs less coaching, and to think less and just react!

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  3. Greg Millen has been saying on the Leaf broadcasts pretty much all year that James Reimer is the best of our netminders. This started well before he was called up to the big team. I have to respect his opinion, he has lived that life.
    It is also apparent that the team plays a much more confident game in front of Reimer.
    He may fade away, on the other hand he may be just what he seems. That being one of the good young core that the team is building around.

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