Custom Search

What do we really expect the Leafs to do in goal?

I know there was a great deal of frustration expressed over the weekend, especially on the heels of the loss in Vancouver, about the state of affairs when it comes to Leaf goaltending.

We’ve already discussed this topic here to a certain extent:  There are those who like Gustavsson and those who like Reimer.  As we started a new week, I don’t know if Leaf fans were, well, liking anybody just now.

But hey, let’s step back for a second.  These are two young guys, in NHL terms.  Now 27, Gustavsson has played less than 100 NHL games.  Reimer has played about 60.  (Neither, of course, has played in a playoff game as yet…though both have played at the World Championships, which is certainly pressure-packed.)

We’re talking about different goalies, different styles.  Gus came to town with a reputation as a big goalie who was talented, athletic and acrobatic.  Allaire has tried to change (stifle?) that, with varying degrees of success.  Reimer stole our hearts a year ago with some consistent, gutsy play and a wonderfully modest, genuine, down-to-earth demeanor.

This season, both have had their moments, both have struggled at times.  If pressed, I might say (stress “might”) that Reimer, even when he has looked good, still has not maybe quite been himself this season.   Is that the injury?  Is that just me making up things that aren’t really there in order to try and support a certain storyline?  I don’t honestly know.

Monster carried the Leafs a while back when he helped them surge in the standings.  But he has not been consistently stellar.  I’ve posted here many times that Burke and Wilson have desperately wanted Reimer to be the guy, for all the reasons I have listed previously.  But I think now, for the first time, they are stuck, really and truly baffled by what is going on with regard to goaltending. (Burke has said he's happy with the goaltending and is not looking to bring in a goalie.  We'll see...)

Not that long ago Gustavsson was playing a lot and they felt they needed to get Reimer back in.  Then Reimer earned back-to-back shutouts, won three in a row and he got the net back.  But neither has stood on their head lately and many nights we still need our goalie to help us steal a game.  Most teams do, if they want to win more often than not in a league where the talent is awfully spread out.

But as the cries grow louder throughout the Leaf universe for Burke to set aside any thoughts he might have of acquiring a big defenseman or a power forward and instead, seek out a goalie, I can’t help but ask:  where do we find one of those?  At least one that will make us any happier than what we have now?

Before I talk about the present, let me tell a quick story about an old-time NHL goalie by the name of Roger Crozier, just to show how up and down a guy's career cane be.  Crozier was a Rookie-of-the-Year caliber goaltender with the Red Wings in the mid-1960s.  He was good enough a prospect that the Wings traded the venerable Terry Sawchuk to the Leafs- and Sawchuk ended up helping Toronto to win a Cup in the spring of 1967.

Crozier  (shown in mid-'60s action at left, against Montreal forward Yvan Cournoyer...) was absolutely brilliant in the playoffs in the spring of 1966.  It was some of the best goaltending I've ever seen over a short period of time.  He stoned the powerful Canadiens, right at the old Forum in Montreal, in the first two games of the finals that spring.  But then he was injured and not quite as astounding as the series wore on.  He still earned the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP in the playoffs that spring.

Less than two years later, Crozier was struggling badly in net, suffering from nerves and exhaustion.  He was was having difficulty making the simplest saves.  Fans were baffled.  In an unprecedented move, the Red Wings sent him to Florida for a week or so to get away from things- in the middle of the season.

Crozier never fully recaptured his earlier glory in Detroit, though he did play some good hockey for the Wings and later helped the expansion Sabres in the 1970s (including playing a role in getting them all the way to the finals in the spring of 1975).  He retired as a member of the Capitals.  Was he a great goalie in the estimation of the "experts" in his era?  Probably not.  But at times, he could be unbelievably good.  And I would say that for a lot of goalies, including the two guys we have here right now in Toronto.

When Reimer and Gustavsson are good, they can be very good.

On that note, earlier this season, some Leaf fans wanted Marty Turco when it looked as though things were going south (for the first time) in the Leaf cage. I understand that fans want instant relief.  But was Turco really the answer?  I mean, Turco was a fine goaltender for many years, yes.  He likely would have come in, played some good games and then settled back into playing the kind of goal that we saw from over over the last couple of seasons.  In other words, nothing really special, and at times, maddeningly mediocre.

Listen, as I just mentioned above, there are all kinds of goalies that have good streaks.  It's always been this way.  It's that kind of position.  When you are confident, the puck starts to hit you and you begin to play better.  Or maybe it's that you begin to play better and the puck starts to hit you more often and you get more confident. I don't really know how that works.  But goalies can get hot- really hot. And when they're good, they look like All-Stars.  Yet more often than not,  after that nice streak, the individual falls into more mediocre play, when shots stopping hitting him, his confidence goes down, etc.

I know this:  pretty much anyone who has enough guts, skill, talent, confidence—whatever—just to get to this level, is capable of going on a run where he looks like the reincarnation of Jacques Plante....for a while.   I could quite literally list a half dozen Leaf goalies alone who, from 1972 to 1992, if you just assessed them on their very best play for short stretches, fans might have sworn they would be “stars”.

Virtually none of them were.  Some didn’t even last long in the league.  That’s the thing—the “trick” is to do it over a period of time…year after year.

I’ve used Carey Price many times as a recent example.  He stole the show as a relative unknown rookie a few years ago.  Expectations soared, then he was just OK, then not so good—including two playoff years in a row with a save percentage under .900.  He has been back and forth and while he is very good right now and I think the guy is a really good NHL goalie, I wouldn’t bet the mortgage that he will be in Montreal forever.  Things change.  Remember Halak?

Other examples?  Tim Thomas springs to mind.  Forget the wonderful story that it took him forever just to get to the NHL, much like a modern-day Johnny Bower.  The truth is, after his brilliant campaign three seasons ago and an injury-plagued and inconsistent season only two years ago, the Bruins were ready, willing and wanting to unload him just over a year ago.  Rask was the new “number-one” in Boston.  Then Thomas stole the net back after a return to full health (sound familiar to us as Leaf fans as we criticize Reimer?) and of course, had the Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup.

Other examples?  Steve Mason was a super hero as a rookie, now everyone thinks he can’t play.  Did he lose his skill all of a sudden- or just his confidence playing behind a lousy team?

Luongo is a brilliant goalie, right? The best in the game, maybe.  Yet how many Canuck fans really, truly, wonder privately if , even at 10 million a year or whatever it is (probably more like 7, right?) he can deliver when it counts- at playoff time.

Jimmy Howard is number-one in Detroit?  Nice young goalie.  But what has he won?  Chicago thought they had an answer in goal in young Crawford.  They didn’t, apparently.  But maybe he’ll be great next season.  Right now they’re hoping Ray Emery will be the guy. Hmmm…

Washington?  Young Neuvirth was all the buzz a year ago, a young phenom.  Yet an old veteran, Tomas Vokoun, has stolen the crease during an uneven season for the hot and cold Capitals.  The Flyers are paying millions to a guy (Bryzgalov) I wouldn’t trust to lead my team...well, just about anywhere.

In Carolina, Cam Ward has had some fine seasons, including winning a Cup.  Other years, not so good.  In Dallas, plenty of experts had long given up on former high first-round pick Kari Lehtonen, but he is now the backbone of the Stars many nights, a pretty good NHL goalie.  But it took time.

Every other year, generally, Ryan Miller is fantastic.  This must be one of those "other" years.

One more name- how about Elliot in St. Louis.  A year ago the Senators were happy to move him.  Now, he's playing like one of the very best at his position in all of hockey.  Go figure.

I guess I’m making two points as I prattle on about different teams and their goaltending situation.  One, that it’s hard to find a goalie that is consistently Brodeur-like.  There just aren’t many.  Most goalies have ups and downs, and take time to really establish themselves as bona fide big-leaguers, high-end “number-ones”.  And if a team has a guy like that, why would they ever give him up?  It’s not like teams want to give away a good goalie.

And even if we’re talking about a good young back-up (Bernier in LA, Schneider in Vancouver), do we, as Leaf fans, really think we’re going to obtain those guys in a trade without giving up a ton, and I mean a ton, in return?

And the final point is, even if we did manage to obtain a really good veteran goalie, where exactly does he lead us?  We all saw the team play the last week or so, when they have lost five games out of six.  Maybe in two weeks we'll be on a winning streak.  But as we sit, right now, the only thing we need is a goalie?  Do we really believe that?  Do we truly believe we are a veteran goalie away from a Cup?

And even if we get another young goalie and don’t give away the store, who’s to say, a year from now, we won’t be expressing frustration with the new guy when he’s not the savior we would all be hoping for.  Just like we are now with Reimer.  Or Gustavsson, depending on your point of view.

No, the Burke renovation is progressing.  Not perfectly, perhaps, but it is moving forward.  Some nights, some weeks, it looks awfully promising, like the Leafs are “this close” to being a serious contender in the wide-open Eastern Conference.

Some weeks, well….not so much.

But there are roster holes.  Most of us would agree with that.  There are needs on this team.  And, my view is those things need to be addressed before we are serious contenders in the East.  Maybe Kadri, Colborne and Frattin are enough, starting next season.  But regardless, the goalies we have right now may be the answer in a year.

Then again, who knows?

Let me know where you stand…..


  1. I think you've found a major sore spot here that has to be addressed to guarantee the future well-being of the Leafs. I haven't been confident in Reimer from the start, and I'm still not. I don't see any real improvement in his play - he's often too deep in his crease, he's weak high on the glove side (related points, to be sure), and most importantly, he just doesn't look comfortable between the pipes. Gustavsson, reduced again to his one game auditions, has reverted to some bad habits that he'd apparently expunged when he was carrying the team in January. To my mind, he should have been given the #1 job back then for the whole season, until he truly lost it, not just because of a bad goal or two.
    Having said all that, and acknowledging that until we have a goalie who can steal games we won't be travelling to the Promised Playoff Land, I don't think goal is the area in which we should be making trades. Scrivens may be ready next year, Rynnas too perhaps - and giving up players for a veteran isn't really going to advance our cause. I'd much rather see a strong defensive defenceman come our way, or one of the much-coveted strong forwards. That's something we DON'T have, desperately need, and would merit a trade.

  2. is it better to have a star goalie playing in front of sloppy defensemen, or to have a so-so goalie playing behind a well-structured/disciplined/tough defensive-core? i see sloppy defense as more of a problem than the goalie situation... as you alluded to in your article mike; there are many goalies in the nhl who are talented, but it's very difficult to find a consistent goalie (especially one who can overcome poor play by the defensemen).

  3. When the team play is weak and goals start going in, the focus always falls on the goaltending position –it is hockey’s oldest, and most tired form of scapegoating; often, though not always, a dead giveaway of an unsophisticated fan. At this time I do not see goaltending to be the bigger problem – someone used the phrase “goaltending management” on this site – which I believe to be an apt one. Gustavsson was winning at a 70% clip, when Wilson decided to try to will Reimer back into the net. To me, it seems obvious. Reimer is not (consistently) his old self since the injury. He is full of promise but needs time to get his game back.

    Nevertheless, Wilson (with management pressure due to contractual status of Reimer as a potential bargain??) stubbornly returned Reimer to the net when his performance did not justify it. While Ron Wilson tried to will Reimer into good play, Gustavsson and the entire team lost their groove. In fact, I have been writing here since that time, “Wilson what on Earth are you doing to your goalies?” In my opinion, the present skid has less to do with goaltending – than hypocritical and self-defeating goaltending management.

    Of course, hockey is a team sport, and goal is a team position. In that a team is like an organism, when the heart is not beating at a proper rhythm, everything falls out of whack. Of course, as critics, we look at the constituent parts, the faulty bits that need replacing or upgrading. OK sure, but a wholistic approach might be in order too. If you say you are going to reward good play, then reward good play. It is simple clear communication and ethics. Say what you mean, and the team will be better for it. At the end of the day, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.

  4. Gerund O'...I think you and I are pretty close in terms of how we see things regarding the Leaf goaltending situation. I'm probably a bit more optimistic about Reimer but, like you, I'm not of the view that just bringing in a more experienced guy will "solve" anything. At some point, whether through the arrival of Kadri, Colborne and Frattin or a trade, yes, the Leafs need much more up front, if they really hope to play with the best in the East (New York and Boston, as the landscape stands right now...). Well said. Thanks.

  5. Alex C...I think the Leafs are capable of more "structured" defensive play. I believe they have the skill on the blue line to be good defensively. Perhaps this all-out focus on activating the "D" all the time and wanting our defensemen to contribute on offence has created some of the defensive woes that creep into our game. I don't know. But you'd need Jacques Plante in his prime (and even he struggled when the team in front of him wasn't as good, in both Montreal and New York...) to win a lot of games for you, if the "defence" is not doing its job- and that includes the forwards. Thanks.

  6. Bobby C....I know you have commented on this one before. I remember your posts vividly. I don't have an "answer". My guess, as I have posted many times, is that the brass really want/wanted Reimer to be "the guy". You may recall I have posted often about Gus this season, and on my views on how the organization has "handled" him. How the guy has any confidence at all, I don't know. And even this need to know you're going to get a real shot, and stay in the net, even if you let in a bad goal or lose a game. This "win and you're in" stuff" is silly. They should have let him run with the ball, and fight through tough games.

    Yes, one component not working can mess things up, but I think, right now, the Leafs have slid in a few areas, not just goaltending.

    Many teams (most) go through dry periods, so losing a few game is not a big deal. But how they play in the next six weeks is....

    Right now, though, they have two goalies looking over their shoulder. That's not the environment the coaching staff should be creating. Thanks Bobby.

  7. There is something important that rarley gets mentioned:

    Gustavsson's contract ends this year and then he is a unrestricted free agent.

    Reimer hasn't played well and Gustavsson has played well for long stretches. Since Reimer's injury the only time he has played really well is after one of Gustavsson's stretches.

    I think they should play Gustavsson like the starter (bulk of the load...more than half of the games)and Reimer like backup until Reimer gets his game back...with consistancy.

    Giving Gustavsson lots of ice time will help them determine what they want to do with Gustavsson at the end of his contract.

    If Gustavsson can't run with this huge opportunity, then its probably time cut him loose.

    The UFA market for goalies is quite good this year: Chris Mason, Antero Niittymaki, Thomas Volkoun, Martin Biron, Scott Clemmensen,Brent Johnson, Evgeni Nabokov...

    One of those guy might be a better mentor/backup/stater for Reimer who has this year and two more on his current contract.

    If Gustavsson can't play well, I lean towards Nabokov, Biron or Mason. They might be good fits.

  8. I agree with Alex C - I think the spotlight should be squarely on the defensive core instead of the goalies. Goalie management is certainly not happening right now and I'm not too sure who's making the decisions but more importantly why isn't the press talking about the lack of "truculence & pugnacity" on this team?
    Instead of the goalies having to "steal a win" I for one feel that the team needs to learn how to "WIN UGLY" to be successful on their journey to and in the playoffs. The "grit" level on the current roster is more of a concern in my opinion than their goalie woes.
    Where/who is the next Gilmore on this roster? I find this very frustrating.

  9. I hear you loud and clear, DP, but I wonder if the Leafs are even contemplating a "use Gus 'till he drops" strategy.

    As for next season, some of the goalies you cite may be useful, though I don't know that any of them could really "carry" a team like the Leafs, the way we play.

    Good stuff. Thanks DP....

  10. Thanks David. I share much the same perspective. Those who visit here fairly regularly know that I have posted on more than one occasion about my concerns over what I perceive as a lack of "team toughness". I don't see a Gary Roberts here- much less a number of players who bring that intensity most nights. Well said.

  11. I'm finding I'm having more and more difficulty evaluating goaltenders in terms of their raw ability. The last few times I've watched Rask, he looked underwhelming, yet he's got great numbers. I look at Elliot's and Halak's dizzying stats in St. Louis and wonder how much of that is attributed to Hitchcock and the play of other players on that team. I feel the same way with Detroit's goaltenders as well.

    One thing that I'm getting better at though, is gauging the 'comfort' level of goalies in-game. I think of the Boston/Montreal playoff series last year and I thought Price looked far more comfortable out there vs. Thomas even though Boston ended up winning that series (maybe that can be attributed to Thomas' style of play?). The same goes with Vancouver/Chicago in that I thought Corey Crawford looked better than Luongo, even if I think Luongo is a better goaltender.

    Right now there's this 'nervousness' with Reimer that he didn't have last year. Is it because of the pressure? Last year when he came in there was little pressure as the Leafs were already on the most part, out of the playoff picture. A lot can be said about players playing better hockey when they're 'loose'.

    So that being said, I'd have to say the Monster has looked more comfortable in net this year than Reimer overall. I'd like to see Gustavsson play out more games in the next little bit.

  12. "I wonder if the Leafs are even contemplating a "use Gus 'till he drops" strategy."

    Perhaps not quite that, but I am sure Burke is mindful of Gustavsson's contract status.

    I don't even know if I am advocating a "till he drops" stretegy. I am just saying they should give him a very fair chance so they can better decide whether to keep him.

    "some of the goalies you cite may be useful, though I don't know that any of them could really "carry" a team like the Leafs, the way we play."

    I don't think they need to do that. All one of those goalies need to do is add 6 or 7 points over the current combination.

    Nabakov has a .925 save percentage on a poor Islanders team. I think he could do much of that.

    If the Leafs were tied with the Flyers and Penguins right now and battling for 4th with almost a sure spot in the playoffs...I think we would all be pretty satisfied.

  13. I really liked your post, Hogie. I love what you're saying,. about what you see in the goalies you cite (Rask, etc...) and the team they play behind versus the comfort factor.

    And I know what you're saying about Reimer and the circumstances last season. All this said, Reimer may be in a comfort zone himself in a year, and we'll be thrilled we didn't give away assets to bring in a goalie. So hard to know.

    We'll see who the Leafs give the net to- and how long they give one or the other guy to try and make it happen.

    Very well said, thanks.

  14. I'm not disputing your position, DP. I probably share it, for the most part. I understood your earlier point, and I didn't mean to suggest they would play Gus forever, but as you said, give him a shot to play and run with the ball for a while. (I've advocated that here many times...)

    As for next season, it's just that those guys don't excite me, having watched their up and down careers. Nabakov has been good this season, yes, when healthy. I guess deep down I'm hoping Reimer simply plays like he can next season, when he's hopefully healthy....

  15. "TSN’s Bob McKenzie also reported that Steve Ott of Dallas, Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad and the Avs’ Daniel Winnik are all being actively shopped to teams looking to add size and toughness for the stretch run."

    Add in word that Moen is being shopped and we have what ails us.

    Moen, Gaustad, Ott?

    In 53 games Ott has 27 points and 115 PIM.

    He is on pace for 40 points too.

    Gotta grab one of these.

  16. Interesting that after you posted this, DP, the Lightning moved Downie, who fits, I believe, into the category of guys you mention above...agitators with some skill....

  17. The lack of secondary scoring is really hurting the Leafs right now. How often do you get goals that AREN'T from the 1st or 2nd line or the occasional defenseman.

    Do anyone think Armstrong's importance and job on this team could at risk. Ott would be a far better replacement and could be shuffled to the 2nd line better than Crabb has been.

    Gaustad realistically is no better than Crabb, just more PIMs. He could replace Steckel who has less points but is a far better faceoff man... Gaustad is a regular shift guy though so Gaustad gets the nod in my opinion.

    Ott and Gaustad in should improve the forward crop - toughness, ability to play a regular shift and contribute offensively.

    In net I would agree that the Leafs should run with Gus, as long as he plays well. He has played better this season than Reimer and it gives the Leafs opportunity to evaluate he spot on or off the team next year.

    As far as upgrades. Nabby would be the best option. He would actually be the starter and take pressure off Reimer as well as an NHL mentor which he never had the opportunity to learn from.

    And lastly, I HATED the trade at the time and I hate it even more now. UFA-to-be Raycroft for "the best goalie outside North America" Rask .

    Boston's third string goalie they had no intention of signing and a UFA!!!! for the best goalie outside North America

  18. Nice breakdown of possibilities, Skill2Envy. Thanks. It fits well with what DP was putting forward, for sure.

    (Quick aside, on your point about PIM's...I agree that PIM's in and of themselves mean little. It doesn't mean a player is tough, only that they take penalties. I don't care about majors, etc.. I prefer a guy who is tough, hits hard, plays gritty and DOESN'T take a lot of ;penalties...that guy is valuable to me, and doesn't make his team play down a man all the time. I know this isn't the point you are making, but I'll never understand why some feel it's some kind of measuring that off my chest....)

    On the Gustavsson point, we will all be waiting to see how this plays out. If one guy stands on his head, that should answer the question. But if they are both just OK, who gets a run of games, if anyone?

    And I'm sure you are not alone when recalling Rask deal! Thanks.

  19. "anyone think Armstrong's importance and job on this team could at risk."

    Scratched again against a tough Devils team.

    He has to be in Wilson's dog house or something.

  20. My PIM comment was a minus, not a plus for Ott. I'm a fence sitter with Gaustad. I wouldn't take him over Crabb or Brown on the fourth line and that is where he would be needed, so that leaves Steckel coming out or for some odd reason Boyce going.

    I do agree, PIM is a lousy measuring stick and hardly ever a positive in the league these days. Armstrong is actually a good example of positive toughness and irritation.

    DP, it seems Armstrong is in the doghouse or has been out injuried as much as he has been in so Wilson has adapted to life without him.

    I was one of the guys excited for Armstrong signing but knew he was probably worth $2.5M and not $3M, and that was with the assumption he would net 10-15G, 30-40PTS a season and maybe have a surprise 20G like in Atlanta.

    Between Komi and Armstrong we could see $3M-7.5M in the press box a night next season if the trend continues. Schenn included unfortunately too.

  21. Ok, that's it. No more goalie posts, Michael. Apparently they're both reading the posts here and it's getting into their heads. That OT goal by Gustavsson almost single-handedly wiped him off the map for me.

  22. I promise KidK. (At least until next week...)