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Bernier wants to be "number-one"— and he will be…so set Reimer free.

I had planned a different post today, but couldn’t help but notice a recent newspaper headline that suggested incoming Leaf netminder Jonathan Bernier was ready to fight for the ‘number-one’ job.

This is hardly a shock.

In fact, while I won’t come out and say it’s a done deal (I can’t prove Tim Leiweke has guaranteed him the job, since Leiweke doesn’t make those decisions yet, hopefully) but the writing has been on the wall since the day the former LA King back-up was dealt to the blue and white.  Bernier’s arrival coincided, timing-wise, with Leiweke taking over as the new top guy at MLSE after his time running a number of sports team in Los Angeles.  He clearly liked Bernier as a King and obviously wants to see him mind the Leaf net this fall—and well beyond that.

I know many Leaf supporters believe that there will be a fair competition for the goaltending job.  Sadly, I don’t really see that happening.  Now, I have no doubt that, if James Reimer is not traded before training camp, Randy Carlyle will go out of his way to say publicly that both guys will be granted a fair and equal shot at the position.  We will be told that the best man will win out.  Or at the very least, Carlyle will go back to his previously-stated “win and you’re in” goalkeeper carousel philosophy.  It’s not an approach I endorse, but it is what it is.

That all said, my contention is this:  even if Reimer played better than Bernier in training camp, and even if he continued to outplay Bernier through the beginning of the season, the Leaf brass—Leiweke, Nonis and Carlyle—will privately be waiting for the moment that Reimer slips and Bernier makes his way to the top spot.

Now, before you say, “c’mon Michael, no coach or management group ever pulls for their players to fail…that makes no sense”, let me say this:  while I of course agree with that statement, there are factors at play here that may trump conventional thinking.

Of course coaches coach to win.  They’ll play the guys they feel will achieve that—every time.  (Carlyle is about as competitive a coach as you will find, though he's hardly alone in that regard.)  And ownership and management obviously want to win.  They want to ice the best and most competitive team that they possibly can.  If guy “y” is better than player “x”, all things being equal, “y” will play.

But from where I sit, this goaltending 'situation' is quite transparent.  For Nonis to make the move he did to acquire Bernier, he was either heavily pressured by Leiweke, or he himself felt dissatisfied with Reimer’s performance last season-  including (and if this is the indeed case, Nonis was obviously seeing different games than I was) in Toronto’s 7-game loss in the first round of the playoffs against the somewhat mighty Bruins.

So that’s a strike against Reimer right there.  He did not, in the minds of the decision-makers within MLSE, close the door against the Bruins.  (That’s not how I see it, by the way, but how Leaf management and maybe even Carlyle felt, it seems.  Some fans, too.)  And he still has flaws in his game (glove hand, rebound control, being supposedly injury-prone, etc.).  That doesn’t help.

But the dagger was/is Leiweke’s recent comment about Reimer being “the guy we inherited”. I mean, the more I think about that statement, you can’t realty be more obvious about how you feel than that, eh?  Leiweke is a Bernier supporter; he has convinced ownership Bernier is the man for the job.

Does that matter?  Yes, it does.

For his part, Nonis has basically put his reputation on the line (long-term contract extension aside) with the bold move to deal for Bernier. He gave up several assets for Bernier. (In fairness, it's not like Nonis has not made bold goaltending moves before...acquiring Luongo in Vancouver was huge, obviously...)

Leiweke wants a different culture around the ACC.  He thinks he is a “builder” who will make it happen.  One of “his” center-piece moves was to, along with his General Manager, trade for his own guy.

All of which leads us to now, and Bernier saying he wants the job.

He has it.  Who’s kidding whom?

Sure, Reimer is a battler and will fight for his ice, but we should make no mistake, this is not a level playing field.  He can’t really win, unless Bernier is injured.  Ownership, Leiweke, Nonis and Carlyle all want the new guy to be the man in goal.  No one will come out and admit that or say it publicly, but it’s all so transparent.

Just knowing that (believe me, Reimer heard what Leiweke said about being “the guy we inherited”…) puts Reimer behind the 8-ball.

No matter how mentally strong Reimer is, no matter how hard he works this off-season, no matter how well he plays this fall, there is a goaltending plan in place, and it does not include two 26 year-old guys fighting for the same job for the next several years.  Successful, non-dysfunctional hockey teams never operate that way.  No team, especially one that has been as fragile as this one has been for years—and operates in this market—could survive that scenario for very long.

So at some point, sooner than later, the Leafs will have to trade Reimer.  In fact, I think they should.  They owe it to him to send him somewhere (if there is a team that wants him badly enough) where he will be the new guy, the goalie that management and ownership wants and will invest in as their netminder for the future.

I’m not happy about it, as I’m a Reimer guy.  He is a likeable individual in an organization that has had (and now still has) a few too many management/coach personalities in recent years that presented as bigger than the team, too bombastic or too self-impressed and condescending.  In the same breath, there have been a few players here who I sense obviously could not care less that they wore the Leaf crest. Or at least it makes no difference to them whether they play here or in Columbus or Arizona.

I believe James Reimer has loved being a Leaf and even though he is still a young man, somehow understood some of what it means to represent this team in the community. He has fought through serious injuries (and the many critics and doubters) and played well here over parts of the past three NHL seasons.  And I know this:  he has worn the crest proudly, and been a model Maple Leaf off the ice.

I’m not worried about his injury “issues”.  I think he can have a good, long career ahead of him.

So I say, set Reimer free.  Oh, I recognize that this can only occur on the Maple Leaf timetable.  They’re not in the ‘feelings’ business.  They’re not a charity.  They will make cold-hearted business decisions, as do players nowadays.  Both sides in sports have long admitted that “this is business”.  Fair enough.

But while I wouldn’t suggest Reimer is like a 15-year Leaf veteran (in the mold of a Dave Keon or Mats Sundin) who the organization maybe could be seen to “owe” something to, I do feel some respect should be shown to him.

Having him battle for a job that realistically he cannot really win (c’mon, they just gave the other guy a new contract…), while maybe not unfair in the highly competitive world of professional sports, is also disingenuous on the part of the Leafs.  They know what they want.  They want the new guy in goal.

So make a hockey deal.  Find a team that needs a front-line, top-10 NHL goalie (I think Reimer is that; hey, some think he deserved to be on the Team Canada Olympic invitation list, though I don’t think he’s in that category just yet…) and see what we can get back.

But more importantly, don’t leave him hanging.  Do the right thing by a player who has been a proud Maple Leaf.  


  1. I must say that you are making 'inroads' into my willful denial pertaining to Reimer and my desire to keep a young man and player that I'm 'rooting for'... it's very hard to ignore the "guy we inherited" line. I really don't want to think about it, but I guess you've helped me with the healthier 'acceptance model' that helps me when players I like actually depart the team.

    Perhaps you are mitigating the pain and empathy I will feel for James when 'that day comes'. If I start to accept it now, it will be easier to 'deal with' then. I may even start to see what the dispassionate management is trying to do.

    I feel you helping me to 'pry open' my own eyes and I know that I've even thought of the Flames potential need for a good young goalie and my hope to acquire Monahan somehow.

    I can't imagine that teams around the league didn't notice some of Reimer's sufficient and, at times, spectacular play (especially those that didn't make the playoffs and had time to watch the team that finally returned last year).

    It all just seems more 'inevitable' as you emphasize the Leiweke line, Michael. I'll even thank you for your efforts as you work through your own sense of the situation, while hoping for the best for a fine young man, but I think we both know that we are be losing someone special on many levels when that day comes.

    1. I agree that Reimer has been a special individual for the Leafs, InTimeFor62. He has brought integrity and character to the way he handles himself. I'd like the organization to do right by him, and help themselves at the same time...

  2. Michael,

    I couldn't agree more with your entire post. It is clear that the management team at MLSE wants Bernier to be the guy. I haven't seen enough of Bernier to think that he is going to be better than Reimer long term. I have no idea how the management of the Leafs can be sure that they are backing the right guy here. Reimer has played more often and been better statistically. I hope James does great wherever he goes, just not as well as Bernier does in Toronto. Though I wouldn't be surprised to see Reimer turn into another one that got away. Seems to be the Leafs method of operation, have a look at Boston and Tuukka Rask, for all the proof you need.

    1. The Leafs certainly haven't had good luck (if we can attribute any of it to "luck") the past decade with most of the goaltenders they have acquired, signed or drafted. That's not to say Bernier won't have success. He may well. I just find it interesting that the goalie they have drafted and developed and in a sense is 'home-grown' is being over-shadowed already by the newcomer...thanks Jim.

  3. I think you might be overestimating Bernier's ability to come in and be a number one.

    Bernier has never been a number one before. He only has 62 NHL games and 29 wins.

    Bernier might get lit up behind a Leafs defense that isn't as good as the Kings defense.

    Bernier might get injured early in the season and in comes Reimer with another .924 and wins 2/3 of his games, which is what he did last year.

    I could easily see Bernier not quite making it as a franchise goaltender, but being good for 30-40 games a year, in which case you need Reimer. It might even work out well.

    Now is not the time to worry about goaltender trades.

    We will just have to watch and see how this unfolds.

  4. You may be right, DP- I guess I see this one turning out differently.

    I'm quite convinced it will fall to Bernier, because that's how the cards have been lined up. But as you say, we'll see how things unfold!

  5. Maybe it's Pollyanna O'Malley here, but I don't share your pessimism on this. I take management at their word: our two goalies are going to fight it out, and one of them's going to be #1 while the other will be a strong backup. I have no problem with that - may the best man win! The real question for me is: have we upgraded from Reimer/Scrivens? A lot of hockey people seem to think so. I won't be convinced until I see them play.
    I don't see the upside in trading Reimer for a forward and lesser goalie, say, and he certainly won't bring us that #1 center everyone thinks we need unless he's packaged with someone else. But still - that will leave us weaker at the key position come playoff time.
    Like you, Michael, I like James. I think his game really improved this year, and there's no reason to think he won't continue that trend. He almost stole us the Boston series - exactly what we've been saying a goalie has to be able to do. I'm looking forward to seeing how our new tandem develops.

    1. I have a hard time believing it will be a true competition, Gerund O', but we'll see, as DP said above, how this all plays out!

  6. The thing that I find most frustrating about all this is the seeming absence of prioritisation it betrays in how the front office has gone about things this summer.

    I mean, Bernier has been tagged as a potential star for a while and maybe that's how things will turn out. Maybe Reimer will continue to improve as well and end up being a franchise goalie for a decade. The point isn't which of them is the better goalie now or even who will be the better goalie in two years time which is, by definition, speculation. The point is, Reimer was good enough that we should have been worrying about other things first.

    Frattin was probably our best trade bait (seeing as no one seemed to want Liles or Grabovski) and we spent him on a move that I would have put as our third biggest priority. Scrivens going in the deal as well means that when they inevitably do realise they can't keep both Reimer and Bernier without one of them going troppo, we have to get another goalie back in the trade which vastly reduces their potential trading partners.

    It's the lack of foresight, the carelessness and the seeming absence of strategy which annoys me about this deal.

    I don't necessarily believe the Leafs owe Reimer anything beyond the terms of his existing contract. I am disappointed on his behalf that his play last year didn't earn him the respect with the front office that it deserved.

  7. I feel that "if it isn't broke, don't try and fix it" pertains to the Leaf goaltending situation. I have felt from the beginning that this move was all on Leiweke and that Nonis was just being a good soldier in orchestrating the trade. If this is true it does not bode well for the future.

    I could understand this better if this were a huge or even noticeable upgrade but Bernier's on ice credentials are closer to those of Scrivens rather than those of Reimer. They have, in effect, created a controversy where one wasn't war rented and at the expense of several valuable assets.

    I have been a Reimer backer from their Leaf onset. It is with sadness and some anger that I witness the disrespect being shown to him by an outsider. I am sick and tired of seeing good homegrown talent sent on to prosper elsewhere.

    1. Exactly, Pete Cam. This, for me, is like creating a quarterback controversy in football, and that is never- and I mean never - a good thing in the NFL. It usually is a team's downfall.

      If Bernier becomes a legitimate star, maybe we'll feel differently in a few years. But I see Reimer having similar potential.

  8. Unless we trade Reimer for some real help I don't see this ending well. I like the idea of going with the hot guy, but I also realize it not always goes as planned. Maybe we can trade Reimer for Matt Frattin (i hear the Kings have him as a top six guy). We should be able to get a good or very good player in a swap, but we'll see.

    There is also the other side of Reimer leaving the Leafs. Who will be backup? Apart from Reimer and Scrivens, did we have NHL ready goaltenders down on the farm? Here's something that could sound stupid: would Tim Thomas be awfull or just what the doctor ordered?

    1. A lot of teams seem to have passed on Tim Thomas, portuguese leaf. It could be money, it could be his age (especially after having taken a full year off) or it could be they now see him as a guy who might be disruptive. He was just about the best goalie in hockey a few years ago. Whether he would be willing to be a back-up, I don't know.

  9. All fair points, KiwiLeaf. You're not alone, I sense, in thinking the Leafs may have added solid depth in goal, but they have yet to address other rosters issues. Thanks for posting.

  10. First of all James is a good goalie make no mistake. He deserves a chance to prove he can be a consistent number one guy. If James is destined to no longer be a TML it is incumbent upon management to get as much for him as possible.

    And there lies the challenge. With all due respect to your opinion Michael, how many NHL exec types believe that a guy who has never played more than 37 games in a season is a surefire consistent number one guy, a "a front-line, top-10 NHL goalie"? Likely not many. A few teams were lining up to trade for such a guy they perceived to be that sort, in Bernier, yet nobody has been beating down doors at the ACC to inquire about James since the Bernier deal.

    If Leaf management take the position that with moving Reimer they are trading a consistent number one goalie they will find themselves alone at the dance. So their challenge seems to be to find a way to up the value of Reimer while transitioning to Bernier.

    One can argue that there are always teams looking for a number one guy. Yes there are, but such teams are looking for real, proven number one guys not guys who Leafs fans believe are number ones. Some team will be willing to "take a flyer" on James and may very well be rewarded for their faith but when it comes to the Leafs moving him they have to accept he is not a proven consistent number one. To earn those chops, like any goalie, he needs three or so quality seasons of 55 + games.

    He is not untradeable but even if he puts in only 30 games this year and it is quality stuff his value will go up. He is playing in his final contract year so in 10 months times he will be able to see what the whole league values him at.

    I would prefer if they went with both goalies this year. Youth is best served by depth. Two young guys with potential as opposed to one young guy and no back up. If Reimer is legit (I believe he is) he can improve his perceived value by doing well and keeping up a team first attitude while getting 30 starts.

    My advise to Leaf fans ; be realistic. If Reimer is traded do not expect the haul trading a proven consistent number one guy would bring in. I mean 37 games was his busiest year? This past year was his best and it lasted only 3 + months. My advise to Leaf management; go with these two for the full season. More time is needed to pass the best judgement and going with an unproven back-up is no way to pursue a playoff spot. Remember it is a crowded, busy schedule this year. You need a proven back up who can step in 30 times. Goaltending depth is invaluable during an Olympic year. We've got it. I like it. Let's use it.

    1. Appreciate hearing your perspective, as always, Bmaximus. Thanks for visiting.

  11. We'll hold on to both of them for the foreseeable future and here's why. This was an excellent deal for the Leafs. We took advantage of the fact that LA needed to move Bernier, who has a much higher ceiling than Frattin or Scrivens (who knows about that 2nd rounder). Regardless of whether or not management is planning on playing Bernier more often, worst case scenario he doesn't pan out and we have Reimer to fall back on, who like you said is a solid #1. On the flip side, and I'd argue just as likely, they could both continue to improve to the point where they establish themselves as one of the best tandems in the league. If/when this happens, we ship the relatively less effective goalie off to a team with a hole in net for the big, young, scoring centre we've been missing for years. In sum, this trade could end up being Frattin, Scrivens and a 2nd for our next franchise centreman. That's why we'll keep both.

    1. I respect your point of view, Randers but I just have a difficult time seeing how two young, first-string goalies will work well together. On paper it's great, but once the season begins, I'll be skeptical. Bernier did not come here to be a back-up, so we'll see how much Reimer plays. If he doesn't play enough, what he will be worth on the trade market? This may be his peak value, right now.

  12. Michael, great read but I disagree here for two reasons.

    First, if you read MLHS' interview with Greg Cronin, you'll know the Leafs base their game around attacking+defending the home plate area. As a result, the Leafs were excellent in suppressing scoring chances against this past season, despite being out-possessed. A caveat to this though is that the goalie playing still needs to have the ability to make the big save, and Scrivens' seemed unable, evidenced by his .805 save percentage when facing shots within the home plate area versus Reimer's much more adequate if not above-average 0.897. This could have been a motive to upgrading the second goalie position, and I haven't checked them out yet, but I'm sure that Bernier's numbers when facing prime scoring chances are adequate enough to warrant the sacrifice in assets for the upgrade in net.

    Secondly, with Bernier, the Leafs now have a 1A-1B tandem in net which is a system that Carlyle employed during his time with the Ducks. During Carlyle's tenure in Anaheim, a goalie never played more than 44 games in one season, a testament to how Randy likes keeping his goalies fresh. Also, this isn't exactly hard to believe because if you compare the Leafs' lineup to the 2007 Ducks lineup, they are a ton striking similarities (the top-10, bottom-5 system). And if you remember correctly, the Ducks' had their own injury-prone butterfly goalie in Giguere back then when they added a young, exuberant Russian tender by the name of Bryzgalov.

    So, I doubt this was a fact of Nonis & co. being dissatisfied with Reimer's performance last season or his long term ability, but rather the discontent with Scrivens' admittedly lacklustre production + the caution of Reimer getting injured again.

    Just my 0.2. Great read as always Mike!

    -Alex Mamalis

  13. A very well-constructed post; good to hear from you, Alex. Thanks for chiming in!

  14. Regardless of Bernier's ceiling (which is another word for unrealized potential) he has not yet produced a significant body of work at the NHL level. The sample size is too small to draw any meaningful statistical conclusions. He may become an excellent number one goalie or he may flop. It is all conjecture at this point.

    This trade might have been easily defensible in the pre-cap era but at this point in time, with a shrinking cap, prudent resource allocation is vital. Prior to the trade the Leafs had two goalies who provided solid play with a cap hit of $2,350,000 combined (Reimer - $1,800,000 and Scrivens $550,000). Now Bernier has added $2,850,000 to the cap hit ($500,000 in cap space was included in the trade) while the Leafs are scrambling to find cap space to sign two vital players.

    Regardless of how Bernier turns out (and I hope he is a lights out goaltender) the reality is that vital cap space was spent on an area that was already a strength.

    1. It feels like we're in the minority on this one, Pete!

  15. I think that you being a "Reimer Guy" has clouded your judgement.

    First of all, Leiweke coming on board and the trade for Bernier may have nothing to do with each other. It has been reported that Nonis had been targeting Bernier from the moment that he replaced Burke.
    Here is a quote from Nonis:

    “We were close a couple times, but there was always something that kind of stopped the deal,” said Nonis. “Most of it was in place months ago and we just found a time that was right for both sides.”

    So, if the trade had been completed a few months before Leiweke came on board would you still feel that Bernier is here just because he is "Leiweke's guy"?

    Secondly, it seems like you are discounting the tandem idea before you have even seen it in action. Carlyle has a track record with tandems...perhaps that is just the way he likes to roll and he probably did not feel that Scrivens was a strong enough goaltender to be able to succeed in a tandem situation. You have to think that with Carlyle in Anaheim and Bernier in LA that Carlyle probably has a pretty good idea of what Bernier is capable of.
    If Tortorella was the coach here then I would be far more inclined to say that the Leafs were looking for some individual to play the vast majority of the games right away. In our case I think that both will get ample opportunity and since both are young, developing goalies without a track record of playing 65-70 games then perhaps this is the best way to develop both. And what is wrong with a little competition? Scrivens wasn't about to push Reimer and its not like we have any other young farmhand ready to do that either.

    Thirdly, I think you are really downplaying Reimer's injury "issues". He has not played more than 37 games. I love Reimer but is it fair to expect that he will be able to play 65+ games next year? On what is that based? Would you bet your season on that? If you are thinking rationally you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. While I personally don't know a lot about Bernier I do get the sense that most people believe that if given a chance, Bernier has the skills and pedigree to be a star goalie. Scrivens on the other hand does not carry those same expectations. According to almost everyone a tandem of Reimer/Bernier has much more talent then a tandem of Reimer/Scrivens. From a pure talent viewpoint we have upgraded our goaltending.

    Finally I believe the cost to acquire Bernier was not all that high. If you look at the trade in isolation it was a good trade for us. Critics discount the trade because they feel that it was not a necessary move to make...that our goaltending was fine they way it was. No one is critical of what we are getting or really up in arms over what we are giving up. Really, how could you be? I am a Frattin fan but come on. Bernier has a much greater chance of impacting our chances of winning than anything we gave up in that deal. Bernier at this point is the more attractive asset.

    Now things may go south for us...Bernier and Reimer may not be able to share effectively. Frattin may go on and pot 30 goals. Etc.
    But this is the middle of the summer, you have not even given this a chance to work and already you have Reimer traded away.
    Lets see how things play out.
    Lets focus on the positives. Lets dream about how much better defensively we will be in front of our tandem with a healthy Gardiner, a healthy Gunnar, a 22 min Phaneuf (instead of the scary 30 min Phaneuf), the addition of strong 2 way forwards like Bolland, Clarkson and hopefully Colborne (in place of a goon). Personally I like the way our team is looking (assuming that Franson and Kadri get signed...which I think will eventually happen. Subban signed a bridge deal work 2.8 - should Franson get more? I don't think so).
    We have depth everywhere including goal. We can play any kind of game.

    1. Lots of good points there, apollo678.

      I see things quite differently, but I've written here many times that summer is a time for hope! If Leaf fans want to believe what I think will be a potentially chaotic situation in goal will be a good thing, that's fair. (To your point about Leiweke, his comments, regardless of his actual involvement in the trade when it happened, make it clear he wants Bernier in goal...) Thanks apollo678.

  16. Interesting take on this from Howard Berger when I tweeted him to ask whether he thinks Reimer would be on the trade block: 'Wouldn't think so. Stanley Cup teams usually have a starting-caliber backup. Leafs could definitely use both.'

    Of course, media hockey predictions, along with a nickel, can get you a cup of coffee(in the '50s), so take it for what it's worth.

    1. Thanks for posting, Sean. One of my points in all this is not that Bernier is not going to be a good goalie here, or that it's not a good idea to have two competent guys in your netminding picture. It's that having two guys the same age, etc is generally a bad idea unless the situation is managed exceptionally well. When I see how we have 'managed' our goalies over the past decade, I'm concerned...

  17. Very interesting take on the situation, and one that seems to be based more in reality than conjecture. For whatever reason, Leaf management has never seemed to embrace Reimer as "our guy". Most statements seemed to fall between lukewarm endorsement and outright displeasure - and that was pre Bernier acquisition. Without getting into a debate about Reimer's abilities, it seems neither Carlyle nor Nonis were sold.

    To that extent, I agree moving Reimer would be the logical next move. Nonis (and by extension Leiweke) needs to take ownership on the decision to bring in Bernier. The trade and contract extension say more than cliche words about an open competition. If a team, say the Islanders, looking for long term goaltending help were willing to take Liles in a package maybe freed cap space can be salvaged out of this. However this plays out, Reimer has been nothing if not class.

    Finally, to the story's underlying theme. I too have a very bad taste in my mouth from Tim Leiweke in his short tenure. A Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder, yes even a Harold Ballard taste. While not the owner, I hope his powers don't overreach into the day-to-day hockey operations.

    1. You've well captured my thoughts (and much more succinctly!) on this subject, Randy, and also provided a your own (I think quite correct) perspective.

      I, too, believe what I wrote is not simply conjecture but a realistic assessment based on the tone of the comments made about Reimer over the years- and Leiweke's obvious lukewarm comments of a couple of weeks ago. As you properly note, management's endorsements of Reimer have always been lukewarm at best. A year ago, Burke essentially said they were fine with Reimer in goal- unless they found someone else.

      The owners you mention too often made themselves the centre of attention and larger than the team. If Leiweke acts in this manner, this won't work. Thanks Randy.

  18. Outstanding post...the one factor in Reimers favor is the 18 bodies in front of him. They know what he can do...they see this stuff...and they will play for James. Ultimately Carlyle will go with the winning combination.

  19. Thanks Anon. Well said.

    If it is a level playing-field competition, Reimer can stake his claim- as can Bernier.