If you have followed my musings here at VLM over the past year, you will be aware of my view (though you may not agree) that it was inevitable that the arrival of Jonathan Bernier would be a disaster for James Reimer.
To be clear, while I believe that the playing field was clearly tilted in Bernier’s favour last season (you don’t trade away assets for a goalie, give him a new contract and then make him your back-up—you give him every opportunity to earn the job), the former King was very good in the Leaf net. While Reimer, too, had some stellar games, his performance was uneven at times and especially so as the season wore on, though that can be attributed in part to inactivity and an obvious loss in confidence.
By the time Reimer was thrown into the breach when Bernier was injured late in the season things did not go well, by Reimer’s own admission. While predictable, it’s too bad Reimer did not play to his capabilities at the end of the season when the Leafs needed superlative netminding with the playoffs still a possibility.
So it was, to say the least, interesting to see this past week that the longest-tenured Leaf goaltender had not been traded, had not gone to arbitration and had in fact signed a two-year contract with the blue and white—with a nice little raise thrown in.
Not surprisingly, reaction on social media (at least what I saw in a very limited sample) was all over the map. Some suggested signing Reimer was OK, as long as he doesn’t play much this season. Some felt he is not an NHL goalie. I also noted a contingent of Reimer supporters who still see him as capable of being a solid NHL goalie.
I’m not sure he can ever be that, however, in Toronto.
It’s likely that the Leafs have received trade offers for Reimer and did not feel what was offered was enough to warrant a deal. And it’s no doubt true that the goalie’s perceived trade value is at a low ebb after a shaky 2013-’14 season. So I understand that the Leafs need a capable back-up and don’t want to trade away a player with Reimer’s experience for nothing.
I’m still struggling, though, to see how a tandem of Bernier and Reimer can thrive in Toronto, even if it is understood from the get-go that Bernier will play the majority of games. Last year there was a supposed competition, though Bernier was always going to be the organization’s preferred choice. Reimer knew this and I have to believe that while he tried to fight through it at first, it eventually wore on him and his confidence eroded. Once that happens, it’s impossible to play at that level (or any level in sports), much less play up to your potential.
I still view the best option for the Leafs as trading a goalie who does not fit their plans, and clearly will not co-exist happily as a back-up—knowing that every bad goal will see him back on the bench.
But can Reimer, despite protestations from Leaf followers like myself, be an important contributor here? Possibly, but right now, that outcome seems unlikely, to say the least. Relationships matter and the relationship between Leaf management and Reimer soured last season. Some will blame Reimer for this, though I see it differently.
Regardless, team chemistry and harmony is important, and the Leafs need everyone rowing in the same direction to have success starting in October.