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Leaf fans need to realize: Reimer is the guy

Though the Leafs lost 3-2, I wanted to mention a note I received just prior to Saturday night's game in Winnipeg.  DP, a regular visitor here who often contributes with some great posts, mentioned that he was attending the Leaf game against the Jets in person.

Not unusual on the surface, but he added that, in his 40 plus years as a Leaf fan, it was his first opportunity to see the team live!  

That was so tremendous to hear.  I hope he had a wonderful time and can find a moment to share a bit about the experience of watching his team-- and maybe let us all know about the great atmosphere in Winnipeg.

Before the “official” announcement was made in Winnipeg, there was some social media discussion on Saturday about who the Leafs would—and should—start against the Jets.

Some felt Gustavsson deserved a start, given his generally strong play just before Reimer returned from his injury earlier in December—and on the heels of Reimer not being quite his old self in the last couple of games (after, in fairness, two pretty strong outings before that).

But given that Reimer is a “local” kid—heck, he was born not too far from Winnipeg—we had to figure that Wilson was going to do what NHL coaches generally do:  start the guy with the local ties.  Don Cherry talked about this tendency between periods.  Coaches almost always want to give players a chance to shine in their own backyard.  And it’s understandable.  Players in those circumstances are pumped up and while I have no empirical data, my observation over the years is that at worst, players in that situation will be a bit over-amped, but generally speaking they’ll play a good game.  It’s easy to give your best in those circumstances. (Quick aside:  I recall back in the ‘70s and ‘80s that the Leafs would  often complain that, because opposing teams had so many Ontario-born players, it was tougher to win at home because the visiting teams were so pumped to play at Maple Leaf Gardens…)

It’s generally always been this way in the NHL.  If a goalie is up against his former team, quite often, he’ll get the start.  And yes, coaches like to give local guys their shot.  I remember back in the mid-1960s, when Punch Imlach (left) was the General Manager and coach of the Maple Leafs.  His son, Brent, was a nice Junior player at the time with the local Toronto Marlies.  Imlach needed a player on an emergency basis during the 1965-’66 season.  So he dipped down to the Marlies (the Leafs owned the junior team) and brought up Brent—who was all of 19 at the time—for a game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.  I believe the younger Imlach actually started the game for the Leafs, taking the night’s opening center-ice face off against Montreal’s legendary captain, Jean Beliveau.  (Imlach only played two more games in his NHL career, one that season and another the next year, the season the Leafs last won a Cup.  Interestingly, I don’t think Brent Imlach ever signed a pro contract.  He was an amateur call-up, I believe, who later went on to get his education while playing Canadian university hockey…)

In any event, we can understand Wilson’s decision to give young Reimer his shot to perform in his own backyard.  The Leafs lost, but listen, the Leafs owe Reimer a lot.  The kid saved what seemed destined to be a wreck of a 2010-’11 season.  His fine play in the second half of last season saved Wilson’s job and gave Burke a longer honeymoon with fans.  And it so happened that Saturday’s game against the Jets marked precisely a calendar year since he was first called up to the Leafs to play against the Senators on January 1, 2011.

But beyond the “local” coming home angle, we need to understand something:  Reimer is the number-one guy, full stop.  The Leafs signed him to a new contract before the current season got underway.  While they are not paying him outlandish money, they certainly are paying him well for a young goalie who didn’t have a lot just yet on his NHL resume heading into this season.

But they are indeed paying him as a young number-one, and he played last season and early this year like a number-one.  Most organizations don’t believe that a guy should lose their job because of an injury.  So even though The Monster played some good hockey in the last two weeks before Reimer returned from the whiplash issue, the Leafs were (and are) clearly committed to Reimer.  No player should be judged prematurely coming off a concussion, or concussion-type injury.  Recent history tells us things take time.

Would I have liked to see Gustavsson get a start here or there recently?  Yes.  I think he “deserved” it, but as I’ve posted here many times before, the best thing for Monster is if he can find a new home next season, somewhere where he may feel more welcome.  I’m not suggesting he has played enough, or well enough consistently, to demand a number-one goaltender contract somewhere else.  But I’m not sure he and Allaire are a good fit—though everyone would deny it.  I just sense that, while he has talent, for sure, he may need to go somewhere else to see it develop to its full potential.

To me, it’s clear Burke and Wilson are tying themselves to Reimer, and I can’t argue with that.  He is the guy that will play the bulk of the games.  That’s what Burke and Wilson want to see, and they will give him every opportunity to keep the job.  And we should keep in mind that Reimer was not a Burke ”guy”; that is, he was drafted by the previous administration.  Like most GM’s, Burke seems to like his own guys—the players he signs, drafts or trades for—but winning is more important to him than his pride.  So he and Wilson clearly believe Reimer is the right guy for the job.  They see something in him, and so do I.  I not only like and appreciate the young man’s personality, humility and demeanor, but I think he has the kind of “mental” make-up, as best we can assess from the “outside”, that will stand him in good stead during the inevitable highs and lows of a future playoff run. (Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph both had the ability to bounce back after bad goals and difficult games.  I see the same potential in Reimer.)

I like Gustavsson, and I’ve said so many times here.  But Reimer’s the guy.  And that’s the goalie we’re going to see play a lot in Toronto, even if he has some tough stretches- and whether fans agree or not.


  1. Palmateer is my heroJanuary 1, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    For me, it is about which goaltender do you believe gives the team the best chance to win and that goalie is Gustavsson. In my opinion, he has better lateral quickness, better reflexes, demonstrated better rebound control of late, and he is beginning to look more aggressive (e.g. challenging shooters by playing more at the top of the crease) than Reimer. I agree with you that Allaire's style, which appears to focus more on positioning and blocking shots, has not helped Gustavsson, who is a reflex goalie focusing on making saves. In my opinion, Wilson has handled Gustavsson terribly this season and despite the lack of confidence Wilson has in Jonas, he has played well. I don't think a goalie should be annointed the number 1 spot after a half-season. Right now, Gustavsson has played better than Reimer, and I would start him in each of the next few games.

  2. Palmateer is my heroJanuary 1, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    BTW, I came across your blog a few weeks ago and I am a regular visitor to your site because I enjoy reading your analyses and comments. Also, happy new year Michael.

  3. Thanks for that, Palmateer is my hero. You raise good points about The Monster's play. It's just my sense, but it strikes me that while the brass wants Gus to play well, they are hanging their hat, right or wrong, on Reimer and it would take a lot to move them off that position....

  4. And best wishes to you as well, Palmateer is my hero. Glad you found the site. Take care and happy New Year.

  5. And if we come shy of the playoffs by 2 points and everyone knows that the likelihood of Gustavsson starting 5-10 more games getting us there would have been very, very high, I wonder who Burke and RW will blame. Keep coming back to the supposed Leafs ideal of playing based on merit and keep getting frustrated, and bordering on angry. If Reimer is the guy then he needs to play like it and start stealing games for us. We are NOT playing like a playoff-worthy team right now- instead we are playing like a team that is finding ways, and all kinds of them, to lose games. Every team we face lately knows if they play us properly, they can take us down. See Hurricanes, Jets, Devils, Islanders and Sabres, let alone the Canucks and Bruins.

  6. KidK...I hear you. I just feel management has made a decision, and Reimer's the guy.

  7. It may be that management has made a decision, but holding to a decision made on criteria that no longer apply seems like a bad move to me. And for all the talk of being patient while Reimer gets over his "concussion-like" symptoms, the problem is that we're losing, and he's letting in soft ones. I agree with both PIMH and KidK - Gustavsson has outplayed Reimer recently, and what's happened to the "meritocracy" the Leafs were supposed to be? Besides, it seems that the Monster is finally reaching a synthesis of Allaire's coaching and his own style.
    As Burke often says "we're in the business of winning". And that means going with your best... except when it doesn't, I suppose. Very frustrating, as Kid K says. JR and the PH have lost us the last few games - why management seems loath to make the appropriate "winning" decisions baffles me.

  8. I can't argue with what you're saying, Gerund O'....The meritocracy argument is a fair one, given how the L:ears keep stressing that "value". But they are giving Reimer every chance to play like he can, it seems.

  9. I grew up in Western Canada, but watching the Leafs, as my father was a Leafs fan.

    At about the age of 4, Saturdays in the winter meant having a bath and watching hockey night in Canada in my pajamas with my dad.

    The Leafs according to my father were like good Christian soldiers. The Montreal Canadiens in their red uniforms were earthly manifestations of demons with the Devil himself present in that tricky Guy Lafleur.

    The other day I tested my sister (who’s not really a hockey fan) with a question: Who was Dad’s favorite player?

    Without hesitation she correctly answered…Dave Keon! Even she can remember being told as a little girl to cheer for Keon.

    So last night after forty years of cheering I finally saw a live Leafs game in Winnipeg

    The arena in Winnipeg really is that loud...the fans are really into the game.

    I found it a bit odd to be cheering for the Leafs. When they scored I clapped like I always do, but nobody else in the box was doing the same. I hope they still like me at work.

  10. Thanks for letting us know how the atmosphere was in Winnipeg, DP. I'm not shocked your Dad's favourite was Dave Keon. He was mine, too, and was a favourite of thousands of young Canadian kids in the '60s and early '70s. (And yes, the Habs were the enemy in those wonderful old days...)

  11. Great post Michael. The only way for a goaltender to get his game back to top form after an injury is to play through it.

    Leaving goaltending aside for a minute, I wanted to address the play of kessel/lupul of late. It seems like kessel has fallen back into old habbits of trying to take multiple guys on in both ends of the rink. Him and lupul have slowed down recently. I wonder if shaking up the top line might spark some new offence? I'd like to see something like this

    Macarthur Connelly Kessel

    Kadri Bozak Lupul

    Kulemin Grabovskky Frattin

    Lombardi Steckel Armstrong (Crabb)

    Macarthur and Connelly as a tandem are great on the breakout (= kessel snipes) and in general seem to have some chemistry already. what do you think ?

  12. Anon...thanks for jumping in on this. Scotty Bowman was never afraid to switch up lines during a game, in Montreal and in Detroit. (He had better teams, but the same principle applies, that lines get stale and need a shake-up once in a while...) So yes, for a time, I think your lines could work. Connolly has that sublime passing skill. McArthur can finish, though he goes cold a bit too often for my liking. Frattin has a lot of speed but hasn't had much luck around the net. He may well fit with more experienced guys like Grabbo and kulemin. And I would like Kulemin and Grabovski to re-kindle their earlier chemistry in the second half...