Custom Search

Do Maple Leaf fans really care if it’s Reimer or Scrivens?

For those who may be following the "Leaf Matters" podcast, Matteo Codispoti (We Want a Cup) and I were finally able to do a show that covered actual Leaf games.  After 25 shows without NHL hockey to bat around, our latest covers a range of observations from Game 1 and 2 against the Habs and Sabres.  It's a big week for the blue and white, with games Wednesday and Thursday night.  We'll have much more to discuss after those contests.  The latest podcast is available on iTunes or on the Podalmighty Network...


Hey, anyone who visits VLM fairly regularly is likely aware that I have a fondness for James Reimer.  I was one of many who was captivated by his “aw shucks” manner when he first arrived on the scene in Toronto a couple of years ago.

Why was I drawn to him? Well, I suppose a) he was not a ballyhooed high draft pick and b) I didn’t know much about him.  So when he arrived and donned the Leaf uniform, I saw a kid with energy and some talent, and almost as importantly, someone who seemed to actually appreciate the opportunity, the money and the adulation that comes to players who work hard in a Leaf uniform.  In a world where professional athletes are often ego-centered (and almost have to be, sadly) and grasping—caring more about the name on the back than the name on the front of the jersey, as the saying goes—this young man seemed different.  And genuinely so.

That he also played well enough to turn heads during the last half of the 2010-’11 season didn’t hurt.  And when he started last season off in similar manner, the sky seemed to be the limit.  That may be hyperbole, but he was pretty good, and had an attitude to match, immediately making him a Leaf that fans truly liked and gravitated to.

That Gionta hit turned a season—and Reimer’s career, in the short-term—upside down, however.  And he is still fighting to get back to where he was 16 months ago, while also fighting to earn back—and ultimately win—the confidence of Carlyle and the Leaf coaching staff, which includes new goaltending mentor Rick St. Croix.

Many Leaf fans have been begging for us to go out and get Luongo.  They aren’t saying that we should give away all the candy in the store, but under the (incorrect?) assumption that Vancouver GM Mike Gillis needed to move the veteran (and expensive) goalkeeper, many Leafers thought Luongo would indeed look good here.  He would surely put us on a level playing field with many other kind-of-OK Eastern Conference teams, and maybe, just maybe, help us sneak into the playoffs.  And it’s the old adage, once there, who knows?

Different sport, I realize, but we can ask the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL about that. They have both recently navigated the challenge of just managing a playoff berth- and taking it to the Super Bowl.

So here we sit, heading into Game 3 of this NASCAR-like sprint to the finish of a mini-NHL season.  Ben Scrivens, slightly older but less NHL-experienced than Reimer, has taken the bull by the horns (who actually does that, by the way—seems like a very bad idea) and played not only the season-opener but the home-opener for Carlyle and the Leafs.  And he's been fine.  Did that recommendation come from St. Croix, or from something Carlyle noticed during "training camp" last week?  Or was it as simple as the fact that Scrivens had played a lot—and well of late—for the AHL Marlies so far in the 2012-’13 season?

My guess is it was a combination of all of the above, but also that there remains an underlying fear within the organization that Reimer is not all the way back, and that we can’t afford to give a game away early on in a very short season.  That sounds harsh, but coaches are not generally prone to emotion.  Like when a player is injured, their first reaction is generally: damn.  Then, it’s pretty much, "next man up". Not much more emotion than that.

Similarly, with Reimer now, it will be great if, when he plays, he plays lights out.  That’s good for the Leafs, who surely would be better with a goaltending controversy stirred by two goalies playing well, as opposed to the kind of despair-driven debate that comes from feeling as though the team has two guys who can’t play.

For my part, I still continue to believe that Reimer can indeed play.  I’m quite confident that, despite his perceived weaknesses (all goalies have weaknesses, and almost all goaltenders go through periods when they slump, or are simply not as sharp and confident as they otherwise might be) he will again play well for the Leafs.  Reimer has not been healthy, and sometimes ‘keepers can seemingly ‘lose it’ for two or three years and then just as suddenly as it left, their confidence returns.

I’ve posted here before that I am not enamored of the idea of bringing Luongo in, especially if it cost the Leafs quality, which I believe it would.  Is Luongo a good goalie?  Of course.  He is probably still one of the elite goalies in the game.  He may well be enough to be the difference in Toronto making the playoffs.  But if the pressure of playing in Vancouver, behind the most skilled team in hockey—maybe the best team in hockey—was too much for Luongo, I’m not comfortable that he is the longer-term answer here.

I want a goalie that can handle playing in the playoffs in this market.  Luongo came up short in the playoffs for Vancouver three years in a row, and the last two seasons, was actually pulled by Vigneault when things got tough.  That doesn’t mean Luongo can’t play any more.  I just don’t see him as needed in Toronto.

Let’s focus on what we do have:  two relatively young, relatively inexperienced goaltenders.  Neither of whom has proven they can do the job—or that they can’t.   I’m fine with this arrangement for this season.  I mean, what are our objectives, anyway?  To improve, sure, as the team gets accustomed to   playing for Carlyle.  Maybe get to the playoffs, like all teams strive to do.  For that, the Leafs need to be consistently hard on the puck in all three zones, and need some decent, not necessarily superlative (though that would surely help) goaltending.  I choose to believe—for now— that Reimer and Scrivens can provide that.  Are they good enough to win a Cup?  I highly doubt that.  But in the parity-filled East, where there are maybe three (or four at most) truly elite teams this year, who is to say what will be enough to get to the dance in April/May?

I can’t help but feel that, in the weeks ahead, both Reimer and Scrivens (heck, maybe someone else, too) will get their share of crease time.  As much as I like Reimer, I can live with either guy playing more than the other. If we find they can both play well under Carlyle’s defensively-oriented system, and with Rick St. Croix looking from above, all the better.  If we begin to see that one or both is lacking in some way, then our expectations for this season (which almost never happened, anyway) were modest anyway, right?

This is a building year.  But at least we may find out what we need to be a legitimate contender in the East, and whether that includes a makeover in goal down the road.


  1. Michael,

    It clearly is a building year, you could not be more spot on with your analysis. I am not so concerned with the wins and losses at this point. I don't think that Nonis, and Burke, assembled a truly competitive hockey team. I know that many will disagree, I am fine with that. I don't even want to be right, I want the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup.

    Both young goalies, Scrivens and Reimer seem like affable, well intentioned young men. I would be happy with either of them, or Rynnas or Mark Owuya, for that matter, leading the team to the promised land. I long for the days when the Leafs had better than average goaltending. It has been a long time since we had even average goaltending. Toskala, cough, cough. Heres the thing. Are the Leafs making the best decisions going forward for one of these guys to take the reins and guide the team through the playoffs? Does management have one guy in mind that they see above and beyond the others? Or, are they as in the dark as most fans are? I have no idea which of these young men has the skills to get our team where we need to be. Do they?

    I would rather the team not give up solid young prospects to acquire a proven goalie. Even one with a good contract. I also want to end the goalie carousel that has been spinning since Belfour retired. One that I will point out, seems to be spinning as fast as ever. It was only a mere few weeks ago that everyone believed in Reimer. So, if you are thinking, Jim what should the team do? I don't know, really, I don't. Other than I would like the team to put both goalies with the team in a position that they have the best opportunity to maximize their potential. I will get more of an idea as to what management is thinking on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, based on which goalie gets the call. I hope they make the right call and give Scrivens the call. What a lions den to put Reimer in, in his first game in almost a year.

    It is hard as a fan to disregard so many years of futility and not reference them when discussing the team. It really is. Every new coach and manager is not responsible for the mistakes of the past. They do however, need to be addressing the mistakes of today, and perhaps avoid making them in the first place.

  2. The line that really caught me in your post, Jim, is "Or, are they as in the dark as most fans are?"

    Not to suggest we mere fans are on a par with these experienced hockey executives, but in this instance, it does appear that the Leaf brass really doesn't have a clue. Not a criticism, just the way it seems. They're seemingly not sure who they should play, or even why.

    But again, at this stage in this particular team's development, I'm not sure it much matters. Thanks Jim.

  3. Scrivens and Reimer could work out.

    It might be far better to muddle along with our young goalies, avoid Louongo, keep all of our prospects and ultimately end up with a higher draft choice at the end of the year.

    I have been really impressed with Kadri so far. Both goals have been elite level/difficult angle/goal scorer goals. One was even on the skate. The kid has hands.

    I would not trade Kadri straight up for Louongo right now. We need to see what we have. God forbid Kadri was the one that clicked the best of all with the Sedins.

    If things go badly, there are other options for next year that could be paired with Scrivens or Reimer. Tim Thomas will be back. Mike Smith or Jose Theodore? Nicklas Backstrom?

    Nonis is preaching patience.

  4. Fair points DP. We'll have to be patient, for sure...

  5. MIchael,

    It is just such a crapshoot from my point of view to trade young talent. Some times it works out and the youngsters or picks turn into a bag of pucks. Or in the Quinn era, less than stellar NHL'ers. That is the good fortune of trading those assets. Recently, the Leafs have traded Rask to Boston, in order to keep Justin Pogge in the mix. That one has not worked out so well. Not as bad in my opinion, as Kessel for Seguin and Hamilton. Which if I was Boston wouldn't trade either one back to Toronto for Kessel heads up.

    The point is this, I don't believe that teams have any real clue as to whether or not youngsters are ever going to be who they project. Full stop here. Ever. Unless they are drafted first or second overall. To me, all bets are off. I need to wait and see whether we have drafted Evgeni Malkin or Patrick Stefan. Big difference, between those two isn't there? One went first overall, the other may be the best player in hockey today.

    The only solution to me is to never trade your young players. Draft them and develop them. Hold on to them like they are gold. Wait, and wait some more. See who they turn into. Otherwise you could give away a diamond and be left with a Toskala, Pogge, or Raycroft.

  6. whether reimer or scrivens, i'm happier having either of them in the net than a veteran on the verge of retirement, or (mucho-expensive) luongo. these young guys have tremendous potential, and with this topsy-turvy season, it should be an excellent opportunity to show-case their talents!

  7. I'm guessing you may not be alone. Alex. Probably a fair number of Leaf supporters want to see this season through and see what we have....including in goal.

  8. James or Ben I think are 1A and 1B. James has a previous shutout against the Pens and thats why I go with him tonight and Ben against the Isles next.

  9. And that appears to be Carlyle's inclination as well, Anon.

  10. I think we'll need both of them in this intensely-scheduled year. It only make sense to go with whoever's hot - just like a coach always does - hence Scrivens getting the first two starts. I don't think there's anything more to it than that. With back to back games and playing 5 days of 8, both goalies will be needed.
    Since I'm not playoff-fixated this year, I'm quite happy to see how our two guys pan out. Maybe one of them - or both - will flourish and become worthy of the top spot. Whatever happens, we'll know by year's end what we have to do for next year.

  11. Agreed, Gerund O'. We need to see both guys play. I'm not sure I like the "play until you lose" approach, if that's what is going on, but I'm a bit surprised they're throwing Reimer into the mix in a tough road game.

    If it works, hey, Carlyle will be a genius!