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Can Reimer still thrive in Toronto?

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.


  1. I think that even though 'relationships have soured', James Reimer is such a quality individual that he will find a way to make the best of his situation (and I do, truly agree that it is in everyone's best interest to find a new team for Reimer... just not at the level where we appear to be right now)... Of course, the 2 year deal may have been part of a sign-and-trade scenario, so I won't rule out that possibility in the short term.

    Reimer had such a good start to the season, but was then 'challenged' by the sense that nothing would deter the inevitable 'demotion' to the back-up role. We all know he thrives on being the 'go to' guy, yet that appeared to be lacking when the Bernier injury gave him a chance to 'prove' himself once more.

    I think it is significant that he played so well to 'mop up' in LA, but then got a knee to the head (Stoll?) and then never seemed to be on his game, despite his willingness to keep going (despite the problem that is often forgotten when speaking of his end of season ineffectiveness).

    If he's here for any significant time this coming season, I believe James will do well (especially since he knows that Bernier is the guy... even if he needs to demonstrate his injury is fully healed). Reimer will battle to find his career and I believe (if for no other reason than to maximize his value) that Reimer will see more consistent action, that will be better for him, the team and his trade value.

    I don't think he'll be a distraction in the dressing room (the media, on the other hand, is another matter)!

    1. Reimer will be motivated to play well and demonstrate he can be the guy somewhere else, for sure, InTimeFor62. He was great in that LA game, but things went less well after that. I think he can play at a high level- if his confidence returns he can be a very solid netminder.

  2. Hi Michael,

    because of some reactions to the Franson and Reimer contracts last week I am under the impression a lot of people are not aware of the mechanics in these cases.

    If a player turns RFA the Club has to make a qualifying offer to retain his rights. This offer is not a contract. If the Club doesn't make a qualifying offer (until the 01.07. I believe) they loose the players rights and he turns UFA.

    If a player thinks it is unlikely to reach an agreement and both sides are far apart, the player can file for arbitration (the Club can file for arbitration too). This is the only possibility for the player to put pressure on the Club.
    These arbitration cases are not a nice thing and can damage the relationship between player and
    Club a lot more, so both sides try to reach an agreement.

    In Reimers case, the goalie market is very difficult. The Leafs have a better chance to trade him with a reasonable contract than without. If Reimer has not signed with the Leafs it is possible he hasn't got a contract at all. At least not that value.

    Franson was the Leafs leading D-man in points and there are some D-man of his age with lesser points that earn a lot more. so they signed him to a reasonable contract too. The arbitrator does not care if he is a 5 or 6 D-man, they look after points. Franson should be easier to move with that contract too.

    I do not know if they are able to trade Reimer.
    I fear it is not good for the harmony in the locker room if he stays. But who knows how bad it really is.
    If he can play to his level and handle the situation, I would like Reimer to stay.
    There is no back up on the market that can play a lot of games if Bernier is bad or hurt.

  3. I think the Leafs created a bad situation here. They treated Reimer bad over the last two years and created a goalie contoverse that was not necessary.

    We will see how they can solve this.

    1. Hi Marcus- having two goalies who can play is good but goaltending controversies are rarely a good thing. If a team needs a goalie at some point this season and Reimer has played well here, he may be an asset Nonis can move to improve the roster elsewhere.

  4. Like I have said multiple times here before, I share your view completely. Perhaps Ididn't make it clear enough right now. I would like a trade because of James and the Leafs and I hope they can make something work in the next few weeks.

    But I admit I have a weird feeling concerning our goalie situation.

    I really like James and I am not so shure about Bernier

  5. Reimer has always done his best for the Leafs, through working with Allaire, who tried to change his style (you can still see his influence in both James and Scrivens-especially glove hand) , concussion and everything that went on the past two years under Carlyle. I thought in spite of everything he started the season focused and , I thought, played some of his best hockey. A 9.31 save percentage is hardly a number for a back-up. (For all the attention goalies like Miller get, they don't put up these numbers.) He wasn't rewarded and he didn't expect to be. At the end of the season I wondered if he was having some mild concussion issues after the last hit to the head. The way he played towards the end and at World's, fighting the puck in the crease, looked very familiar and reminded me of his struggles after his last concussion.

    Considering Bernier was given 2.9 having never played anything but a back-up role, Reimer's contract was a bargain. Arbitration may have awarded more, but I think it was more important to James that he have an attractive, trade-able contract. I can not see him staying as long as Randy is still around, though Toronto is a lot better with him. Reimer, however, is a professional and will continue to compete no matter the circumstances.

    Elliotte Friedman was on the radio the other day discussing James and when the host suggested James was a back-up, Elliotte questioned his eye-sight. I agreed. Where-ever Reimer ends up, I'm a fan for life. Colleen

    1. Hi Colleen- I think VLM readers know that I've been and am someone who appreciates everything Reimer has brought to the organization, in terms of his attitude and overall play. I've never been comfortable that the current arrangement can work, though having two capable netminders is of course a good idea in principle.

      I just see it as inevitable the Reimer get a chance elsewhere to be the top guy. You and I see this much the same way. Thanks Colleen.

  6. Johnathan Bernier is not very durable. Throughout his carrer he has never been that big 65 or 70 game workhorse. I think it has something to do with his small size.

    His top number of NHL games was last year at 55 and you could tell it was wearing on him. He was hurt of for part of it. His next highest HNL year was 25 for the Kings. Even in the AHL, Bernier's highest total was 58. In his final 2 years of junior he played just 37 and 34 games.

    Because Bernier has not proven to be durable, Reimer could realistically play anywhere from 25 to 48 games.

    Let's just see what happens and how many games Bernier stays healthy. If they could sort out their ego's, strengths and roles the tandem could actually work quite well.

    I could easily see another season in which Bernier is not healthy for the full season. Reimer could come in and play over 45 games with only one of the Marlie kids as a backup and get the Leafs into the playoffs... once again endearing himself to the fans and media.

    1. You're right, DP- that could well happen. Of course Reimer has to play well if he gets that opportunity, but I think he can.

  7. Both Bernier and Reimer faced a lot of rubber last season, and both had very respectable numbers as far as save percentage. So the idea of a "1A & 1B" was on paper, realistic. As the season progressed, it was apparent the 1A -1B thing became more of a facade. Bernier and Reimer both are good goalies, but Bernier's rebound control, and puck handling abilities gave him an edge over Reimer. Given the high volume of shots the Leafs were giving up, Carlyle needed the extra edge that Bernier provided.

    Reimer wants to play for a team that respects his competitiveness and wants to be that #1 guy. Despite the raise, it's apparent that no other team in the NHL sees Reimer as a true #1 goalie as yet, or willing to trade enough value to give him that opportunity.

    If Reimer was (or is) unhappy with the Leafs not moving him, then why sign a 2-year deal? Was it simply to ensure he'd be a UFA when the deal ended? In all likelihood Reimer has realized he doesn't have the marketability yet for the Leafs to trade him, and opportunities elsewhere for now are limited. Right or wrong, the Leafs have also probably convinced Reimer that he is an excellent back-up, and could once again push Bernier for the starting job. Bernier has not proven he can handle a full load yet, and he too has had some injury issues. The Leafs should (god willing) have a better 2-way game this year, and be more responsible in their own end (e.g. with additional players like Robidas, Polak, Santorelli, and Komorov). That hopefully will take the pressure off the goalies somewhat, and help to reduce the chances off rebounds. I think Reimer knows this, and is looking forward to playing behind a better 2-way team.

    Whether he is 100% happy with it, Reimer knows he is coming in as the #2 guy, but that he is not that far behind Bernier. All he needs to do is capitalize on his opportunities, and play solid between the pipes. If Bernier falters or gets injured, Reimer will get a shot at stealing the net. His trade value goes up if he plays well. I think he comes into camp with a new attitude, and something to prove to himself, Nonis, and other GMs.

    1. It is a different year, Don (TML_fan) and a somewhat different set of circumstances. As you say, Reimer knows he is the back-up. He needs to play well, whether he hopes to stay in Toronto or get an opportunity elsewhere.

  8. After listening to Reimer being interviewed on Blue Lunch today I would definitely say that Reimer wants to prove himself and he has every intention of thriving this year.

    He sounded pretty upbeat and said he liked the direction the Leafs are going and is looking forward to helping the team this year and he definitely wants to play for and be a Leaf. He said he thought the two year deal was his best option. He also said he respected Carlyle as a coach and there were no issues between them but that in Toronto everything gets blown out of proportion.

    I have a feeling now that this year will be a reset with Bernier still the #1 and Reimer determined to play better and keep pushing Bernier for the top job. It is actually a pretty good situation for the Leafs to have a backup they can count on especially if Bernier is injured again. Reimer did have a rough year but he also played unbelievable earlier in the season. Hopefully things will come together with the Leafs playing better defensively and Reimer getting back in top form. That would be good for the Leafs having a trade asset and good for Reimer as a UFA in two years.

    1. If Reimer gets the opportunity to play regularly enough early in the season and plays like he can, then that would indeed change things, I think. Whether he and Bernier can work together long-term, I don't know. But if Reimer has the right approach coming in, that helps.

  9. I have read the same article about a hundred times now in reference to Reimer.

    There are two points that are ALWAYS left out every time this subject comes out.

    First, Bernier will be injured at some point this year and our backup will become our de facto starter while he is away. After a knee injury last year, it is almost expected that Bernier will not play 82 let alone 60 games next year. And that even fails to acknowledge that Reimer has a long history of injuries. So, if Reimer was named the starter, Bernier is going to end up being the starter in his absence. Last year, we had two good goalies and it worked very well (until Bernier got injured and Reimer sh** the bed).

    Second, seems like Toronto fans and media were thirsty for a problematic goalie controversy. For some reason, the media must always turn two good goalies on a team into a "controversy". We never see a 1C or 1D controversy but we see ten goalie controversies a year. All that being said, who is it a controversy for? Do I actually care about Reimer's or Bernier's feelings? Aren't they paid well enough that I don't have to worry about their "feelings"? Is there even an issue with having a controversy? Haven't the Leafs been terrible enough that we should ignore hurt feelings by players making over $3M a year?

    Fact is, Reimer isn't worth squat right now. We trade him and we end up with a crumby backup. And then Bernier gets injured, and we have a crumby backup as our starter. Do you see where this goes?

    This is all solved by the Leafs saying - "We have been garbage over the past ten years - if one of our goalies is going to shine, then we'll let them. However, goalie "controversies" are for teams that are actually good"

    1. Hi Anon- my position has been that Reimer is a capable goaltender, and worked to earn the number-one job in Toronto over a three year period. The arrival of Bernier changed things, and it was a difficult adjustment for Reimer. My sense was that Reimer was not happy last season and that moving him at some point would be good for him and the team, if they could get some assets in return.

      Right now, I agree a trade won't get the Leafs what they need, so he needs to play well. That will help the Leafs, and him as well.

  10. Why will it work? Because Reimer is auditioning for his next gig. Toronto won't trade him while his value is low, so the win-win outcome is clearly defined.

    In a sense, your article's basic premise relies upon Reimer still wanting to be the #1 in Toronto. If that were the case, the tilted ice would be incredibly frustrating. But no illusions remain. Carlyle has made it perfectly clear -- Bernier is the savior. At this point, I believe James wants out, he knowingly took a helpful contract, and his bust his butt to earn a new destination. Given this scenario, the situation can work quite easily.

    As a Reimer supporter, I must note that both stretches of poor play came immediately after headshots - first Gionta, and then again in the LA game after Bernier went down. It shouldn't be forgotten.

    At this point, however, there are no illusions. The organization pinned the Boston loss on Reimer and Bernier is the future. Everything else is window dressing. By now, I'm pretty sure that even James has accepted this reality...

    1. Hi Anon- I sense there is a mutual understanding that the contract will allow the Leafs to move Reimer if and when a deal makes sense. For now, Reimer can play without the same distractions as a year ago when the first-string job was theoretically up for grabs.

  11. I stand by my assertions that Reimer was treated unfairly last season, and by the time he was thrust back into the starting role, his performance and confidence had clearly tanked. As much as this in the NHL, and there is little patience here, he clearly was not the same player that I think we all agree he can be.

    With some time away from the Leafs to reflect and recharge, I do believe he will show up in September with a positive attitude and we will see the Reimer of old. He knows he is not competing for the starting job, and will play his role. He knows as much as the Leafs know that he needs to prove himself on the ice this year to improve his trade stock, and doing so will make both sides happy. Reimer is playing for a starting role, it's just that it will be with another team if he succeeds.

    1. Your scenario makes sense, Pete. Reimer knows his opportunities will have to be elsewhere. Now he can just play.

  12. I don't have the numbers in front of me but I think Bernier and Reimer were one of the top goalie tandems in the league last year and should only be getting better this year if, that is, Reimer is still a Leaf at the end of the summer. Their contracts are cheap and they are both very young with everything to prove. Short of acquiring Carey Price and Johnathan Quick I can`t see how we could be better off.

    That is on paper. In reality, we are getting another year to see before our eyes whether Reimer will be destroyed by his demotion and what he and his supporters see as unwarranted disrespect from the Management and the ruthless media scrutiny in the center of the hockey universe.

    It`s hard being a goalie in Toronto. I don`t think I`m exaggerating when I say that letting in a weak goal in Toronto is a lot worse for a goalie than letting in a weak one anywhere else. The obverse, of course is that if Reimer can shut up, block out the media noise, and play well he (and Bernier) can become gods here. If they help the team win the Cup in Toronto it`s not gonna matter who played more games or had a better save % in those games or who played in which playoffs series.

    what Reimer and Bernier have done over the last season playing in front of an atrocious defensive team is already, in my books, the stuff of legends. A repeat performance with a better (and better coached) defense and better support from the checking lines that work and a team that finds a way to limit the outrageously high amount of shots on net these goalies have had to face should make the legend continue.

    I really hope the people in charge know whether Reimer is going to be able to put the team first and subscribe to the program in the upcoming season or not. If he is, then we have nothing to worry about in the net. If not, he should be let go for whatever return and to a team that will put him in whatever position they like and he should be replaced with the next best available option.

    Personally, I love the idea of a young goalie tandem working out and I feel that having two great goalies is better than having one. But I've come to doubt my view because of what (predictably you would say Michael) happened last year. I wonder if it's possible to win with two starters on the roaster (the pun intended). Whatever ends up being the case, I hope the Leafs became a good example of the right thing to do this upcoming season.

    1. I think Reimer is capable of putting last season behind him, leafdreamer. But it was a setback for him, and he needs to play well this season, as does Bernier. It's true, having two good young goalies with reasonable salaries is, in theory, tremendous. But if Reimer stays, the organization, coaching staff and the goalies have to make it work. And yes, it will help if the team play in front of both of them is what it needs to be. Thanks leafdreamer.

  13. I think this may work if the organization under Shanahan understands that support is necessary for BOTH goalies. Carlyle didn't think so. On a team that was out-shot to the extent Toronto was and whose success depended on well above-average goal-tending, I don't understand the complete lack of any support or encouragement for Reimer. He needed more than St.Croix. I hope Spot in particular plays a buffer role, I don't think the assistant coaches of last year did a thing in this area and I'm glad they're gone. If we could see what was going on, they must have as well. (I do still think Reimer will eventually be very successful elsewhere, but I admit that I'm glad we still have him for now)

    It will be an interesting start to the season if we do see significant system changes, especially in the area of team defense. I expect it will take both old and new players some time to figure it out, not to mention configuring the lines.

    Sorry to change the topic, Micheal, but this has been on my mind since the play-offs.
    After watching the Rangers defense throughout their playoff run, all I've wondered--why can't the Leafs play a system like that? I realize that we maybe didn't have the best players for it, but I was so impressed. The Leafs not only leave the points alone, they let players walk right in 10-15 feet from the blue-line and take shots from there. The Rangers were on top of the points, isolated the point-man, made passes almost impossible and forced constant turn-overs. I wasn't cheering for them but I admit I enjoyed watching them. It opened my eyes to what a very tenacious, in-your-face- defense can accomplish.

    We've seen for two years what a disaster the "swarm" system can be. Carlyle can complain about the lack of compete but the collapsing system employed, which leaves the points and, at times, 3/4 of the zone free, effectively takes away any chance to compete. How do you demand a high level of compete while, at the same time, instructing your players NOT to engage the points and, instead, form a tight huddle in front of the net? Where is the safe out-let pass when you team-mates are standing beside you? Competing is engaging, not swinging by several feet away. I can understand the confusion, the frustration and Lupul finally having his say about it. Colleen

    1. Hi Colleen,

      you are right about the defensiv system and something has to happen here.
      But what most people seem not to see is that the problems on offence are not a bit smaller.
      Yes they can score. But how and why? There is a video on YouTube with all Leafs goals of last season. Watch it. I couldn't believe it is that bad. As a contrast watch the "all Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Goals 2014" Video. I can specify the problems if you want to. But there has to be a big change in their play in all three zones if there should be any chance to be better than last season.
      Mind boggling is that the coaches had no solution here. And that Carlyle, when speaking about offence, only had cryptic words constantly contradicting himself.

      They need to establish control in all three zones and on both sides of the puck.
      And they need to play with the puck.

      A final word for now.

      Carlyles beloved cycle is not the most effectiv weapon to create offence.

  14. In other news, it looks like Carlyle finally got his third line checking / PK specialist center (to replace the outgoing Bolland and McClement) with the acquisition of Daniel Winnik from Annaheim. This makes me happy as it tells me that Carlyle still has some say in roster decisions and he's not just a figurehead that has to do what the young 'stats guru' and Shannahan say. All the pieces are now in place. I'm starting to get excited about the next season. The dream is alive!

  15. I dunno guys: the way we're stockpiling forwards at the moment, I wonder if there's a big trade coming. While there's plenty of incisive commentary above about how Reimer's value is low at the mo, if he's bundled in a deal, he might get what he wants and head out.

    We now have an excess of NHL-calibre bottom 6 forwards; Winnipeg has a drastic shortage. We have an excess NHL-calibre goalie; Winnipeg doesn't have any worth the name. See where I'm going with this?

    1. Winnipeg would be a good destination for Reimer- whether there's a trade to be made, KiwiLeaf, I guess we'll see.

    2. Hey guys,

      they have 17 forwards know, mostly 14 make the roster.There are nearly no veterans on the Marlies in the moment. Smith will play for the Marlies I think Orr will play for the Marlies too and if Ashton is really ready I don't know. A lot of these guys are wildcards, I have high hopes for this group but it could go the other way. Booth injured again, Kontiola not adjusting ( I don't think he will have a problem but we can not know) and there is lesser depth.

      A trade with Winnipeg is possible because of Reimer and their situation. I think Franson should be traded but we will see.

      I think Shanahan talked to James and told him he wants him here, he told him they will try to trade him if he wants but Shanahan really wants to see what he can do.