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After all this time, I’m still a Reimer guy….

As we have discussed here many times before, there is nothing like the scent of fall and a new season to bring back our “hope” when it comes to the Maple Leafs.  We’re all well aware of the travails of this organization since they/we last won a playoff round more than ten years ago. There is no real need to rehash the history. We can simply say there have been some nice moments, some talented players, and yes, many times when it looked as though the team was in fact turning a corner.

For a host of reasons, it just never quite happened.

But here we sit, as the Leafs kick off their exhibition season tonight (the league can call them pre-season games; they will always be exhibition games for me…), and, well, hope is rekindled yet again.

There is hope because maybe, just maybe, Shanahan’s plan unfolding. There is hope because of Babcock, because someone who has actually built championship teams (Lamoriello) is also on hand.

Hope around the actual roster itself?  Maybe not, but we know Babcock will create an atmosphere that will push this squad to win on nights when they probably shouldn’t. And there are prospects on the way, eh?

We also know this: there will always be surprises, positive ones. There always are at this time of year.  Now, I will add that we should not get our heads turned (though we will) by the performance of players in pre-season who show better than we anticipated, or that we didn't know much about beforehand. This happens every autumn, and it’s a good thing.

That said, it’s often the case that these training camp impressions don’t last. They are nice, but fleeting.

There are really several seasons within the NHL schedule: training camp, exhibition games, early season, the January/February stretch, the late winter/early spring run to the playoffs and finally, the playoffs.

The players who are really helping their team when it counts the most typically show up best during those last two parts of the season. But that’s not to discount that every game is important, and the “pre-season” is as well, in terms of sometimes setting a tone.

So where will this particular Leaf squad draw their hope from (besides Babcock), when things get tough during the 2015-’16 NHL season?

For a possible answer I look at the goal crease, and choose to believe that the Leafs have guys who can carry them (if healthy) through whatever hockey storms will inevitably arise.

I’ve come to appreciate Jonathan Bernier here in his time in Toronto.  But I remain someone who still admires what James Reimer brings to the table.

I recognize that I have been very clear here in the past that I was not especially thrilled with Reimer’s role (and how we was perceived within the organization and utilized by the coaching staff) from the time the Leafs traded for Bernier more than two years ago.  I often suggested it would be best to trade him—at least get something of substance in return for a still young netminder who could vie for the top job elsewhere.  It would also have allowed him to start fresh and hopefully boost his confidence.

I still believe that may have been best for both parties, but given that it never happened, Reimer is here; still the dutiful back-up, still fighting, no doubt, to try and prove himself to yet another new coaching staff.

It’s a bit hard to believe Reimer is now 27 and first played with the Leafs during the 2010-’11 season. That seems like ages ago, and in Leaf years, I guess it is.  I’m thinking he may be one of the more veteran Leafs, if not in age then certainly in terms of seniority and how long he has been with the organization (drafted in 2006).

Reimer has struggled at times during his years in Toronto, for sure. And he may have been unhappy with Bernier essentially (in my view) being handed the number one job two years ago. But I also think he has played some very good hockey and has handled himself with a lot of class during his time here.  He has been available to the media in good times and bad, has always presented himself as a guy who would face his critics (And we know he has indeed faced his share of caustic commentary as the team struggled around him.)

When he first came here he was, from a fan’s perspective, a breath of fresh air. He was young, hopeful, eager, hard working and seemingly always smiling. And he played awfully well at times.

Time, years and life wear on all of us.  But I’m glad Reimer is still here. And I believe that whether he is “number one” or “number two”, he can be a guy that makes a solid contribution in goal—and in the dressing room as well. He has seen the highs and lows of being a Leaf in this market. He knows how the media operates and how the fan base can react.  He has seen countless teammates go and go.

He also knows this can be the best hockey city in the world to play in, if this organization, and this team, ever gets it all going.

Bottom line? I’d be happy if Reimer was part of any turnaround that lies ahead for the blue and white.


  1. Based on an admittedly very small sample size, I'd say both goalies may thrive with the improved team defence we saw glimpses of in tonight's exhibition games. At this point I have no idea whether Bernier or Reimer should be our #1 - there's not a goalie in the league who could've shone with last year's Leafs - but I feel we'll finally be able to judge them fairly. As far as I know him, I like James as a person. His tendency to give up fat rebounds, however, is a continuous problem for me. Perhaps having D and back checking forwards there to help clear them - a novelty for Reimer, to be sure - may make a big difference, but for now I'd have to give Bernier the edge.
    One thing's certain - I'm looking forward to seeing how this team develops. Despite all our recent pratfalls, this time it feels like the right moves are being made, the right people are in charge, and a truly competitive team is on its way.

    1. I think both goalies can have an impact while the team finds its identity, Gerund. I've always liked Reimer because he has played hard and represented the organization well through some difficult times. Bernier has played a lot of good hockey through two difficult seasons.

      To your last point, yes, the team is hopefully moving in the right direction!

  2. Hi Michael,

    I hope that you and yours have had a wonderful offseason, call it summer if you will. I agree with the overall sentiment of both your post, and of Mr O'Malley's comment. I see the team moving in the right direction. It's so nice to have competition for spots on the team. I believe we have talked before about the former regimes desire to have Bernier as the starting goalie. I was very pleased to hear Coach Babcock state very plainly that the guy who plays best will be the starting goalie for our Maple Leafs. It seems so odd to reflect on a time when that wasn't the case. That people in the front office had a rooting interest in something other than the best performance earning the crease.

    I was personally more than a little insulted to find out that Phil Kessel lost 15 pounds this offseason, and is in the best shape of his life. Too bad really that this kind of commitment was nowhere to be found when he was a Leaf, eh?

    Back to the team. Lots of new faces in the two preseason games, some familiar ones too. I liked lots of things in the games. The hustle up and down the lineup was evident to me, in a preseason game nonetheless. There are lots of spots on this team for players to step up and make a name for themselves. Very few spots are a given this season.

    I don't expect very much in the standings this year. It's fine by me if there is some pain as the team gets farther along the path to greatness, and a return to glory. I am looking forward to watching games this year where I have no questions about the motivations of the team , the players work ethic, or the decision making of the coaching staff.

    Welcome back Leaf Nation, it's ok to be a fan again.

    1. Good to connect again, Jim.

      It may turn out to be a very good thing that Leaf fans have modest expectations heading into a new season. And I agree, there are plenty of jobs on the line. It will certainly be interesting to see how training camp plays out, and who makes the early season roster.

      They key acquisition is indeed Babcock, and that will translate into more consistent effort.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I'm not sure either Reimer or Bernier is the answer long term in goal. I don't blame them for that however, that lies with past team management. You may recall that I too have been quite critical of how the team has handled Reimer, even before Bernier came aboard anointed as the starter. Beyond that, it's been hard to determine the actual quality of the two considering the type of defense played in front of them. Babcock promises a fair, open competition, and I believe him. He also promises the goalies will be able to see where the pucks are coming from in his defensive system, and yes I believe him there too. Quite honestly, if Shanahan and Babcock's Leafs develop according to the vision they profess, I am betting that either goalie will do a more than adequate job. If one of them can really stand out above the other, then that is who they will need to steal a few extra games when they matter, a couple years from now.

    1. Well said, Pete. I believe there have been times in the past when both have played for a time like a true "number one". As you say, whoever plays better will get the nod. Both are capable and a better approach to team defense can't hurt.

  4. Last year I was really excited and looking forward to the new season. I didn't believe all the analysts who predicted the Leafs would miss the playoffs. Going into Decemeber the Leafs were riding a six game winning streak and near the top of the east and I really thought the Leafs had turned the corner. But then the Leafs mid-season collapse happened only a little sooner and a little worse than most years.

    This year I am back to reality and realize there will be a few years of pain. After 48 years of watching mismanagement I have no problem with pain as long as this time they do an actual rebuild and there are actual results a few years from now. I like the prospects in the system and I like the way the organization is being rebuilt. They are spending a lot of money including strength trainers and GPS tracking of the players.

    The only thing I am worried about now are all these rumors coming out that Lamorella wants to bring Zajac to the Leafs in a deal involving Kadri or JVR. I can't believe they would be that stupid but then again it is the Leafs so you never know what to expect. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

    1. It feels as though Leaf supporters have pretty modest expectations for the season, Alton. My guess is we want to see effort- and progress in terms of how the team plays.

      Not sure what to make of trade rumours. Maybe things have been too quiet in Leafland and the media needs to speculate...

    2. Hello Fellow VLM'ers,

      The Leafs have done such a good job of shutting down the leaks from within the organization that we all better get used to these wild speculations. In this case its about Zajac. Next time the Leafs will be taking back Clarkson...ha ha ha.

      The only way NJ is going to be able to dump Zajac is if they include a 1st round pick - which doesn't make sense for them as they won't be contending before Zajac's contract is done and it falls off the books


    3. I'm pretty sure Lamoriello is not a "leaks" guy, Wayne, so you're no doubt right- outsiders will have to provide a lot of the speculation!

  5. Hi Michael,

    I never liked the Bernier deal.

    Reimer was fantastic when he first appeared at the end of the 10/11 season.
    He was fantastic in 2013 especially in the Playoffs and I didn't understand why they haven't trusted him to be the number one. They should have given him a chance.

    I don't believe in Bernier and the team plays better with James in net.

    But when I first read this my Initial thought was: anyway, the net is not where our problem is.

    WOW! Was I wrong! Who would have thought that our goalies will be the weak link this year?

    James has a chance now and I hope he will stick with it . I am happy for him.