James “the Real Deal” Reimer

William Wilson April 21, 2013 25
James Reimer take a pause between playPhoto by Mark Blinch/Reuters

We’ve all heard the story.

Toronto hasn’t seen a good goalie since the days of Ed Belfour. The experiments with Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson all proved spectacular failures. J.S. Giguere was never healthy enough to get the job done. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are too young and inexperienced to survive in a market like this - they’ll get eaten alive.

The only possible solution – one apparent to everyone except Leafs Nation – rests in Roberto Luongo and his bloated contract. If anyone has the psychological fortitude to last in Toronto, it’s him.

I’m sorry, Mike Gillis, we don’t need or want your garbage. There’s a new story being written here. It stars Reimer.

Even the casual hockey fan is aware of Reimer’s sometimes turbulent tenure in Toronto. He burst onto the scene in December 2010, quickly overtaking Giguere and Gustavsson as the team’s top goaltender. The Leafs almost made the playoffs with him in net.

In 35 starts that season, he recorded 20 wins against 10 regulation loses and 5 overtime loses. He also posted 3 shutouts, a .921 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average. All of these stats would be very impressive for a veteran, let alone a rookie.

Hence, the 2011-2012 season began under great expectations. Toronto finally had its man – Reimer would take us back to the Promised Land. The new season began as expected. Reimer raced out to a 4-1 start, posting a shutout in the season opener against Montreal.

Things took a turn for the worst, however, during the sixth game of the season. A blindside elbow from Montreal captain Brian Gionta would force Reimer onto the shelf for over two months. In the meantime, bizarre speculation spread about the true state of his injury, including an unwarranted phone call to his mother.

Reimer never completely regained his form that season. He finished the season with 14 wins, 14 regulation loses and 4 overtime loses. His save percentage dropped to .900 while his goals against average climbed to 3.10. In short, Reimer – and Leafs Nation by extension – was thoroughly deflated.

When former general manage Brian Burke decided to begin the current season with Reimer and Scrivens in net, he took a lot of slake. “Reimer’s a flash in the pan. Scrivens is a career AHLer,” the critics argued.

The Leafs’ rough start to the current season seemed to prove the critics right. An early knee injury to Reimer pushed things toward the brink.

“Now what? Your guy is gone,” the critics continued.

Burke was gone as well. He didn’t last long enough to see the season start. Dave Nonis took over the general manager duties before the first puck dropped.

Nonis’ connection to Vancouver reignited talks about a possible trade involving Luongo, but once again, the Canucks’ asking price was just too high. (Gillis never did learn that one important lesson from Kenny Rogers – he keeps playing a weak hand, which will see a very interesting off-season unfold in Vancouver.)

As the trade deadline passed, it was clear that the Leafs really had no other options than Reimer and Scrivens. Fortunately, they didn’t need any other options either.

Reimer returned from his knee injury without any real difficulty. He even picked up some steam after the trade deadline, going 5-2-1 since April 3rd. This included a pair of key matchups against NHL veterans Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist, but Reimer saved his best for last Saturday.

He helped the Leafs clinch a playoff spot for the first time in nine years by stopping 49 shots from the Ottawa Senators. That’s the highest number of saves posted by any goalie in the NHL this season.

As the Leafs set out on this new chapter in the team’s history, they’re being led by Reimer. He’s proven himself a winner and now it’s time to turn the page on the doubters.

The Leafs have finally found their replacement for Belfour. He’s a young, quiet man who has nothing in common with Belfour other than a strong desire to win and the talent to make it happen. Bring on the playoffs.

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