Dubnyk, Reimer or Schneider? Part I

Big things are expected from James Reimer this season, but he’s third in our rankings.
Image courtesy Brendan Hoare.

Earlier this summer, I asked independent goalie scout and hockey writer Justin Goldman (AKA The Goalie Guild) for his take on who was likely to have the best career among James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk and Cory Schneider. He told me he liked all of them, but that at gunpoint he’d go with Cory Schneider. As a Canucks fan I was happy to hear that, but I was unsatisfied by the 140 character limit answer – I needed to know why. So I e-mailed him, and asked if he’d be interested in discussing the matter further with me. What follows is the elaborate answer I was looking for. Today we profile: James Reimer. 

James Reimer: what does he do well, and what does he need to work on?

James Reimer is extremely confident in his abilities. He’s thick-skinned, and has a lot of faith in himself. Those qualities compensate for his slight lack of mobility. Also, he’s well-suited for Francois Allaire’s teaching of the “blocking” save. Reimer relies on positioning to make himself big, but obviously isn’t the quickest goalie, especially when compared to a guy like Dubnyk or Schneider, it’s just not at the same level.

When I’m talking about each goalie’s skill set, I’m relating it to just these other two goalies, not to the general pro goaltender. So in comparison to Dubnyk and Schneider, I see Reimer as the least mobile, and the one with the least amount of agility. With Reimer, he’s a big goaltender who has to rely more on his size and positioning to make saves, whereas Schneider and Dubnyk – though they’re also big goaltenders – possess more quickness and agility.

As for what Reimer needs to work on – rebound control, but that’s an element that comes with experience, and he’ll improve in that area as he plays more games at the NHL level. Because he’s a bit less experienced than Dubnyk and Schneider, he just needs to play more and learn how to read plays better at the NHL level. He still has a lot to learn, but for right now, he’s last on that list.

The thing about Reimer is that he jumped right into the fire. It’s not like with Schneider where he watched Luongo for a year, then got a chance to be a full blown backup. He was just thrust into the NHL, and didn’t have a lot of time to make the transition – and that’s a massive step for a goalie to take so suddenly. It is not easy to step into a Maple Leafs jersey, and be counted on to win game after game and put the team in the playoffs. So for what he accomplished, he should be regarded as quite the impressive talent.

Reimer’s slow glove-hand – fact, or fiction?

It’s a bit of both. It’s a bit over-analyzed in Toronto because many analysts pick apart a goalie’s games up there to the microscopic level.

Reimer’s glove hand may not be the quickest, but having a strong glove hand is more about experience than anything else. It’s about getting into more games, and seeing more glove-side shots from NHL shooters. As the season went on, you started to see Reimer make those small adjustments with the positioning of his glove hand – and he got better.

Reimer’s big issue with his glove hand is that sometimes he relies on the blocking save selection too much. What makes a blocking save effective is knowing when to block, and when to rely on reactions. Too many times on shots to the glove side, Reimer wasn’t reacting naturally. He was keeping his glove hand back and tight to his body, and just letting the puck hit his hand. He wasn’t able to just make the natural, fleet, free-flowing reaction save with his glove hand, instead he was tense, and tight, and reverting into that blocking stance. Instead of trying to actually catch the puck, he was just trying to get his body behind it, letting the puck hit his glove. And too many times, he couldn’t control, absorb or stop the shot.

That’s how I’d break down Reimer’s glove-hand. It wasn’t as bad as the press made it out to be, and it’ll get better as time goes on. He’ll make better decisions in terms of when to be in the blocking stance, and when to just react naturally, let his god-given talent take over and make more fluid reaction glove saves.

Can Reimer sustain last season’s performance?

The biggest thing about coming into your sophomore season as a pro goaltender is being able to extend what you did in your rookie season now that teams have scouted you, and now that you have to manage and live up to these higher expectations. And with Reimer, the expectations are extremely high.

Everyone in Leafs Nation, and even fans outside of Toronto, expect that same .924 save percentage. It would be – I don’t want to say a miracle – but I would be extremely impressed if he was able to sustain that level of play for 82 games.

There are a lot of different hurdles that a goaltender has to get over in their sophomore season. Scouting is one of them, and durability is another. Can he handle a heavy workload for not just 35 games, but for 80 games? So when you get past the scouting and durability aspects, the last thing is handling the mental pressures that come with high expectations. If Reimer has a couple of bad games, will he be able to bounce back like he did last season? All those different things he was able to accomplish from January to April – he has to find a way to duplicate that success.

When you’re talking about the odds of him doing that – I don’t think the odds are that high – just because he has to achieve such a high level of success. Whether it’s fair or not, Reimer has set the bar extremely high for himself, and although I don’t think he’s going to be as statistically successful as he was last season, I do think he will improve in many areas of the game.

As a scout, I don’t necessarily look at whether or not he made the playoffs, I just look at the development of his game on the ice. I think that overall he’ll be a better goaltender by season’s end. He will certainly mature as an athlete as well.

Until last season, Reimer hadn’t played more than 30 games in 5 years. How does an extreme jump in workload tend to impact a young net-minder?

It can work in two ways. Some goalies rely on being in a rhythm; the more shots that they face, the more comfortable they feel, and the better they play.

That’s what you see with a goalie like Tomas Vokoun. The only reason he was able to posta . 920 save percentage and above in Florida is because he’s seeing so many shots, he’s used to it, and he’s been doing it year after year. So for Reimer – knowing that he’s not used to playing every game – it’s going to be a big task to see how consistent he can be, and how he manages his energy level.

One thing I notice with Reimer is that he’s pretty even-keeled with his demeanour; he doesn’t get to high, he doesn’t get too low, and he’s really good at shaking off goals. Last season, he was able to mentally press that reset button after a loss, and he was almost always able to bounce back. His mental toughness is one of the reasons why he was so successful.

Also because he does make a lot of “blocking” saves, I don’t think durability will necessarily be as much of an issue as being able to shake off the bad games. The “blocking” save is an economical way to stop the puck. You’re not all over the place, you’re not flopping around – you’re pretty centered in your net. Reimer plays deeper in his crease, and with that wide stance, thrives on that size and his ability to make himself big in the net.

Reimer’s personality, religious background and the mental side.

You have to be honest with all goaltenders. I’m sure that Schneider and Dubnyk have faith, and support from their families and somewhat similar backgrounds – but for whatever reason, Reimer seems to be developing this aura about him.

The fans just love who he is, they love his personality, they respond to his smile, they admire his work ethic. Even though most NHL goaltenders have some of these various things about them, just the way that Reimer carries himself both on and off the ice – he’s a lovable character and everyone roots for him.

It’s almost like he has this little extra padding about him – so if he does struggle, the fans are still going to cheer him on, which is totally different from a goaltender like Roberto Luongo, who lets in one bad goal and everyone starts hating on him. So yes, I think that’s definitely a huge advantage for Reimer. It’s not like he has to win every single game, he just needs to find a way to be durable, bounce back and find a way to get over these commonplace sophomore hurdles.

His faith and all these things we’ve learned about him in terms of his personality, that’s definitely more important than his skillset. You can teach a goalie certain skills, but you can’t teach the type of demeanour he has, and that does set him apart from other goalies.

The “Reimer, Dubnyk or Schneider?” series continues tomorrow at Oilersnation!

  • I liked the last answer the most. I think that that’s an astute observation for at least this year. Fans really like Reimer because he is so damn likable and we’re more than ready to make excuses for him.

    Contrast that to Luongo’s often surly attitude and you understand why Canucks fans don’t give him as much leeway.

  • Yeah, as a Canucks fan and full-time Luongo apologist, I do think Luu gets too much crap, all things considered. But we’re humans, so our nature is to be (perhaps unduly) influenced by that sort of thing.

    Having watched a fair bit of Reimer – I have a certain unscientific belief in his mental “core of steel.” As Justin said, Reimer’s demeanour and personality may well allow him to transcend his particular physical “limitations.”

    • Yes Luu does indeed get to much of the blame for the knucks. He is a great goaltender,and will rebound just fine.
      His style of game makes me wonder though. A tender of his size needs to move a little bit better. The blocking game now is making a slow change over to much more of a hybrid style of play.
      Goaltender schools need to look at what they are teaching these days? Tim Thomas made us all look like we way over teach these young tenders.
      Blocking and Hybrid? Lets talk about this goaltender guys?

      Anthony Micucci

  • Give this kid a chance. Being from Buffalo NY, and right across the border being a huge Leafs fan. What else do we have to lose as Leafs fans?
    This tender played very well,for a club that was at a non elite level.
    Sure he has his issues. But what goaltender has really stepped up for Leafs nation in the last six to eight years?
    The kid competes hard every game,dealing with a very tough crowd up there. Lets go Leafs and enjoy.