The Rise And Fall (And Rise?) Of James Reimer


Editor’s Note: 1. This is our first entrant in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join. 2. THIS IS IMPORTANT: It was written before last night’s Reimer Resurrection.

By Dave McClelland @dbmcclelland

Until the end of October, James Reimer had been having an amazing year. The 24 year-old netminder came out of nowhere to wrestle the Leafs starting goaltender position away from Jonas Gustavsson and veteran J.S. Giguere. He even managed to win the hearts and minds of fickle, cynical Leafs fans, earning nicknames like Optimus Reim and the Reiminister of Defence. He even began the 2011 season by shutting out the rival Montreal Canadiens.

But it didn’t last.

Playing again against the Canadiens on October 22, Montreal winger Brian Gionta collided with Reimer, who left the game after the first period, to be replaced by Gustavsson. The rest is familiar history to Leafs fans, with Reimer out for over a month with concussion-like symptoms, and a less-than-triumphant return, posting just three wins in 17 starts since coming back on December 3.

Editor’s Note: Glen Healy saying that James Reimer was being theatrical. Fuck that guy.

And while Reimer has definitely looked shakey since his return, I wanted to try to quantify his play, and see how his pre- and post-injury goals against compared. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do, as there aren’t really any advanced stats for goalies yet, so there’s no real way to judge the quality of his play statistically beyond save percentage. Though my internal baseball fan insisted that I could probably make something up by multiplying three unrelated things together and then dividing by a fourth, I decided that wasn’t the best approach. So instead, I watched all the goals that had been scored against him this year, and classified them one of three ways.

First, there are "soft" goals. These are goals that I feel most NHL goalies should have stopped, like long, unscreened shots, or shots with minimal passing. Next, there are "good" goals, those that probably would have gone in on most goalies, generally due to good puck movement or rebound control. Finally, there are goals scored due to defensive error, most often a defencemen chasing the puck or abandoning the shooting lane on a penalty kill. Obviously, this is pretty subjective, but I’ve been watching hockey long enough to have some idea of what is and isn’t a good goal.

So what did I learn? Two things: first, watching the replays for that many goals against the Leafs is rather depressing. But secondly, and more importantly, while Reimer hasn’t been great, he may not have been as bad as we think. Here’s the numbers I came up with:

  Soft goals Good goals Defensive errors
Pre-injury 3 8 3
Post-injury 12 14 11

Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a pretty small sample size here, especially his pre-injury numbers. But I think we can get some sense of how things have changed. In October, most of the goals he allowed were either good or caused by a defensive miscue. After returning from injury, nearly a third of the goals he’s given up looked stoppable. But what really struck me is how many goals I was able to blame on the Leafs defence. There was a time, looking at mid-to-late-December games, where I couldn’t believe how often the defence left Reimer hanging.

Of course, this brings up shades of last season with Gustavsson, where the team often seemed to lose confidence in him, and played poorly in front of him. Reimer hasn’t looked particularly sharp, to be sure, as he often gets caught deep in his crease, and opponents have exposed his glove side as a massive weak spot in recent months, but I have to wonder if part of the problem is how the rest of the Leafs deal with below-average goaltending. Good teams find ways to win even when they don’t have every part working, and it is somewhat troubling to see this happening to two different goaltenders. I’d have to do a similar comparison of Gustavsson’s recent stretch of solid play and his struggles last season to get a better idea of how the team reacts to each of their struggles.

So, while Reimer has certainly not been the goalie he was in the second half of the 2010-11 season, I think there’s some evidence to suggest that the Leafs, as a team, need to do more to support their goaltenders when they struggle. As much as anything, this is probably yet another sign of a young, maturing team, and something that they will probably work out in time.

Reimer thanks his dad for the help with the posts.

Editor’s Note: Dave’s worries clearly struck a chord with Reimer and he proved his mettle.

  • Danny Gray

    One thing that definitely stands out was his dreadful PK SV% upon his return. With the Leafs allowing fewer PP opportunities, and Reimer having a superior ES SV%, he’ll have us all saying Gus who? in no time.

  • Danny Gray

    The thing I don’t like is your qualification to judge whether it was a “soft” goal or not. You’ve watched hockey whoopdeedoo. You haven’t been in net so you don’t know some little things that most people miss. I would want to see each goal and why you categorized it the way you did, before I accepted your stats. Now if you had someone who has a lot of experience both scouting goalies and playing as one (I’m thinking Justin from the goalieguild) I would accept it wihtout second guessing it, but as a goalie myself I don’t trust people to judge goalies until they prove they can do it accurately.

    Also I don’t see the point in splitting up “good goals” and Defensive error goals as to judging a goalie they are the same thing.

    They are either goals a goalie should be expected to save (Soft goals) or a goal where the goalie didn’t have a chance. Whether this is because the other team made a good play or your own team made a bad one its still on the goalie as a goal he had no chance of stopping.

    • The Goalie Guild to the rescue. On the vast majority of goals, I would trust people that have watched enough hockey to say if it’s soft or not. I don’t think you need to be an ex-goalie in order to figure out that a shot between the arm and the body is generally soft for examples.

      I think the split between good goals and defensive errors is helpful because it differentiates between goals that are a result of a good play by the opposition.

      • Danny Gray

        I would agree a hockey fan can pick up on 90-95% of goals but that 5-10% are the tricky ones that I wouldn’t trust people blindly about. Even just this season for Reimer that could be as many as 5 goals miscounted. That could greatly shift how he looks. It could be the difference between 10/51 goals being bad vs 20/51 (he’s at 15/51 right now above).

        And the split does help when it comes down to judging the defense and the rest of the team but when we are looking at goalies in a vacuum it doesn’t matter. Now if we were looking at how the Leafs played in front of Reimer vs Gus that would be an important distinction. But for the argument of whether Reimer has been letting in soft goals since he’s been back it is irrelevant imo.

        • I guess I see your point in terms of not counting defensive breakdowns if it’s just a comparison between two goalies but in this case he’s comparing Reimer to a previous incarnation of Reimer. That at least cuts out some of the worry of the standards shifting.

          As for the three categories, I prefer them because when I play goalie in soccer that’s pretty much how I judge my play.

    • Yeah, that’s why I took care to note that this is a very subjective analysis. My goal was essentially to come up with an opinion piece supported by some numbers to quantify my thoughts. I’m not claiming to be a goaltending expert, but I have watched a lot of hockey from an analytical perspective (I covered a lot of CIS hockey in university).

      As for the difference between good goals and defensive errors, I was basically looking to see if a defending player had made a glaring mistake, most often chasing the puck and leaving a man open. Good goals, on the other hand, were simply the result of good play by the attacking team, where the defence didn’t do anything that was obviously wrong.

      Again, I realize this can only be a limited analysis at best, due to my own abilities, sample size, and such, not to mention the awful quality of replays.

      • I think my problem with it was that you used such a subjective analysis to try and prove a point. I think because this is 100% a personal opinion piece on his play but it comes across as a analysis piece bothers me. Maybe its just because I’ve gotten used to all the quantitative stats that it irks me and I thought the actual writing was well done, but the subject matter bothers me as a goalie.

        And like I replied to PPP. Whether a good play or a defensive breakdown doesn’t matter to a goalie. Either they had a chance to stop the puck or they didn’t. If you had expanded on it to a comparison to how the team plays in front of each goalie it would be different but for a piece about “good” vs “bad” goals it was an unecessary addition.

        • That’s a very good point, and I guess I should have explained my logic a bit better. I was really looking for defensive miscues that caused Reimer to have little or no chance of making a save. So a giveaway that leads to a series of passes and then goes in is a good goal, while a giveaway to an attacker at point blank range is a defensive error. Basically I was trying to separate out bad goals where it looked like Reimer was mostly at fault from goals where the rest of the team has the blame. Again, not a perfect system, but the lack of any advanced goaltending stats makes it tough to do this kind of evaluation.

  • CdnBarbarian

    Good article, I agree (mostly) that Reimer has been better than his numbers might suggest, and I form that opinion based on my own watching experience (I don’t very often miss a game, if I do, all available highlights are throughly disected).

    Anyway the one comment I have is your breakdown of the types of goals, I’m fine with the methodology, I’d be more interested in seeing goals/game instead of just a sum total, because a sum total doesn’t really tell me much without some context. Admittidly, I’m being lazy as I could just go check how many games were pre and post injury. Anyway, that’s my only critizim of this article.