Leafs Nation round table – Should a goalie be Burke’s priority?

This may be an extended offseason, so to break up the time, some of the writers on TLN are exchanging emails to each other, discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL hockey as whole. Today’s topic is whether or not the Leafs ought to make it a priority to acquire a goaltender, or if they ought to focus on building the roster first.

From: Cam Charron
To: JP Nikota, Ryan Fancey
Subj: Priorities

I mostly want to ask JP this question because we had a mini-discussion in a comment thread earlier this week about the Leafs’ priorities. I think the priority for Brian Burke ought to be to acquire another defenceman, but JP suggested that they need a goalie.

My worry is that if the team gets a goalie and starts winning a few games, they may become one of those teams that doesn’t try to improve in any other area. I think Nik Backstrom has been one of the best, most consistent goalies in the NHL over the last few years but it hasn’t helped Minnesota one iota in making the playoffs. It happens every few years, but it’s not a recipe for sustained success.

When Dave Nonis took over Vancouver, he emphasized a philosophy in building “from the net out”. In 2006-07, his first “real” year in Vancouver was when he acquired Roberto Luongo and had very little else. It was a one-line team that was never going to go anywhere meaningful, although they did win a playoff round before getting whipped by the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks.

It took until 2010 when the team was actually a good enough puck-possession team to really compete, and that took a lot of development and savvy acquisitions, but the three-year waiting period wasted two of Luongo’s prime years in Vancouver. I know it isn’t sexy, but I think having 18 good skaters in place before getting the final piece in a goaltender is more important than getting a good goalie and then relying on him to steal a few games before you figure out what’s wrong with the team. With James Reimer’s strong back half of 2011, it took us a whole extra 40 games before it became common knowledge Keith Aulie wasn’t a real NHLer.

Plus, I think that James Reimer finds his place in the NHL. By all indications, he’s healthy and ready to compete. When I was on TSN Radio on Monday (plug) the host Arnie Spanier made a good point, in that no player should lose his job due to injury. Not counting Luongo, who will cost the team assets it can’t afford to move, I don’t think there’s an available upgrade who you can guarantee will perform better than Reimer this upcoming season.


From: JP Nikota
To: Cam Charron, Ryan Fancey
Subj: RE: Priorities

I can’t justify refusing to improve the team because the GM might wind up screwing it up later with completely unrelated moves. Brian Burke is at the stage of a “rebuild” where his team needs to be improved, and should be, anytime he can.

In fact, let’s leave the goaltending aside for a minute. The Leafs don’t need to score any more goals than they already do – they need to prevent a lot more of them. I think we can all agree on this. But when Burke was offered JvR for Schenn, he had to make the deal, because it just made sense. More pieces can be moved to patch holes, but Schenn wasn’t critical to the Leafs’ ‘D’ corps, and so could be replaced. If the Leafs can move non-critical parts for Luongo, they’d be crazy not to.

In a perfect world, James Reimer would get another chance to show the world that he can be a great number one goaltender without a platoon partner, but the reality of the situation is that Burke would be stupid not to get some insurance in net if it’s affordable.

I think you’re right to say that, beyond Luongo, there really aren’t any goaltenders that are (known to be) viable options to trade for, so failing a deal for Bobby Lu, Leafs fans should content themselves with a Reimer/Scrivens tandem for next season. And they should already start thinking about 2013-14.

From: Ryan Fancey
To: JP Nikota, Cam Charron
Subj: Priorities

The only thing I’d add, and JP basically said it, is that Burke would be dumb to roll the dice on Reimer. What if we get to December and we’re floating around .903 goaltending? Season goes in the tank and Burke gets fired next summer for sure. I just can’t believe he has the balls to go in to another season like that.

If he went and got Luongo or anyone with a good past and they still missed the playoffs, at least we could say he did everything possible to improve the team and it just didn’t happen. If Reimer and Scrivens are s—, how can you not fire him?