In James Reimer, the Leafs found goaltending solution at home

So Dave Nonis held a small conference in Toronto this morning. No particular purpose I can see, just to update folks on the looming trade deadline and the Maple Leafs’ approach. There’s a full transcript at the Globe & Mail and I wanted to focus on Nonis’ comments about his team’s goaltenders.

Is adding experience in goal part of your thinking?

Nonis: Experience and depth. We feel like where we are with our goaltending with the Marlies as it’s been pretty good. But there’s not a lot of playoff experience with those goalies. We’d like to get them some… If we had someone there that played a lot of playoff games, some NHL playoff games, and was a real good third, then we wouldn’t be in the market at all. But having someone there that could help in the event that we would need them would just make sense for us. But I have to caution everybody that it’s only if it makes sense for us and if the price tag is reasonable. If not, we’re comfortable with what we have.

I’d doubt even Ben Scrivens is the place where the Maple Leafs need an upgrade. Scrivens is not waiver-exempt so you’d have to end up doing something with him, too and is he worth replacing for a veteran? The difference between a replacement-level goaltender (.910 even strength save percentage ) and an average goaltender (.920 even strength save percentage) over the four games Scrivens will presumably play for the rest of the season is approximately one goal. The only reason you’d do it is if you were convinced Reimer could use mentorship which I doubt.

The price for goaltenders is absurd considering that it’s voodoo to project their performance. Sure, all players have to perform a certain way, but if you went out and acquired a player like Alex Burmistrov or Keith Ballard, you could modify the way they’re deployed to optimize their minutes for their talents. All you can really do with a goalie is stick him in net and hope he makes saves, and there’s no way to account for systems or difficulty of minutes. Just make saves.

I still get tweets from Leafs fans looking for ways to swing deals for Roberto Luongo, and I still get tweets from desparate Canuck fans asking why the Leafs haven’t made the obvious choice to bring aboard a goaltender signed for 10 more seasons? Maybe at the start of the season I’d have entertained the possibility, but it’s become clear this season that James Reimer is a legitimate NHL starting goaltender if he can stay healthy, and his lone injury this season was not a concussion.

James Mirtle had a good article yesterday:

What makes that decision more divisive than it was back in training camp is that Reimer has, in his limited sample size, established himself as a more than capable No.1 goaltender.

After Saturday’s shutout, the 25-year-old former fourth-round pick is up among the league leaders in save percentage, sitting tied for eighth among goaltenders with 15 or more starts at .920.

Even more tellingly, his even-strength save percentage – which is generally more predictive of future success – has been .933, .918 and .926 in his first three seasons, putting him significantly above the average in a career that is approaching 100 games.

The numbers also appear to have been trending upward ever since Reimer recovered from a concussion early last season.

You can break up Reimer’s even strength numbers like this, looking at his “pre-concussion” stage in 2011 and the first six games of the 2012 season, and his “post-concussion” stage for when he probably returned too soon last season and struggled mightily down the stretch.

However, he was declared “symptom-free since April” (yikes) and has been absolutely lights out to start the season. Look at his even strength save numbers:

  Shots Against Saves EV SV%
2011 + Pre-Concussion 1059 989 0.934
2010 Post-Concussion 669 611 0.913
2013 551 510 0.926

Consider that anything in the .920 to .922 is the “average goalie” range and anything closer to .930 is close to stardom. While I don’t think there’s enough sample size for us to declare James Reimer an emerging superstar, he’s played like one, but his numbers may eventually settle at around the .925 or .926 range indicating a very good, above-average NHL starting goaltender.

So there’s no reason for the Leafs to go after a Luongo or a Miikka Kiprusoff or a Ryan Miller or whichever goaltender on an expensive contract is deemed to be available at this time. Reimer has another year left at $1.8-million, becomes a restricted free agent at that point and will probably make money similar to what Devan Dubnyk or Cory Schneider got from Edmonton or Vancouver. The Leafs future in goal looks good for another year unless something drastically changes, and the present has been wonderful for Toronto this season.

Other than that, Nonis waffled about patience and all that, but he doesn’t seem like a GM who feels like he needs to upgrade in net. There’s no reason for the Leafs to upgrade in net. The assumption that the Leafs need Luongo at this point is mythmaking at this point, and, I’ve begun to notice recently, more often than not perpetuated by Vancouver media types who don’t seem to realize that James Reimer has been establishing himself as a strong NHL starter over the last three seasons.

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  • SiSmith

    I find the position on Reimer hard to understand given what advanced stats are saying. I agree going with Reimer and Scrivens into the playoffs. But the PDO measure you mention indicates the leaf SV% (and SH% needs to drop) because they were getting too lucky.

    It seems at times people may choose to follow what advanced stats are saying (leafs will regress). And other time like now with Reimer people ignore what PDO maybe suggesting about his SV%.

    • The problem is that you don’t seem to understand what PDO is.

      “Advanced stats” (which aren’t actually advanced) and goaltending are two completely separate things. If a goalie is playing with a consistently high save percentage after some time, he’s more likely to stick around there.

      • Well continuing with the thinking here – if the leafs are not getting “lucky” from goaltending then it must be because of elevated SH%? SH% like SV% is near top in the league at 11%.

        So the regression to the mean you talk about will not come from a collapse in goaltending but a collapse in goal scoring. This means players like Lupul, Frattin, Bozak, Kadri (and Mcclement) will all score less going forward as their SH% regresses to the mean. I also see that Kessel is underperforming his SH% so he is due for a few more goals.

        The problem I see is that you don’t know when the collapse will occur – this season, playoff or next season. Also if bad gaoltending is the reason for the leafs struggles then the stats won’t be so predictive or useful. Let’s see what the future holds.

  • Great article Cam Charron. Where have I seen your name before? The Score? Anyways you are bang on with your James Reimer assessment and there is something to be said for giving a goalie a dedicated stretch of time where they are the starter. Reimer is a very unique goaltender and I beieve the fine tuning with more games played will serve him very well. An astute goalie coach in my opinion could elevate him to that superstar level which you seemed to suggest is attainable for him; if you believe that I obviously agree as well.

    My stats may be off now but I recently checked after Reimer’s last win in Boston and against the playoff seeded teams, excluding the number 3 Southeast division seed, he is a 935 save percentage.

    James Reimer is the definition of a diamond in the rough and he is already shining. Amazing article outlining the broken logic in picking up goaltenders with resumes of past performance. It is just not reliable in today’s game.

    If you have an email I’d love to shoot you a message sometime about league happenings and invoke some good discussion. Take care.

  • FlareKnight

    True, I don’t think they need to outright upgrade in net right now. The goaltending has been good enough to carry on. Though I would look into upgrading what we have on the Marlies and looking towards the future. What’s bothered Reeimer injury-wise hasn’t been constantly the same thing, but he has been getting hurt on a regular basis.

    Though I like Reimer as a goalie and personality. Just feel like we need to be making sure we have help coming down the road.

    Agree going after some big vet doesn’t make any sense, though.