Is there a rift between James Reimer and Randy Carlyle?

It’s been a wild week for James Reimer. First, he called out his team after their performance against Florida, re-iterating that there is no room for excuses. The money line was right at the end of his rant: “All you can focus on is what you yourself can do to get prepared and then be your best, and trust that your teammate across from you is doing the same thing”

Reimer came out and had a great game a couple of days later against Phoenix. His start was an odd one, since typically coach Randy Carlyle has switched goalies after losses. It came out after the game that Jonathan Bernier had been nursing an injury, and Carlyle had let the injury dictate his choice on the goaltender ahead of one of Reimer’s better starts of the season. 

That’s not a reason for #TeamReimer to complain, but you could argue that Carlyle prematurely pulled Reimer against Detroit after a brutal first period from the Maple Leafs that saw the team down 3-1 after the first. Glenn Healy was talking up the look that Reimer and Carlyle shared at the start of the second period, pictured above. Is this… a controversy? 

Now, there’s this:

And then there’s this tonight, via Jonas Siegel

“You want that chance to get in there and fight and battle for your teammates and try and get a win. Obviously Randy had other thoughts and he’s the coach and he’s the one who makes those decisions. I don’t. I just try and stop pucks.”

No comment, but then a comment!

Let’s look at his pulls. James Reimer has been pulled five times so far this season: 

  • October 5 vs. Ottawa
  • October 17 vs. Carolina
  • November 25 vs. Columbus
  • December 12 @ St. Louis
  • December 21 vs. Detroit

The game against Carolina hardly counts, since Reimer took a hit to the head on the first shot of the game and was held out for precautionary reasons. Let’s focus on the four performance-based pulls of the season. 

  1. Against Ottawa, Reimer allowed 4 goals on 21 shots by the 10:56 mark of the second period, including two 15 seconds apart. It was 4-2 Ottawa at that point and the Leafs came back to win 5-4 in a shootout.
  2. Against Columbus, Reimer was pulled after allowing 6 goals on 21 shots, the sixth coming at the 11:24 mark of the third. It was 6-0 for Columbus at that point, with no chance at a comeback.
  3. Against St. Louis, the Leafs completely went invisible in the first and despite some great saves, Reimer allowed three goals by the 16:10 mark of the first. He was immediately pulled after stopping 12-of-15. The Leafs did not win that game either.
  4. And finally Detroit, pulled during the intermission after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots.

The thing that really gets stuck in the craw of #TeamReimer is that Jonathan Bernier has yet to be pulled this year. James Mirtle said several times going into the season that Bernier would likely have the bigger leash, and that seems to be the case on the surface. Bernier has had 20 starts to Reimer’s 18 and has yet to be pulled despite his own bad outings.

Bernier has allowed four goals or more on six occasions so far this year, but I’d figure the main difference between his bad starts and Reimer’s is that Bernier doesn’t happen to group his bad goals in succession. I don’t want that to stand on a comment of Reimer’s overall performance, because I think a lot of goaltending is determined by variance. If a goalie has allowed three goals in the first period, is he really less likely to have a .920 save percentage the rest of the way than a goalie that has allowed 0 or 1 goals? That sort of research I haven’t seen, so all I can really comment on is the consistency of how Randy handles his goalie pulls.

Two games to me stand out: October 12 against Edmonton and November 30 against Montreal. The Edmonton game had the Leafs down 3-2 early in the second, and Bernier had made just three stops on the Oilers first seven shots. This was the third goal:

It seems to me that if there’s a place to pull a goalie, it’s one that looked remarkably out of position, who had stopped just 4 of 7 shots on a night where the offence was doing some good work. Of course, Bernier wasn’t pulled, and he wound up stopping 22 of the next 24 and earned the win in overtime.

Against Montreal, the 3-0 and 4-0 goals came with 4:55 and 2:38 remaining in the second. Perhaps, in the short-leash theory, Reimer gets pulled after the second one of those, but perhaps not. Either way, Carlyle refusing to make the goaltending change did seem to spark the Leafs, since they got two goals in the next 80 seconds to make the deficit 4-2*.

The rest of the times though, you’re looking at teams pouring on goals late. Bernier hasn’t played in many blowouts this year. Reimer had the one mercy pull against Columbus, but all of Bernier’s blow outs, the game has been too close to the finish by the time the final nail of the coffin was hammered in. Against Boston on December 8th, the 4-2 goal went in with 4 minutes left in the third. Against Pittsburgh, the Leafs were still in the game and he’d been playing great. Ditto against Nashville.

I think some circumstances have unfortunately resulted that make it seem one goalie is getting preferential treatment, but honestly, we don’t have enough information to conclusively determine whether Carlyle thinks Reimer stinks. I think he’s been fair in divvying the playing time this season. He’s given each goalie a split on the back-to-back, each goalie has had their share of consecutive starts and so far it’s 20-18, after being 20-15 earlier in the week as a way of split starts.

There are a lot of things to complain about RE: Randy, but he’s quite good at identifying the goaltender worth going with. He’s played with some excellent goaltenders below him and has never let any one of them get too carried away with a string of starts.

Now, there may be a communication issue between him and Reimer. Randy’s biggest fault, it seems, is that he can’t talk with the young players in the room. He took a lot of credit as the Nazem Kadri Whisperer last season (or was given a lot of credit for it, in any case) but Jake Gardiner had a tough time adjusting to Carlyle’s expectations last season, and Morgan Rielly has spent probably too much time in the pressbox considering his talent level.

Reimer’s post-game comments after the Detroit game can probably be chalked up to some emotion. I don’t think that there’s evidence that Carlyle dislikes Reimer, but I think that there is some indication that the two are on a different page. I think it’s naive to assume that James hasn’t noticed he’s been the only goalie pulled so far this season, and let’s face it: it’s not exactly been a pleasant couple of months for the Maple Leafs.

In any event, the media may start talking up the discrepancy in relief appearances a little more as we head towards a mini-break in the season, but I think it’s mostly just luck of the draw.

* – This is obviously a joke in a way to comment that Carlyle pulling Reimer against Detroit wasn’t what sparked the group.

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  • STAN

    “I think he’s been fair in divvying the playing time this season. He’s given each goalie a split on the back-to-back,”

    But Reimer usually got the 2nd start with tired group in front. And seemed also the 2ndteam was tougher of the 2. At least with the 2 back to backs I remember in December

  • STAN

    If Reimer wants to get pissed at someone, then he should get pissed for the team and defence that shows up in front of him. They play dogged defense for him and then when Bernier comes out they start playing Norris level quality. Game after game, they give up high quality scoring chances and force Reimer to the team out. And then the team miraculously transforms into defensive powerhouse in front of Bernier who is at most forced to make pee wee level saves on low quality shots.

    It sort of looks like the team wasn’t too happy that Reimer called the team out. And Carlyle is clueless inconsistent coach that never changes to figure out that Reimer is the better goalie.

    • Your absolutely right there my friend. Team seems to have a mindset that they want to leave reimer for the wolves but protect the golden egg (Bernier) to make nonn9s look like a genius. People re forgetting who got them to the playoffs last year, Whatever team reimer goes to I hope he dominates look and scrivens rask gigure and gusstavsson when they left.

      • The only “golden egg” here on the Leafs is Clarkson. Bernier has held his end of the deal here—lets not bash one of the few positives on this team this year. As for the previews comment, I think few would agree this team has anything even remotely close to a power-house of defense. If that was the case they would be able to close out games in regulation and not blow leads, which they have done with both Remier and Bernier in net. This Bernier VS Reimer “conspiracy” is really ridiculous. This team needs to make the playoffs and who honestly cares if it’s a cardboard cut-out in goal that gets them there. If the Leafs won last night, or even if they weren’t struggling as of late, this isn’t even a discussion.

  • STAN

    You get the sinking feeling that the Nonis-Carlyle cabal is intent on promoting certain people over others, despite track records and NOT for the good of the team..

    For instance, most coaches would have benched Clarkson for a game or two to perhaps shake a few goals and helpers out of him; have him see his teammates from above to learn something. But hen your boss (Nonis) has committed himself, and the team, for a long, long time and a tonne of money, it’s politically incorrect.

    Despite the obvious mobility advantages of Rielly and Liles, Carlyle-Nonis chose Ranger and Fraser for more than a quarter of this season. They should have signed Ranger to a two-way deal and let the Marlies be the test-tube to see if he can still play with the big boys. Clearly he can’t. And Fraser may be a really nice guy, but my heavens…

    It seems to me that Carlyle has a spiteful, jealous streak and regardless of the evidence that Rielly is a supremely talented young guy, the head coach is (was?) willing to sacrifice the team for his penchant for making a teenager wait his turn.

    All in all is just appears to be an unhealthy, dysfunctional situation.

    I bet Reimer gets moved, gets some REAL coaching and becomes an all-star

  • Pulling Reimer in that Detroit game was the correct move. He was having a bad night. After letting in an AHL goal (the second) and a softie (the third) it was obvious he was off his game.

    @Stan, do you think Clarkson is dogging it? Or is it just that he is trying and not really all that good? If the latter (which I believe) then Carlyle dropping him to the third line to let him contribute without needing to score seems a good choice of action. Unless you think Frazer McLaren brings more to the lineup?
    Look I get that some fans are unhappy because Clarkson is massively overpaid for far too long, but let’s not be silly and start benching players because they aren’t scoring, you bench players because they aren’t trying or because you think making a roster change will help you win a game. That isn’t the case here.

    “They should have signed Ranger to a two-way deal and let the Marlies be the test-tube to see if he can still play with the big boys”
    That makes zero sense. Ranger played on the Marlies last season and was good enough to get a contract. There is nothing magic in a 2 way deal. If Ranger could pass through waivers they could send him down on a one way deal, if he can’t pass through waivers then he can get plucked off waivers even with a 2 way deal.

    Do I agree with Carlyle’s personnel choices? Not really, but I also don’t think it is a conspiracy to make the Leafs lose.