James Reimer was among the first restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration this season. That means that I had to spend a good portion of my morning going back over all the arbitration rules, since I tend to forget them over the summer.
The key thing to note is that by filing for arbitration, Reimer can no longer negotiate with other teams and other teams can not sign the young goaltender to an offer sheet. I was wondering if that might be a route taken by a rogue team seeking to improve their goaltending situation, being able to pay up to about $3-and-a-half million without giving up too much, but that door is closed right now. The Leafs must sign or trade Reimer.
Reimer rejected his qualifying offer of $1.6-million, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. As a 26-year-old goaltender with a .914 career save rate and two excellent seasons to his name, you’d figure James would have a bit more clout this offseason, but no. The goaltender market is drying up. A few NHL teams are beginning to acquire whatever talented goaltenders they can get for cheap and seeing which ones develop into stars. About half of the league has committed long contracts to their “star” goalies, further restricting the number of teams in the market for a 1B starter who can play 35-40 games. Vancouver, Calgary and Long Island, three logical destinations for Reimer, opened their chequebooks this summer for Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak.
There aren’t too many teams without obvious starting goaltenders. St. Louis, Minnesota and Winnipeg may qualify, but the last two might need to be convinced that Reimer is an upgrade over their current crop. Once you’ve identified a team as needing a starter, you still need to sell them a player at a cheaper cost than whatever replacement they could find on the market, whether it’s from their own system (St. Louis have Jake Allen, Minnesota have Darcy Kuemper, and Winnipeg have Michael Hutchinson) or currently unsigned, like Ilya Bryzgalov or Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
I can’t imagine Reimer likes the idea of dragging this team by the scruff of the neck into the playoffs months before the team trades for somebody else, and then getting relegated to the bench as he struggled and the new guy put up a career season. I doubt that next season, Reimer posts below a .911 save percentage and Jonathan Bernier above a .922, but the respective 2014 seasons of the two goalies at least dictate some of the strategy through this offseason.
I find it interesting that Nonis is willing to negotiate with Reimer under the threat of arbitration, something he wasn’t willing to do with Bernier a year ago. I don’t think that Bernier, at the time, had as strong of a case for a raise as Reimer does now. Unless Reimer is awarded above $3.5-million (which isn’t going to happen) the Leafs must sign him to the contract awarded by the arbitrator.
It is worth noting though, that few cases actually make it to arbitration, with the parties usually settling their differences on the courthouse steps. That’s what happened a year ago with Mark Fraser, and I think both sides recognize that it probably isn’t a good idea to bicker during the hearing, where the Leafs would literally be arguing in front of Reimer why Reimer isn’t worth whatever it is Bernier makes.
While the feud may be overblown, that certainly wouldn’t help it.
The good news is that the Leafs can afford to lose a few dollars on this. If a decision, or the negotiations, go Reimer’s way as opposed to the Leafs’, we’re probably talking about a maximum change of about $400K in salary cap room on a one or two-year deal, so nothing with real long-term issues. Thanks to the fact that nobody seems to want to play in Toronto anymore, the Leafs have about $14-million in salary cap space to sign Reimer, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, Peter Holland, and two depth defencemen.
I could go through comparable contracts for Reimer to try and pinpoint what he’ll make, but Elliot Saccucci at Maple Leafs Hot Stove has already done that:
If I’m Reimer’s agent, I’m looking at the Kari Ramo, Steve Mason and Jonathan Bernier contracts and suggesting to the arbitrator that Reimer’s statistics (GAA, SV%, SO’s) are generally comparable or better than those players, over a greater sample size (excluding Mason), and he is therefore deserving of a contract in the $2.75 – $2.9 million range, which would be a 72-82% raise (you’re welcome, James). If I was representing Reimer, I would also try to discount the relevance of Holtby’s current $1.85 million AAV contract by suggesting that Holtby’s contract is roughly equivalent to the last contract that Reimer signed, which was a “show-me” contract, and that having maintained better than average starting goaltender statistics over the course of that contract, Reimer is now deserving of a contract in line with the other three above-mentioned starting goaltenders.
Again, even if the reward coming in is on the higher end, it’ll be a one year contract, with no long-term consequences and likely won’t affect his trade value, especially if a team’s starter gets hurt early next season and they need a stopgap option. But I’ve been wrong about these things before.
The real problem here is that goalies just don’t have much value on the trade market anymore, as they shouldn’t. There are about 50 quality goaltenders in the world and 30 starting goalie jobs. If the Leafs were to dump Reimer for anything and not get anything back, then they’ll have to pick up somebody else, and the odds of getting somebody as cheap and effective as Reimer is low.
Concluding thought: Thank Kessel that Cam Ward wasn’t born in Mimico.