Let’s imagine, for argument’s sake, that everyone reading this article is a Leafs fan.
Chances are, that means that you – the reader- clicked on this article with some pretty strong feelings about James Reimer. After all, he is a part of maybe the most incomprehensibly controversial goaltending tandem in the NHL.
Some fans are team Carlyle; they feel let down by James Reimer, who was pretty much described as just ‘okay’ by his former coach during a disastrous 2013-2014 late season stretch. Other fans have irreverent faith in Optimus Reim, staunchly insisting that he faces harder shots, gets left out to dry by his teammates, and does it all without much complaint as the bona fide number two.
However you feel about the 27 year old Manitoba native, though, he’s back for another season – so who is he, how does he play, and what role does he fill in the Leafs organization?
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Leafs themselves, Reimer is a late-blooming product of the WHL. Three years with the Red Deer Rebels – racking up a shocking 60 starts in his post-draft season with the major junior club – Reimer has never played within another NHL organization’s system.
In 2012-2013, Reimer split the net with fellow cusp-starter Ben Scrivens, and the two didn’t do half badly. He lost his potential starting role with the acquisition of Bernier the following summer, though, and things just haven’t seemed to go his way since. Where Reimer has been known to bail the team out in a handful of games before, he’s also partially responsible for the team’s complete collapse down the back stretch of the 2013-2014 season; by those numbers, it’s extremely hard not to hold a certain level of distrust for the team’s most tenured netminder.
Like most goaltenders who settle into a predominantly backup role throughout their careers (Mike Smith excluded, bless him), James Reimer’s stats are kind of all over the place – based on the number of games he’s played and the team he’s played behind, which both influence goaltenders with clear technical flaws more than players with seemingly fluid games.
Reimer plays a more hybrid style of game than his current counterpart in net, Jonathan Bernier. He relies on technical variety and tracking his rebounds to stop shots rather than exclusively a butterfly-based stance, but sometimes trouble tracking the puck up close leaves him looking weak in both second saves and in glove reactive saves. It’s not that he has a weak glove hand, but his ability to follow the play after making the initial save is below where it would be for a tier one starter. He’s slower to seal his crease than Bernier, but plays a safer game in the net (sometimes almost to his own detriment when he backs himself too far into the net) and uses his size well.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Over at In Goal Mag, Paul Campbell broke down what the numbers say about the age-old Bernier vs. Reimer debate – and it’s not much of a surprise to see that Bernier comes out on top. From a purely technical standpoint, the French Canadian starter has a bit of an advantage over his backup; while sometimes the raw data gives us trouble determining which one of the two breaks away as the better option in Leafs Land, a closer look suggests that Reimer is best suited in the role he’s in now.
It’s not reasonable to expect Reimer to put up the godawful numbers he did last year, because it’s going to be very hard for the team to do that poorly in front of him again. Players were being misutilized under Carlyle, the whole team kind of turned their backs on the year by January, and Reimer was stuck playing behind that team – it’s hardly a surprise to see his numbers dip, because the same thing happened to Bernier. He should do better this season.
Reimer has historically had some problems with rebound control, sending shots back out into plays that he’s less capable of tracking effectively. When the play starts to crowd the net, Reimer’s ability to follow the puck – especially when he’s making a second or third save – significantly diminishes; that makes him a goaltender who’s probably unlikely to ‘bail’ the team out of many games when they can’t clear their own zone.
That being said, though, Reimer’s game has a certain level of consistency about it – and he’s less reliant on butterfly-first goaltending like Bernier, which ups his likelihood of remaining healthy throughout the year. His glove hand still needs a little work and his lateral movement lacks some of the fluidity of Bernier’s, but his talent level is more than capable of handling a moderate backup workload. If Bernier gets injured (or potentially traded), you’ve got a backup who’s going to win you some games.
Plus, he has a SIIIIICKKKK mask.
- Didn’t play organized hockey until he was 12
- Stood in net for the 2011 IIHF World Championship, representing Canada
- Led the Leafs to the team’s first playoff appearance since 2004 (2013 post-season, lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins in the first round)
Come on, as if 2013 wouldn’t be used as the Ultimate Reimer Highlight.
Oh, the days.