The Toronto Maple Leafs had their ideal tandem in James Reimer and Garret Sparks for a brief, brief time.
The Toronto Marlies had an ideal tandem of their own during that period, with Jonathan “AHL Shutout King” Bernier and Antoine Bibeau. That left the ECHL with Ryan Massa and Rob Madore getting strong starts. Everyone was happy.
Then Reimer got re-injured, Sparks got injured as well, and the whole goaltending depth chart got turned on its head.
The solution? Veteran netminder Ray Emery, who has inked a PTO with the Marlies this Friday.
With Garret Sparks out for the forseeable future and no real timetable for James Reimer’s return, the Leafs have a healthy (but inconsistent) Jonathan Bernier and… Antoine Bibeau, I suppose.
Bernier hasn’t won an NHL game yet this season, and Bibeau is still a project in the making. He feasibly could be capable of shouldering true NHL starts, but it isn’t an ideal situation for anyone involved.
Then, there’s the AHL depth – which is now, well, none. Rob Madore has played exactly nine AHL games in the last two and half seasons combined, and Massa is a bit of a question mark; he looked good behind a rather subpar University of Nebraska-Omaha club (backstopping them to their only Frozen Four appearance in the team’s NCAA tenure) but still has some holes in his game and has exactly 13 games of pro experience at any level, period. That’s a rough tandem for the AHL, no matter how you spin it, and leaves the Orlando Solar Bears completely short-staffed.
Enter Ray Emery.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) December 18, 2015
Why He’s a Good Fit
If you were ever a Ray Emery fan (in which case stay away from me, because I don’t believe in violence…. kidding), you know that he’s got a fundamentally competent game… empirically, that is.
Drafted 99th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Emery has over a decade of NHL and AHL experience behind him. His hips are shot, but his style can overcome that to a certain degree; there’s still likely some game left in Emery, even if not at the NHL level.
By adding Emery to the roster via an AHL PTO, the Leafs are preventing too much of an upheaval. Either Massa or Madore can remain in the ECHL to carry the majority of the starts, while the other comes up to split the net with Emery in Toronto. Bibeau and Bernier can then split the net for Toronto over Christmas break, hopefully carrying the team through until either Sparks or Reimer is healthy enough to resume his place on the active roster.
I’ve never been the biggest Ray Emery apologist, but he certainly had a game that was passable at the NHL level; he just slipped through the cracks this summer. He’ll be to the Marlies what Jason LaBarbera currently is to the LeHigh Valley Phantoms, Peter Budaj is to the Ontario Reign, and Dan Ellis is to the Hershey Bears; not the guy you’re relying on to improve with the team and win big games, but the guy who takes the starts and helps maintain a sense of order when the goaltending depth chart gets a bit thin.
Of course, the underlying storyline here may not even be Emery; if Massa gets the nod to split with Emery during the mayhem in Toronto, keep an eye out for another good start out of the free agent pickup. He’s been respectable at the ECHL level and played well in his one AHL start this year; if Toronto sees promise in him, that’s an asset to either develop or move for more pieces in the near future.