Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Optimus Reim Showing Off Some Autobotian Heroics in 2013

The most pleasant surprise of the 2013 Maple Leafs season has undoubtedly been the consistent and exceptional play of James Reimer and the perfectly adequate backup performance of Ben Scrivens. The steadying performances of both goalies has been one of the key reasons they team currently sits 5th in the Eastern Conference, and has all but completely silenced the whispers surrounding Roberto Luongo in Toronto.

Ben Scrivens, the AHL's reigning Harry Holmes Memorial Award (lowest goals allowed in a minimum of 25 games) winner has been more than adequate, and despite that, Randy Carlyle is justifiably leaning towards James Reimer when he's healthy.

Reimer’s statistics thus far have been reminiscent of his numbers during the 2010-11 season when he posted a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage with a 20-10-5 record. The wayward Brian Gionta elbow put him off track for most of last season, side lined with a concussion. However, his play this year has stoked the fire once again on talks that he has the skill set to succeed as a number one goalie in the NHL.

Taking a look at two key measures for goalies we can see he is in some lofty company, in line with some of the league’s best.

Below are the rankings for goals against average and save percentage of netminders having played a minimum of 10 games:

Goals Against Average

12. Martin Brodeur – 2.27

13. Henrik Lundqvist – 2.28

14. Ben Scrivens – 2.41

15. James Reimer – 2.43

16. Marc-Andre Fluery – 2.44

Save Percentage

4. Kari Lehtonen - .930

5. Tuukka Rask - .928

6. Ray Emery - .926

7. James Reimer - .923

8. Ben Scrivens - .923

The above represents the first time in nearly a decade that the Maple Leafs have been able to boast league-average or better goaltending. There are a number of factors that could be playing a role in the success; Randy Carlyle has brought a renewed focus to the penaltykill where the team has improved to 13th in the league at 82.7%. Additionally, Reimer, nearly 25 years of age is certainly maturing as a goalie and an athlete, coming into training camp this year a notable 15 pounds lighter. With the unceremonious departure of Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire prior to the season Reimer has been encouraged to play a more aggressive style, moving out of the shadow of the goal posts and to the edge of the crease. This has seemingly made him bigger in the net, helping to limit the number of pucks sliding past his sometimes exposed upper body and glove hand.

Looking at their contract statuses, Reimer is signed through to the end of next season, after which he will be an RFA, while Scrivens is a UFA after next year.

This leaves Nonis with some interesting questions to answer in net. If Reimer can stay healthy and continue to gain the confidence of the coaching staff and management there is no reason to think he won’t be offered a contract after next year. His current salary of $1.8 million would increase, but will still likely fall in the bottom 3rd of NHL goalie pay cheques. Scrivens currently only makes $612,000 per season, meaning the Leafs have one of the cheapest goalie tandems in the league.

The financial flexibility afforded by the low contracts of Reimer and Scrivens could allow the team to pursue a veteran back up in the offseason via trade or free agency. Looking at the quality production teams like the Rangers (Biron), Penguins (Vokoun), and Devils (Hedberg) have been getting from their NHL calibre backups has me thinking this could be the right route to go while Reimer continues to develop.

Notable UFAs available this offseason:

Niklas Bakstrom, 35

Evgeni Nabokov, 37

Ray Emery, 30

Chris Mason, 36

Dan Ellis, 32

A number of the names above will sign contracts with their current teams and stay put. However, at least a couple will be available this offseason for a reasonable contract, solidifying the backup role with a proven NHL goaltender.
Bringing in another goalie would mean the end of Ben Scrivens in Toronto. He has had multiple opprotunities to step in and takeover as the primary goalie. However, looking at the roster today the Leaf need is more a veteran presence than a 26 year old still looking to cement himself as a bona fide NHLer.

The fantastic puck stopping from both goalies this season has been fun to watch. If Reimer can continue his evolution into a #1 goaltender and the team brass can look to bring in a veteran presence in the position of back up the teams netmininding issues may be a thing of the past.

Of course, it’s still relatively early into the season, and after suffering through years of Toskala and Raycroft it’s understandable that Leaf fans are no more than cautiously optimistic with their goalies. But the play of Reimer has been a bright spot during a year that has provided many thus far.  


Anonymous said...

Why sign a veteran back-up after this season when Scrivens is still under contract. His numbers this season are very similar to Reimer's who you say is a legit starter going forward, yet Scrivens equally good numbers don't qualify him as a solid back-up?

I too think Reimer is a legit starter, and Scrivens maybe not, but, for me, he HAS solidified himself as an NHLer. Heck, if he can figure out how to stop letting out so many rebounds, he'd also be a legit starter!

I just see NO sense in signing a veteran backup when you've got Scrivens for one more year at a very decent salary. Especially with how he played in the AHL last year (and earlier this year) and the NHL more recently.

Darren K said...

I don’t necessarily think Reimer is a completely legitimate starting goalie on a playoff team. He has been playing at the level of one this season and has shown positive development.

What a veteran backup may do is calm the waters a bit if Reimer were to struggle at all next season. While Scrivens has been good, I’d prefer to have an Ellis, Emery, Nabokov....etc waiting on the bench as opposed to Ben who’s NHL play has been somewhat inconsistent.

I think where we may have a difference of opinion is on what exactly Scrivens will be moving forward. I’d like to see Reimer (a possible #1 in the making) supported by a veteran with significant experience instead of Scrivens.

Thanks for the comment! Always nice to get a discussion going on these topics.