Caution Is Still Appropriate
Two thoughts on James Reimer, the Morweena Miracle, this morning.
First, people gotta let go of that weird decision last week by Ron Wilson to not only rest Reimer against the Florida Panthers, but not even dress him.
If the Leafs don't make the playoffs - and it's looking bleaker by the minute - it won't be because of that loss. It will because the Leafs didn't come together as a team, really, until after Christmas. Maybe even a little later.
Maybe next season the club and its fans will pay a little more attention to the games in October and November.
Second, 28 appearances, including last night's whitewash of the awful Minnesota Wild, do not a proven NHL goalie make. All the signs are surely positive on Reimer, and he may indeed be the long-term answer in goal for the Leafs.
He might be ready to pick up next fall where he leaves off this spring.
But if that's the way the Leafs go, it'll still be a gamble, and not a smart one. If you don't want to spend the cash on Ilya Bryzgalov, it will still be necessary to go out and find a viable veteran netminder to be ready to go in case Reimer can't do in October what he's doing now.
This is a team, and a city, that should know by now the the damage that can be done by over-estimating goaltending. It happened with Andrew Raycroft, it happened with Vesa Toskala, and it happened this season with J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson.
Goaltending matters more than any other position. More to the point, you're not a proven NHL starter until you've done it over the course of several seasons, at the very least over the course of two seasons. NHL history is littered with the likes of Steve Penney. It wasn't that long ago the Canadiens believed Jose Theodore was going to be the successor to Patrick Roy. Last spring it looked like Tuukka Rask was a lock to be the starter in Boston. We all remember when Steve Mason took the NHL by storm and appeared to set up the Columbus Blue Jackets for years to come. The Senators bet everything that Pascal Leclaire would be their goalie of the present and the future and were terribly wrong.
The brilliance of Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist and others is that they've done it over the course of years, not just a half-season.
Don't get me wrong. Reimer is the individual story of this Leaf season, the best goalie prospect the Leafs have developed since Felix Potvin (speaking of goalies who didn't quite pan out) and a wonderful story, to boot. He's just a nice kid to talk to, seemingly as humble as they come.
But you can't bet everything on him just yet, or at least the Leafs can't. He needs to show more, a lot more, and the hockey club needs to provide itself with more insurance going forward in the form of an experienced goalie. The fact is he came out of nowhere this season, and it's quite funny to hear commentators who were shrieking in the fall that the Leafs had no prospects and no future suddenly arguing that Reimer is a blue-chipper.
Nothing's a sure bet, but Bryzgalov is as sure as it comes. Maybe he wants big money over six, seven years, at which point the Leafs would be out, anyway. Brian Burke doesn't seem inclined to do deals that long. But maybe Bryzgalov wants three years, and what would be wrong with a Bryzgalov-Reimer combination in net? The Leafs are way below the cap, with Giguere set to come off this summer. They have room to invest in proven goaltending. They should invest it.