Originally published July 25, 2011
Heading into the 2011-2012 NHL regular season the one question that is asked the most is whether James Reimer’s 2010-2011 season was legitimate. Is he the everyday answer the Leafs have been looking for between the pipes since the Eagle crashed in 2005? I believe that Reimer is ready to prove to everyone last year was more than a lucky run. The story of last year’s emergence has been told and re-told and therefore I won’t. Chances are if you’re reading this you know about James Reimer and the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs. If he can duplicate last year, and I believe he can, the Leafs will be playing playoff hockey this year.
When I Became a Believer
The moment that I knew it was different in both James Reimer, and the renaissance of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was mid-January 2011. The Leafs went out west to play both the Los Angelas Kings and San Jose Sharks on back to back nights. Recent history would have been that the Leafs would be swept fairly easily and head home with endless excuses to justify an embarrassing road trip. However on the first night they defeated the Kings, and then on the second night theypushed past the San Jose Sharks. The fact that they won both of those games was shocking. The fact that they won them both after giving up the opening goal, and having the California powerhouses go 0-8 combined on the power play was incomprehensible. I thought that maybe I had fallen asleep watching these late games and dreamt these outcomes. The Leafs of recent memory do not go on the road and defeat two superior teams in this fashion, it just wasn’t done.
Why he was able to, and why I think he’ll continue to, be successful is the way Reimer controls the game. Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, Reimer is in total command at all times. If the game begins to get a little out of hand he is quick to smother for a whistle. This skill is mostly evident when the Leafs are killing penalties. These situations no longer consist of unending shifts with tired defenders since Reimer has become adept at dictating the pace of the game. It became very obvious watching those two, and subsequent, games that the Leafs were a different team when they were playing in front of him. The frantic mistakes and pressured giveaways disappeared. Shots from the point were not finding their way to the back of the net, every mistake wasn’t followed by a faceoff at centre ice. The Leafs were able to exhale when Reimer was in net, which is something that was painfully absent from every Leaf team since the lockout. Deflating goals are disastrous and they had become a staple of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Too many heads have rolled, justifiably or not, from the poor play of Belfour, Tellqvist, Raycroft, Toskala and Giguere, Reimer has risen and relieved all concern over Toronto Maple Leaf goaltending.
James Reimer and Jonas Hiller
Yesterday I asked the twitterverse which goalie, current or retired, reminded people of James Reimer. I received a grand total of zero responses (thanks a lot). I had a goalie in mind and was curious as to whether people felt the same way. The tender that I think shares similarities with Reimer is Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. Both goalies began their careers by unseating JS Giguere to become the starting goalies on their respective teams. Physically they are almost exactly alike – James Reimer is 6’2″ and weighs 208lbs, Jonas Hiller is 6’-2″ and weighs 196lbs. They are both disciples of goalie instructor Francios Allair. Being physically similar and having matured under the guidance of Allair it would seem that, like Hiller before him, Reimer would only become a better goalie as his career continues. Other than their styles of play and physical likeness they both had very similar fist seasons in the NHL. Since Hiller only played 23 games in his rookie year I took the stats from Reimer’s first 23 games and compared them.
Jonas Hiller – 2.06 GAA .927 Sv Pct. 10-7-1, 0 shutouts.
James Reimer – 2.28 GAA .929 Sv Pct. 11-4-3, 2 shutouts.
As you can see Hiller had a better GAA, but Reimer came away with more victories and a higher save percentage. In the end, the differences are not that drastic. Keep in mind Hiller played behind future H.O.F’s Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer as well as Francois Beauchemin (the good version). Whereas Reimer was protecting Komisarek, Lebda, Kaberle and Beauchemin (the bad version). Just as Hiller has developed into an elite and all-star goalie, fans can rest assured Reimer will follow a similar path.
Will Reimer Guide the Leafs to the Playoffs
The only way I see James Reimer crashing and burning as a Maple Leaf, is if his head swells to an inordinate size. If Reimer begins to believe that he is as great as everyone says he is, then yes, there will be problems. Though I ask you, have you ever watched an interview with James Reimer? Have you heard this man speak? If you have then you, like me, know that his feet are firmly planted on the ground. He is as humble a player as I’ve ever seen. Both coaches and analysts rave about his conditioning and work ethic. Therefore I hardly believe Reimer will become complacent and lazy. I only see progress for The Great White Hope. I believe, as long as Reimer’s not injured, he will be able to lead the Leafs to the playoffs. Toronto was close to making it last year, and although many skeptics say that the East will only be tougher this season, the Leafs are growing. Having confidence in your goaltender allows teams to compete every single night. Skeptics should be looking at the Leafs and questioning whether teams can compete with them.
Next Couple of Days
During the coming days, I’ll begin to compare the Leafs to their divisional, and perhaps conference, rivals. I think they stack up, and I’ll make my case.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @hope_smoke. If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach me via Twitter, or the comments section.