Two weeks ago today Leaf fans everywhere were holding their collective breaths as they awaited word regarding the severity of the knee injury starting goalie James Reimer suffered during Toronto’s 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers the night before. It was eventually announced that Reimer had only sustained a strained MCL in his left knee which was expected to keep him out of action for only one week. Great news considering how much pain Reimer appeared to be when he departed the ice. The strained knee has now kept Reimer sidelined for two weeks (and counting) yet the Leafs have managed to continue their strong play going 4-3-0 in the seven games during that span.
Prior to his injury Reimer was really beginning to re-establish himself as the saviour in net for the blue and white. Through the first ten games this season he had a record of 6-3-0 with one shutout and had posted a sparkling .929 save percentage. That type of goaltending was certainly a welcome surprise considering the major question marks that existed heading into the 2013 season. Under enormous pressure and beneath an intense spotlight Reimer was demonstrating that (when healthy) he is the answer the Leafs organization desperately needs in between the pipes. Whether Reimer can remain healthy though may perhaps be his biggest challenge.
As Reimer continues to practice and skate with his teammates, various reports have surfaced as to when he is expected back in the lineup. Yesterday it was reported by TSN’s Jonas Siegel that the formula to Reimer’s return is completely in his hands:
Reimer on how he'll know he's ready: "When I can do everything I need to do with a pain level that doesn’t take over you instantly."
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) February 25, 2013
The concern I have with the quote above is why isn’t Leaf management and their training staff fully addressing the injury instead of allowing Reimer to play through it? Last season Reimer was rushed back from a concussion and his play never reached the levels that people expected. Due to his poor performance in 2011-2012 many fans and analysts questioned whether Reimer was capable of being a #1 goalie in the NHL. It was an unfair position to place Reimer in last season and it appears that the Leafs are repeating their mistake once again. Why not allow Reimer to return to full strength and perhaps remedy the situation surgically if need be. Fully resolve the matter and put Reimer in a position to succeed instead of having him perform under intense pressure without being 100% both mentally and physically.
Are the Leafs legitimate contenders this season? Is Reimer’s return the difference between a Stanley Cup run and abject failure? It doesn’t make sense to me at all, both the Coach and the General Manager’s jobs are safe regardless of how the team finishes this season. There are also no prime free agents set to walk away should this team fail to once again make the playoffs. In fact, there is no pressure on this team to whatsoever to achieve results and yet here they are: rushing back a potentially major part of their future from injury (something they also did earlier this season with defenseman Jake Gardiner). Would it be that catastrophic to allow Reimer to fully heal and ride Ben Scrivens for as long as possible? If Scrivens continues to excel, the Leafs will remain in relatively good shape in a weak Eastern Conference. If Scrivens fails, the Leafs can profit this summer in one of the deepest drafts in memory. It’s a no lose situation. Doing the right thing usually is.