The Toronto Maple Leafs turned in probably their best and most complete performance of the season last night, riding red-hot goaltender James Reimer’s stellar play to a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The shutout marked the first of Reimer’s career, a well-deserved early milestone in the 22-year old’s young career. But the quality of the rookie net minder’s performance in his first season in the National Hockey League has created an interesting problem for Leafs general manager Brian Burke. What the hell does he do with him?
Given Reimer’s instant success as the Leafs number-one goaltender, the answer would seem obvious: run with Reimer’s talent until it runs out. Though the sample size isn’t that large, Reimer’s numbers are scary: a .940 save percentage, a 1.96 goals against average and a winning 5-3-0 record on a team with far more losses than wins. If he had enough games to qualify, he’d be second to only the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas in the two most significant statistical categories for goaltenders. Today, the Star’s Damien Cox even pronounced Reimer the “hottest homegrown netminder the Leafs have had since Felix Potvin” (though we all remember how that turned out). So while the answer may seem simple, it’s also fraught with complications.
Reimer wasn’t even in the conversation when the season started and the Leafs thought they had a good one-two tandem between the pipes in J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. But it turns out they didn’t. Giguere is injury-plagued and Gustavsson seems to have a confidence problem that, in turn, breeds a puck-in-the-back-of-the-net problem. Giguere has big fat contract on the books and is a free agent at the end of the season, so the obvious choice for Burke would be to move him. But Giggy has a no-trade clause and it’s tough to say if there’s a team out there that wants to take him. Gustavsson is too young and too inexperienced to write off already, but anointing him the starting goaltender is clearly not going to happen. Burke could send him to the minors, though the implications for the Monster’s fragile ego may be devastating. He’d also have to clear waivers.
By the end of the month, Burke will be forced to make a move. Whatever happens come the February 28 trade deadline, though, it’s safe to say this: in a season with few bright spots, the stellar play of James Reimer is a nice problem to have.
• Cox: Time for Leafs to run with Reimer [Toronto Star] • Reimer creates a quandary for Leafs [National Post]
• Reimer steers Leafs past ‘Canes [Globe and Mail]
• Wilson tries to keep lid on Reimer hype [Globe and Mail]