It is no secret that Toronto General Manager Brian Burke is seeking an upgrade in net after goaltending woes plagued the Leafs for much of last season. Coming off a season in which the Leafs ranked 29th in the league in average goals allowed per game, at 3.16 per, it's safe to say that addressing the inherent goaltending issues will be a top priority for him this offseason.
Complicating the issue, however, is management's insistence that they still believe James Reimer can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. It's difficult to ascertain whether he can be a starter in the NHL due to an admittedly small sample size, but he can't be written off after only playing 71 career NHL games either.
If Leafs' management does indeed believe Reimer can develop into a No.1 goaltender, Burke will be looking to add a veteran goaltender as a stop-gap measure. Ideally, said goaltender can mentor Reimer, shoulder some of the workload and hold the fort down until Ben Scrivens graduates from the AHL.
However, the Leafs' insistence that Reimer can ascend to No. 1 goaltender status partly compounds their goaltending issues. By giving Reimer a vote of confidence, it puts the Leafs out of the running for some of the more intriguing goalie options that will be available this offseason, as they'll likely be hesitant to renege on their assessment of Reimer's potential.
That said, it would be foolish for Burke not to explore any, and all, avenues when it comes to improving, or at the very least, steadying the Leafs' play between the pipes.
Love him or hate him, Roberto Luongo is one of the better goalies in the NHL.
Few attract the type of scrutiny Luongo does, but much of the derision he experiences is the product of overzealous fans and media personalities.
Even though he possesses a massive contract, should the Leafs pursue Luongo? Certainly.
But only if the price is right.
Therein lies the rub, so to speak, when debating whether or not Luongo is the answer for the Leafs. The key is to adequately assess his value, and then determine whether or not the package of assets that will be required to acquire him is worth more or less.
It's likely the price will be too high for the Leafs, but Luongo is without a doubt the best goalie available this offseason. That alone merits a look from the Leafs.
With the ascension of Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier has quickly become an attractive trade chip in the "City of Angels".
Bernier is an interesting option, but he is still young and raw. Those are qualities Brian Burke isn't looking for in a goaltender this offseason, or so he says.
Even though Bernier hasn't experienced much individual success in the NHL yet, he possesses more potential than incumbent James Reimer.
Whether or not he would flourish in Toronto, a team that can best be described as the "polar opposite" of the Los Angeles Kings, is up for debate. But Bernier's availability should be a point of discussion in the office of Leafs management because there are few, if any, young goalies available that can rival his pedigree.
Burke is likely loathe to bring a young goaltender like Bernier aboard, as it would mean a platoon approach between him and Reimer. However, his acquisition would give the Leafs a young goaltender they could potentially build around, especially if Reimer falters next season.
Nevertheless, as a young goaltender with plenty of potential, Bernier's price tag will likely more than the Leafs are willing to part with.
Soon-to-be 35-year-old, and former Leaf, Scott Clemmensen has performed admirably in spot duty with the Panthers the past two seasons. He's affordable, a veteran presence and a consummate team player.
In short, he's exactly what Brian Burke and Toronto are looking for in their search for veteran help in the blue ice.
There is an issue with pursuing Clemmensen though. If James Reimer can't regain his pre-injury form, Clemmensen could be a liability if he has to assume the starting gig. Ditto for Ben Scrivens, who, despite his recent AHL success, was obviously overmatched at the NHL level last season.
Thus, the Leafs could find themselves back at square one if they choose to pursue a veteran like Clemmensen instead of making a move for an established goaltender that can handle the duties required of a starter.
Ellis represents one of the most affordable options on the free agent market this offseason. While his $1.5 million salary allowed him to eat very well last season, he won't be able to command that again after only playing 23 games over the past two seasons.
His lack of play in Anaheim over the past couple of years will also make him open to signing a one-year contract, as he'll be hungry to prove himself after a groin injury sidelined him for much of the 2011-12 season.
Besides the willingness to potentially accept a cheap, short-term contract, Ellis is an attractive option since he can play between 30-40 games when healthy, if need be. He's not a No. 1 goaltender by any stretch, but the Leafs could do worse when it comes to insurance in net.
When it comes to veteran goaltenders that can play effectively as a backup, or step into the starting lineup in the case of injury or poor performance, look no further than Johan Hedberg.
After some lean years in Atlanta, Hedberg has found his niche over the past three seasons. He's been among the best backups in the league the past two years in his role as Martin Brodeur's understudy, and he would be a calming influence for James Reimer.
At 39 years old, he's the veteran the Leafs are looking for, and he should be open to a one-year contract. Whether or not he'll want to play for a young team as he nears the end of his career is up for debate, however.
Hedberg is capable of playing upwards of 35 games if called upon to do so, so he would add some flexibility to the Leafs' goaltending.
While he certainly can't be considered a major upgrade for the Leafs, if Brian Burke chooses to pursue a veteran goaltender, there are few with the experience and skill Hedberg possesses.