For some reason or another, the great fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are having a hard time placing their confidence in James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson as the teams goaltending tandem for next season.
And I understand their hesitance, neither have a big body of work to go off of, Gustavsson, in particular, has struggled mightily this season and his injury problems are most certainly a red flag.
Leaf fans are sick and tired of losing, and who could blame them – as of late (and by that I mean the last 44 years) the Leafs haven't won anything. This "history of losing" has, no doubt, relegated our patience to that of a six-year-old.
For the past 15 years the Leafs have sold their hopes on the acquisition of proven veterans. Players like Ron Francis, Brian Leech, Shayne Corson and Owen Nolan come to mind. Furthermore, while in the midst of acquiring these veteran, short term solutions, we saw impatience manifest itself in the organization's subpar drafting and prospect development.
Examples of this include the Leafs letting a budding 25-year-old Steve Sullivan go to Chicago through waivers, trading Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft, and most memorably, trading a first round pick (Scott Niedermayer) for Tom Kurvers. It is obvious that impatience played a key role in making these (what turned out to be) mistakes.
Yes, signing a veteran goalie this offseason like Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun, won't come at the expense of trading away young talent, but why cloud the ranks?
Gustavsson put up a 3-1-1 record with a 1.14 GAA and a .955 SV percentage during his conditioning stint with the Marlies. It is obvious he doesn't belong there and after this troublesome season, I wouldn't be surprised if the Monster came hot out of the gate next year, with something to prove.
He hasn't been given the chance to rebound because of the strong play of Reimer, and with veteran Giguere, riding the pine. I think it is fair to give him a chance, let's see if he is the player we saw make a huge pad save on a 2 on 0 against Detroit last preseason. See if he lives up to the hype.
Needless to say, he is very much still a huge question mark, but it would be reckless and irresponsible to judge the Monster based on his two years of play, and suffering through a slump- something we see all players do, and even more so during their second year.
Then, there is James Reimer. In his 29 games so far this season he has posted a record of 16-7-4 with a 2.49 GAA, a .922 SV percentage, and three shutouts. A small, but quality sample size.
But let's forget about the numbers and see what James Reimer has brought to Leafs Nation.
We have seen his tenacity at the position and ability to rebound after a poor outing. We have seen the players around him improve because of their confidence in him. We have seen him bail his teammates out; most notably last night when the Leafs gave up three breakaways, two while on the power play. If he lets in any of those against Minnesota, the game would've been a totally different story.
We have even heard Ron Wilson say "If I don't play Reims, I am an idiot."
But above all, he has given Leaf fans hope, and something to cheer about.
This roller coaster ride of a season for the Toronto Maple Leafs was ultimately doomed for failure, inevitably giving up another lottery pick to the Boston Bruins. But then, the big bodied Reimer took his place between the pipes; and since, the Leafs have blossomed into a team that is well over .500.
It's fair to hypothesize that confidence on the back end, generates production. The Leafs have been shutout an astonishing eleven times this season. Oddly enough, Reimer was only in net for one of them, a 1-0 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators, a game where he also garnered a shutout himself.
Unfortunately for the young Reimer and Gustavsson, uncertainty comes with youth, and the guessing game is inevitable.
But the future always brings questions and uncertainty, regardless of how well we have prepared ourselves for it. Proven veteran goaltenders like Bryzgalov or Vokoun could melt in the hot Toronto hockey market, after all, they have only succeeded in small hockey markets like Nashville, Anaheim, Florida, and Phoenix. While Reimer or Gustavsson could blossom or fall off the deep end.
So here are the things we know: Squeaking into the playoffs and getting our butt's kicked in the first round isn't the way Brian Burke intends on building this team. Short term solutions to long term problems are not the way he intends to do business either; we see evidence of this through the Tomas Kaberle trade. But, Burke also believes in developing a youthful core, surrounded by strong veterans who can either lead or mentor young players.
So I leave it to you, does the signing of a veteran goaltender fit into Burke's plan? Or does it fall into the short term solution to long term problem category?
Has Reimer earned his shot at the starting role?
Can Gustavsson rebound as a formidable backup?
Is patience a virtue?
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