Goaltending is a pivotal part of every hockey game. Goalies are expected to give their team a chance a to win and if the need arises, steal a game or two. It’s arguably the most important position in the game, and for good reason.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled to find a good goaltending balance for many years. Current netminders, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, have each dealt with issues as the Maple Leafs season went sideways. Sometimes, they were hung out to dry by the team. Other nights, they simply weren’t good enough.
This is a pivotal off-season. Bernier, native of Laval, Quebec, is a restricted free agent. James Reimer has another year left on his deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the 2016-17 NHL season. The Maple Leafs have some tough choices to make, now and in the future.
Bernier was the de facto number one goalie for the Maple Leafs last season. He played in 58 games last season and recorded 21 wins and 28 losses. He also managed a .912 save percentage and 2.87 goals against average. Playing in 58 games is simply not good enough for a number one goaltender.
What should the Leafs do with him Bernier? As of right now, no long-term contract has been discussed between management and the netminder. It’s possible that the Leafs are looking for another short-term contract to see if Bernier indeed blossoms into the true number one they thought he could be. He is, after all, only only 26 years old.
Patience could be the right move especially if you consider the careers of fellow goalies Devan Dubnyk and Carey Price. Both were late bloomers who have now seemingly figured it out. Giving up on players too early has been shockingly common in the past with the Buds. It may just pay off to be patient.
Reimer is under contract with the Maple Leafs for one more season. As the Maple Leafs went off the tracks this past season, Reimer’s stats took a hit. He amassed a .903 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against average. The Manitoba native always works hard, but he is often inconsistent. However, he has proven in the past that he can be a number one and carry the team. The Leafs could explore trade options for Reimer, but there’s no guarantee that the return would be anywhere near what they are looking for.
A Third Option
There are alternate options that the Maple Leafs could pursue in net. The Ottawa Senators have a wealth of players, especially with the most recent addition, Matt O’Connor. It’s doubtful the Leafs and Senators would do a deal but stranger things have happened.
Another potential option includes Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. He’s an unrestricted free agent that could be looking for a new home and change of scenery next season. The veteran Shark finished with a 31-23-7 record and a .914 save percentage.
How about Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers? He looks poised to move into a starter’s role, but won’t be able to with Henrik Lundqvist first on the depth chart. He posted a 2.21 GAA and a .926 SV% in 36 appearances and was stellar when Lundqvist went down with injury. Entering his third NHL season, Talbot could be looking for a new home to play his trade.
The Maple Leafs are already going into a big off-season of change with their management and players. Making a decision on what to do with the goaltender position is of paramount importance.