Bruins vs Leafs and the Ferguson Factor

Would James Reimer be able to hold his ground in the intensity of a Montreal/Toronto playoff matchup?
James Reimer and Tuukka Rask share the distinction of being drafted by the same former Leafs GM. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

It only took until the final day of the NHL regular season for the Boston Bruins to blow their shot at winning the division find out who they’ll be playing in the first round of the playoffs, but the match-up is now set. After dropping the finale to the Ottawa Senators and falling to the 4 seed, it’ll be Bruins vs Leafs in a series that has no shortage of story lines.

And while much of the attention is focused on a certain former Bruins forward, one should not forget that it was actually a former Leafs GM (now twice removed) who could go down as the one who most shaped this 2013 playoff series.

John Ferguson, Tuukka Rask & James Reimer

(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Back in 2005, Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. and his scouting staff plucked a young Finnish goalie named Tuukka Rask out of Ilves Tampere of SM-liiga. Drafted 21st overall (second only to Carey Price at his position), Rask would go on to flourish in the NHL and has entered himself firmly into the Vezina conversation.

The only problem is, it’s not as a member of Toronto Maple Leafs.

A year earlier, Ferguson had drafted Justin Pogge out of the WHL, a standout prospect who was seen as the goalie of the future for the Leafs. As such, the Toronto brass deemed it expedient to move the younger Rask for a more established goalie who might a) keep them competitive post-Belfour while b) holding a place for Pogge, their heir apparent.

And so, despite little evidence to support such a move, Ferguson pulled the trigger on a 2006 Draft day deal that sent Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft, who was coming off a stellar year in Boston, except the exact opposite. In his last season with the Bruins, the 2004 Calder Trophy winner went 8-19-2 with GAA of 3.71 and a Sv% of .879. He would go on to play 3 seasons in Toronto, with a sub-.900 Sv% and +3.00 GAA to show for his “efforts.”

(Hey, at least you can’t say he wasn’t consistent.)

Luckily, and unbeknownst to pretty much everyone (possibly including himself), JFJ pulled a little rabbit out of his hat on that same day. With the 99th overall pick, Ferguson & Co selected James Reimer of the Red Deer Rebels, a Western league goalie who skipped the heir apparent stage altogether and moved himself right into savior territory with his level of play for the Leafs over the past few years (much of 2011-12 notwithstanding.)

One playoff series, two starting goalies, both drafted by John Fergsuon Jr.


Rask vs Reimer: By The Numbers

Here’s how they stack up (with Rask having played in 34 more games than Reimer):

Rask Reimer
Wins 66 53
Sv% 0.927 0.915
GAA 2.15 2.71
Wins 19 19
Sv% 0.929 0.924
GAA 2 2.46

Over the course of their respective careers, Rask has a decided advantage in each of these key categories, while in 2013, the gap decreases, with the obvious exception of GAA.

If we zoom right in on Sv%, we see that Rask has a slight advantage, meaning that when it comes to determining which team has the advantage in net, shots fired may be everything.

Bruins vs Leafs: Shots Fired

Which brings us to this handy tweet that was making the rounds on Monday morning:

What this tells us is that over the course of this past 48 game regular season, the Bruins had a +3.54 shot per game differential over their opponents, while the Maple Leafs come in with an average of -5.93. That amounts to a 9.47 swing in favor of the Bruins, a distinction that might well prove to be key over the course of a four to seven game series.

Why? Because if you factor in Boston’s propensity to out shoot their opponents and Toronto’s inability to keep the puck away from Reimer, this should mean that Reimer will see anywhere from 40-70 more shots than Rask over the course of the series, theoretically giving up almost an extra goal per game on average despite his impressive Sv% (hence the higher GAA) and increasing Boston’s chances of winning game in and game out.

Quite simply, the bigger the shot differential, the more that the slim gap that exists between Rask and Reimer in Sv% should translate into more goals allowed by Reimer and wins for Rask and the Bruins.

What Does It All REALLY Mean?

Look, we all know that all bets are off when the playoffs start (a point I made here last week.) Both Rask and Reimer have had exceptional seasons, with many believing that the latter is the biggest reason why his team is in the playoffs to begin with. Either one of these guys could steal steal any number of games regardless of the number of shots faced, upping the ante even further despite what the stats might suggest over the long haul.

Having said that, 48 games is enough to give us an idea of what these teams are all about, and the onus, therefore, is on the guys in front of them to a) control possession, b) limit chances against and c) fire away at the opposing goalie.

At the end of the day, goaltending could very well be THE deciding factor in determining a winner in this series, with Bruins fans hopefully chanting the louder version of “Thank you JFJ” before moving on to the second round.

End Note:

Before I offer up a prediction on this series, let me qualify what I am about to say by posting a personal tweet from Sunday night:

That said, I do believe that the Bruins will come out on top, and a loss to the Maple Leafs would be a major upset and disappointment. Boston has been there before, and despite their 2013 malaise, they have the wherewithal to succeed in the playoffs, while the Leafs are either on the cusp or destined to regress.

I’ll take Boston in 6.

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