Coming into the 2015-16 season with the Maple Leafs, fans knew that they were going to experience a difficult and often frustrating time watching their favourite team on the ice. It was a rebuilding year that promised a new system and a revolving door of players, in order to showcase to the coaching staff and management exactly what the organization has available.
Through the first portion of the season, one problem has arisen and made itself abundantly clear: the Maple Leafs have a goaltending problem. Jonathan Bernier, who was supposed to be the starter, has looked mediocre in most, if not all, of his starts. James Reimer, a free agent at the end of the season, has taken the reins and run with the starter’s job.
The Maple Leafs have also been keeping an eye on the goaltending market, for either a proven starter or a potential prospect that can become a regular in the coming years.
The former Los Angeles King was supposed to be the number one goaltender for the Buds this year. He was signed to a new contract over the summer that will see him make $4.15 million this year and next. Bernier is getting paid starters money and yet he has been unable to find his groove.
Mike Babcock gave him support to start the season, but despite the vote of confidence, Bernier struggled and at this point in time has yet to record his first win of the season. Bernier is a solid goaltender. For whatever reason, this season has seen him struggle and give up incredibly soft goals; Derek Stepan’s from centre ice against the Rangers is the most recent example of exactly how this season has started for Bernier.
The Quebec native has now lost the confidence of his head coach, who will now ride Reimer as far as he can take him.
The former 99th overall pick in 2006 has been nothing short of spectacular when he slides into the Leafs net to begin their games. With the faltering of Bernier, the Leafs needed a competent netminder to assume the starting duties. Reimer has been a revelation and was even named the third star of the week for his efforts.
The problem lies in the fact that Reimer is not supposed to be the starting goalie. He is a free agent at the end of this season, and will more than likely move on to another team. He holds value right now, and the Leafs should look to trade him and acquire more assets. The potential trouble is if they do trade him, is Bernier the option they want in net right this second?
The Maple Leafs have some interesting options. This year is not at all about getting into the playoffs, it’s about evaluating the talent in the organization and securing picks and young players to add to the stockpile. The Leafs should be giving Bernier all the help they can get, in order to get him back in top playing form.
That way, if Reimer does indeed get moved later on, they still have a goalie who they can rely on for at least another year. There are a couple of other options as well. Garret Sparks and Antonie Bibeau, both with the Toronto Marlies, have impressed in the AHL so far this year. Both are young and itching for the chance to prove they belong in the NHL.
Another option is to trade for a young prospect that the Maple Leafs think would have a decent shot of becoming the goalie of the future. Lou Lamoriello usually keeps his cards pretty close to his chest, and is probably keeping an ear to the ground just in case anything will come up. The chances a team is willing to part with a young up and coming goalie prospect are pretty slim however.
The Maple Leafs haven’t had a solid and sure-fire number one goaltender in net for many years. The new regime must find a solution soon, as the Leafs are going nowhere fast without the help of a stellar player between the pipes.