This is part one of a three-part series grading the Toronto Maple Leafs by position. To view other editions and the date they are set to be published, click here.
Goaltending is an issue that has surrounded the Toronto Maple Leafs for a number of years. This year, though, it isn’t so much of an issue as it is a massive question mark.
As you can imagine, “goaltending shmoltending” derives from the infamous quote provided by former Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher, who referred to the NHL Entry Draft as “draft schmaft” after trading away a first round pick in 1997. Now with a relatively 50/50 chance of the Leafs’ goaltending being second-to-none this season, assuming there is a season, we wonder if current Leafs GM Brian Burke will be able to refer to Toronto’s situation between the pipes as “goaltending shmoltending.”
The above mentioned question mark mainly concerns third-year netminder James Reimer. After stealing the show with his rookie campaign, Reimer suffered through an injury-riddled season in 2011-2012. What everyone wants to know now is whether or not Reimer will be able to regain his rookie form and lead the Leafs from the net.
Assuming that is the case, head coach Randy Carlyle, the Leaf defenders and the Leaf forwards will all be granted permission to take more risks knowing that Reimer will be there to bail them out if anything goes wrong. Perhaps that was the issue last season under Ron Wilson’s run-and-gun style, as Reimer was never able to fully perform at the level with which he opened the season.
If Reimer manages statistics somewhere around the 2.60, .915 mark, the Leafs won’t need to worry about what goes on in the crease at all. That is, of course, unless Reimer goes down with another injury.
No one is entirely sure what to expect from Ben Scrivens once he gets some regular playing time at the NHL level. Not that we should expect that to come any time soon even if the season does begin earlier than anticipated, but it’s something that must be considered regardless.
Based purely on his AHL statistics, it’s easy to have confidence in Scrivens at the NHL level. Surely he would be able to translate a .926 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average with the Toronto Marlies into NHL success, but his 3.13 GAA and .902 save percentage in 12 career games with the Leafs would suggest otherwise.
However, Scrivens understands the current reality and won’t stop working hard.
“You can’t help but acknowledge that [a promotion to the NHL is] a possibility, but I can’t control anything like that. All I’m going to go out and do is try and have a good start with the Marlies here. We’ll see where things end up.”
Ben Scrivens, September 27
We must remember that Scrivens, like Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya, is still young and hasn’t lost much potential, if any.
Unfortunately for Rynnas and Owuya, the NHL lockout comes with a ripple effect that will likely send one of the two to play in the ECHL, one level below the AHL. They were originally expected to split time with the Marlies, but that doesn’t seem as though it will happen any time soon.
The good news for Rynnas and Owuya is that once the lockout is lifted, Scrivens will wind up with the Leafs and they will both be suiting up for the Marlies on a nightly basis. Then, if one of Reimer or Scrivens goes down with an injury, whoever has performed better at the AHL level will be the first to get a crack at the NHL in a backup role.
Current overall goaltending grade: C+
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation is all about potential, questions marks and ifs.
If James Reimer can remain healthy, he will be their number one. If James Reimer can regain his rookie form, the Leafs will be in solid shape for much of the season. If Ben Scrivens can improve at the NHL level, he will be a solid backup until developing into a starter. If Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya are relied on at some point, what should we expect?
With that, it’s difficult to assess the Leafs’ position between the pipes. We do know one thing, though.
Assuming Reimer returns to the level of play he was once at, we will be able to say “goaltending shmoltending” when talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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Lukas, a student at the University of Ottawa, covers the Toronto Maple Leafs on a part-time basis for The Hockey Writers. Contact Lukas at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @LukasHardonk.