Now more than ever, the Toronto Maple Leafs have question after question facing themselves with their goaltending. Who is the starter? Who is going to stick around past this season? Who is the goalie of the future? Lets try to figure this out.
First we have Jonathan Bernier. Acquired after the 2012-13 season, Bernier hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype that was laid on him. In his two full seasons with the team, he has been unable to hold onto the starter’s job that was practically handed to him, whether it be because of bad play or injury. It has gotten even worse for him this season. Not only has he had an injury that cost him more than few games, but the re-emergence of James Reimer and Bernier’s continued struggles have seen him sent to the Toronto Marlies on a 10-day condition stint. Also, not winning a single game in the first two months of a season works is down right unacceptable.
Next we have Reimer. The last goalie to lead the Leafs to the playoffs, Reimer has been patiently biding his time since Bernier was acquired and it finally seems to have paid off this year. Taking on the reins after Bernier got hurt, Reimer became one of the better goalies in the league for the early part of the season. He has climbed into the top 10 of wins by a Maple Leaf goaltender and is not too far from climbing to the same level in games played as well. Unfortunately, he also eventually suffered an injury which he’s just about to come back from.
The third goalie to play a game for the Leafs this season was Garret Sparks. Drafted all the way back in 2011, Sparks was playing in the East Coast Hockey League with the Orlando Solar Bears. After Christopher Gibson was one of the five prospects sent the New York Islanders for Michael Grabner, Sparks was able to move up to the Marlies. Splitting the net with Antoine Bibeau, the duo have led the Marlies to near the top of the AHL.
Bibeau was a sixth-round pick that no one really expected anything out of. That is until he helped lead the Val d’Or Foreurs to the QMJHL Championship in 2014. He won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the Playoffs MVP and was named the Most Outstanding Goaltender in the 2014 Memorial Cup Tournament. He struggled in his first professional season with the Marlies last season but has obviously bounced back. He earned the first call-up of the season when Bernier got hurt.
So what do the Leafs do?
Let’s look at the contract status of each goalie. Bernier signed a two-year deal, narrowly avoiding an arbitration award, with a cap hit of $4.15 million that began this season. Reimer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 while Sparks will be a restricted free agent on the same day unless he is re-signed. Bibeau will make $655,000 for this season and next, the final two years of his entry-level deal.
The biggest question mark is Reimer. Will his strong play convince the Leafs to re-sign him? Or will the same strong play make him a valuable trade target at the trade deadline? What the Leafs decide to do with Reimer will go a long way to deciding the Leafs future when it comes to their goaltending.
The thought of sending Bernier to the minors was unthinkable until this season. With his value at an all-time low, is there any NHL team that would take on his contract, even for just one more year?
Then there is this tweet sent out by Hope Smoke on Twitter.
This would imply that the Leafs are actively trying to find a goalie that can bring them back to prominence and they aren’t willing to wait around to do it. It’s doubtful that they would find someone via trade as they would probably be looking for a younger goalie and teams don’t usually give those up very easily.
Finding an elite goalie through the draft is a roll of the dice. Take Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, two of the best goalies in the game. Price was taken with the fifth overall pick in 2005 while Lundqvist was drafted 205th overall in 2000. You can find an elite goalie in the first round, the seventh round or anywhere in between. A team’s scouting has to be really sure of who they are taking, especially in the earlier rounds.
Getting back to the Leafs, its fair to say that one of Bernier or Reimer will not be back in Toronto next season. Whether or not they bring another goalie in to replace the one that leaves remains to be seen. The next few months should be pretty interesting at least when it pertains to the Leafs crease.