Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been put between a rock and a hard place with what has happened with their two goalies in the last month.
Going into the 2015-16 season, it was all but certain that Jonathan Bernier would once again get the lion’s share of starts, as the talk of his potential continued. However, through nearly two months of the NHL season, it hasn’t been Bernier helping the Leafs to some success. It has been James Reimer, the goalie that led the Leafs to the playoffs in 2013 and was unceremoniously demoted when the Leafs acquired Bernier.
Since then, Reimer really hasn’t had a shot at taking back the starter’s role some would think he should have never lost. Sure he would play more games near the end of the season, but in the past few years those games have been far from meaningful. The shot to actually play meaningful games finally came this season.
Bernier was struggling heavily throughout the first month of the season. Goals in the first few minutes of the first period hurt the Leafs. Unfortunately, some of those early goals occurred on the very first shot he faced in a game. That it happened in the first game of the season didn’t exactly get the Leafs off to a good start. However, then Bernier got hurt.
Well, one man’s misfortune can sometimes lead to another man’s opportunity.
Since Bernier got hurt, Reimer has taken the net and run with it. In the 12 games he has appeared in, Reimer has a 6-2-3 record with a goals against average of 2.19 and a save percentage of .930. All of those totals are what Bernier has done in eight games. Bernier has also yet to guide the Leafs to a win, while Reimer was recently honored with being the Third Star of the Week.
The Leafs’ recent surge has helped them barely climb out of the NHL’s bottom five teams. Whether that’s good or bad really depends on your opinion on the Leafs’ rebuild. The strange thing is that the Leafs are only five points back of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, compared to being three points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, the worst team in the League. It might be early but the Leafs were not supposed to be flirting with the playoffs at any point of the season.
So what happens with Reimer and Bernier? Well, Reimer seems to be playing at the right time. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Bernier is in the first of a two-year deal he signed this past off-season. With Reimer’s contract expiring, what will the Leafs do?
The Leafs could hang on to him. After all, Reimer has been a good soldier for the Leafs when it seemed all they could do is bury him. Now that he is showing them that he still has what it takes to be a starter in the NHL, he could very well be re-signed and stick with the Leafs through the rebuild. After all, Reimer has said he wants to spend his entire career in Toronto.
Then there is the trade option. If Reimer continues to play well, the Leafs might be in the position to get a good return in exchange for him. If there is a team that has an injured goalie and needs a stopgap, Reimer could be a good option. He only carries a $2.3 million cap hit and would have to pay only what is left on the contract. If the Leafs are actually aiming to finish with the best chance of winning the draft lottery, then trading a well-performing Reimer could help that goal.
So what will the Leafs do? We know the Leafs will probably end up trading most of their soon-to-be UFAs at or near the deadline. Will Reimer be included in that group? Some would consider it a shame now that he has climbed into the top 10 of wins as a Maple Leafs goalie and is about to reach the same level in games played as well.