Goalies have been a hot topic in Toronto for a long time. Gone are the days of stable goaltending from the likes of Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Eddie Belfour. Gone are the failed experiments in Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala. Moved on are the journeymen and failed prospects.
These days in Toronto, the net is minded by two youngsters, James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.
Reimer – a 23 year old from Morweena, Manitoba – is in his second season playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reimer is fresh into a new three-year contract that pays $1.8 million annually. He earned it based on a strong finish to last season which saw Reimer earn the starter’s job, posting a 20-10-5 record with a 0.921SV% and 2.60 GAA.
Gustavsson – a 27 year old from Danderyd, Sweden – is in his third season playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gustavsson is in the last year of a two-year contract that paid him $1.35 million annually. Prior to that, he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs by signing a one-year contract worth $2.5 million ($1.6 million in bonuses). Gustavsson posted a 16-15-9 record in 2009-2010, along with a 0.902SV% and a 2.87GAA. Last year he regressed to a 6-13-2 record, with a dismal 0.890SV% and 3.29GAA.
With the season just over half finished, now would be a good time to take a look at how the goaltending is faring this season. This was somewhat brought upon by a tweet from @thejustinfisher last night, joking that Gustavsson was getting hotter just in time to walk when free agency hits.
The goaltending hasn’t always been that good this season, and I emphasize the word good because it’s still not great (far from, really). Good goaltending helps teams steal games. It can bail a team out on nights where the compete level isn’t where it should be. It can inspire vigorous offensive play, diligent back checking and defensively sound play.
The Leafs haven’t received adequate goaltending since the last time they made the playoffs. Since then, it’s been an up and down ride. That all seemingly changed last year towards the end of the season. Enter rookie phenom James Reimer, whose goaltending and calming presence led the Leafs on a late season run of good hockey, bringing them close but never really close enough for a playoff berth.
Reimer’s late season heroics were enough to earn him a shiny, new contract (as noted earlier) and gave Leafs Nation a sense of renewed optimism for the upcoming season. We had finally found our bonafide starter. The search was finally over, and we could focus on improving other aspects of the team. Burke’s mantra of building from the net out was coming together, and we could finally move forward.
Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2011-2012 NHL season. Reimer plays the first five games of the season, and the Leafs are feeling good with a 4-0-1 record. Nine of a possible ten points. The bandwagons are loaded, the parades are being planned, and everything feels good. At least, on the surface.
I can’t remember if it was addressed at the time but I have a feeling it was. There are a lot of intelligent minds out there who definitely would have caught these concerning statistics, but I’m assuming they were downplayed because of the overall success of the club. Getting back on topic, here are Reimer’s stats from this season:
After posting a shutout in the season opener against Montreal (a game I was at, he looked very sharp), the stats go downhill for Reimer. Five goals on thirty two shots against Ottawa (0.844 SV%), three goals on twenty four shots against Colorado (0.875 SV%) and three goals against Winnipeg (0.897 SV%). That’s three of five games with a save percentage less than 0.900. After 5 games, Reimer was sitting at a save percentage of 0.913 with a GAA of 2.60.
The numbers themselves aren’t bad, and Aristotle did say that the ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts”, but you had to wonder if the goaltending was going to start catching up to the team.
As it would go, James Reimer succumbed to injury in his next game, exiting the lineup with what was eventually called a concussion.
Enter Jonas Gustavsson and AHL callup Ben Scrivens.
Gustavsson, by necessity, assumed the starter’s job when Reimer went down, and many in Leafs Nation became nervous, as Reimer was seemingly the only one able to play in pressure situations. After the first couple games led by Gustavsson in net, it looked as if the fans were right. Gustavssons stats so far this season:
As you can tell by the above statistics, Jonas’ first few games as the starter weren’t that pretty. Inserted to his first start before Reimer went down against the Bruins, he was blown out for six goals on forty three shots (0.860 SV%). If you remember watching this game, the Leafs played downright embarrassing, but the goaltending was nothing to be proud of either. His next two games saw him posting sub 0.900 save percentages, and collective groans were heard in Toronto.
The goaltending of Gustavsson did not encourage coach Ron Wilson to give Gustavsson the bulk of starts, and so farmhand Ben Scrivens was able to get into some game action. Unfortunately, despite a good first game, the honeymoon ended early for the Cornell graduate. His NHL statistics are as follows:
Of the eight games he played in, Scrivens posted 4 games in which his save percentage was lower than 0.900. On the flipside, Scrivens’ other four games saw his post save percentages all above 0.925. With obvious investments in Reimer and Gustavsson, Scrivens’ stay was brief, and he returned to the AHL.
Reimer would eventually return, but his results haven’t been spectacular. This has led to the temporary naming of Gustavsson as the starter for the team. As coach Wilson put it, the goalie who is getting results and gives the team the best chance to win, will start.
That man has been Jonas Gustavsson, he of the 0.908 save-percentage and 2.83 GAA. In comparison, Reimer’s accumulated a 0.899 save-percentage and 3.01 GAA.
The numbers aren’t pretty, and as a direct result, neither is the team’s record.
So the question is, what should the team do?
With goaltender Jonas Gustavsson set to hit the UFA market (which, may I remind you, is the barest it’s been in years) and James Reimer signed on for two more seasons, the team will have some decisions to make.
Ben Scrivens (AHL : 2.37 GAA, 0.912 SV%) and Jussi Rynnas (AHL : 2.63 GAA, 0.910 SV%) are both set to become RFA at season’s end.
Mark Owuya (AHL : 1.97 GAA, 0.932 SV%, 5 GP), who has spent most of the season with the ECHL Reading Royals (ECHL : 2.78 GAA, 0.929 SV%), has one more year left on his contract.
Grant Rollheiser (a Leaf draft pick) hardly plays, and is still attending college. Garret Sparks (taken in last year’s draft) is doing his time with Owen Sound in the OHL.
All are decent prospects, but are any legitimate starting goaltenders? Possibly, but none would be able to step in right away.
There’s a chance James Reimer can be a starting goaltender, he’s shown good ability in the past, but he’s currently in a funk. The team will have two more seasons to evaluate his ability and at a reasonable cap hit too.
With Gustavsson, the situation gets a bit difficult. He could choose to walk away in the summer, seeking bigger dollars from a team that’s willing to allocate him more starts. The Leafs would certainly look to platoon the new backup with Reimer, who hasn’t show the ability to get the bulk of starts on his own. There’s also a possibility that the team may choose to walk away from Gustavsson. In their defence, they may have deemed him not capable and would seek an alternative.
Now the question becomes ‘Does the alternative come from within the organization, or would they have to look externally?’
Ben Scrivens seems like the best option internally, but that would put a lot of pressure on Reimer, who would be expected to gain the majority of starts. I just can’t see the Leafs going with a Reimer / Scrivens duo, it’s a lot of inexperience and there would be tons of room for failure.
It makes most sense for the club to seek an external option, and in all honesty it would need to come from a trade.
Some of you reading this may be saying ‘why trade for a goalie when we can sign one for free?’. Normally, this would be correct. However, the UFA market for goalies is absolutely horrible. The only player worth mentioning is Josh Harding, who coincidentally is on the list of players I think the Leafs should target.
This post is really dragging on, and I normally despise doing that, but when you think about the topic, the length is merited. To keeps things simple, I’m going to list goaltender candidates the Leafs should target for next season. I’m assuming they part ways with Gustavsson (who has proven he can’t handle the job and/or might seek bigger dollars from another organization) and they opt to not go with a Reimer/Scrivens tandem.
Without further hesitation, I will unveil my personal list of goalies the Leafs should target for next season:
- Josh Harding: Has been toiling as the backup behind Nicklas Backstrom for years now. Seen by many as NHL ready, filled in admirably while Backstrom was struggling early on. It’s possible he has been the by-product of a defensively-strong Minnesota system. Could be a good candidate to platoon with Reimer. Career GAA of 2.62 and .917 save percentage.
- Jaroslav Halak: St. Louis gave up a package for whom they thought would be their starter for many years. With the play of Brian Elliot, and prospects such as Jake Allen and Ben Bishop in the system, the Blues might look to deal Halak away. He’s owed $3.75 million annually until 2013-2014. Would command a hefty return, but appears to be best goaltender available through trade. Started off slow, but has regained his form. Lifetime GAA of 2.48 with a save percentage of 0.916.
- Sergei Bobrovsky: Emerged as solid goaltender for Philadelphia last season, but wasn’t enough to get them far in the playoffs. They went out and acquired Ilya Bryzgalov, and he’s signed to big money and a long term. Bobrovsky has played well this season, and has split time with Bryzgalov. He will have year left on his entry-level contract (RFA 2013), and might want to assume starter’s duties elsewhere. Lifetime 2.56 GAA and 0.916 SV%.
- Cory Schneider: In terms of skill, Schneider earns number four in the list of goaltending targets. That being said, he’s highly valued piece by Vancouver, and they aren’t eager to move him, considering Roberto Luongo’s incosistencies. Would command big package to acquire, and even then, it’s a pipe dream. Lifetime 2.45 GAA and 0.922 SV%.
- Jonathon Bernier: Jonathon Quick has been simply unreal for the Los Angeles Kings this year. They’d be doing a lot better if the rest of their team could support Quick’s efforts. Bernier remains a trade chip for LA, as it seems they will be going with Quick in the long run. They have some farmhands (in specific, who could be ready to assume backup if they decide to move Bernier out. Bernier is still raw in terms of ability, but he’s highly touted and could be that goalie. Hasn’t played much in the past couple of seasons, but if given the chance, he could explode.
- Anders Lindback: Has stormed on to the goaltending scene, playing very well behind Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. With Nashville locking up Rinne and issues trying to get both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter long term, the Predators may look to move Lindback, whose contract expires at season end. He will be an RFA, but will seek more money, and the Preds may be unable to afford him. Lifetime 2.62 GAA with a 0.911 save percentage. Nashville is known for being a defensive team, so the transition to Toronto may be difficult (as with Harding).
- Ben Bishop: An interesting situation in St. Louis, as one of their top goaltending prospects is set to become a UFA at seasons end if he does not play 15 more NHL games. The depth in St. Louis is so deep that Bishop has been limited to 13 NHL games, and will change from RFA to group VI UFA. He’s a big goalie, standing at 6’7″, and would be ideal for the Allaire style goaltending. He could probably be had for a small price (as compared to the above alternatives), but there is more risk associated with his acquisition. Lifetime 2.83 GAA with 0.896 SV%. (AHL 2011/2012: 2.17 GAA and 0.932 SV%)
- Antero Niittymaki: With Antti Niemi, Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock the writing is on the wall for Niitymaki. Set to become a UFA at years end, the Sharks will most certainly liked to get some value for him before his contract expires. Niitymaki is last on the list because of his age and his ability. He should be a last ditch effort in order to shore up the goaltending, if all else fails. I don’t believe the Leafs will look at Niitymaki as a trade target, but could approach him in July should all ele fail. Lifetime 2.95 GAA with a 0.902 SV%.
I’ve ranked the list somewhat in terms of cost, ability and potential. All of the candidates (with the exception of Niittymaki) are below the age of 27 and would fit in well moving forward. The only goalie that would be obtainable outside of trade would be Harding, who tops the list. Bishop could potentially become a UFA, but that’s a longshot; St. Louis will almost certainly move his rights to a team in need prior to the deadline.
I’d love to hear everyones thoughts on the list, and what your creative ideas are for improving the goaltending situation. Leave a comment, or send us (@leafswire) a tweet.