For the first time in what seems like a very long time, goaltending isn’t expected to be a weakness for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With James Reimer, 25, and Jonathan Bernier, 24, between the pipes next season, the Leafs will have one netminder who boasted a .924 save percentage in 2013 (Reimer) and another (Bernier) who was only slightly less efficient, at .922.
In fact, new MLSE president Tim Leiweke believes the Leafs “have the best tandem of goalkeepers in the NHL.”
Still, questions remain.
Lots of questions.
Like: If Reimer had such a good year, why did the Leafs feel the need to give up forward Matt Frattin, backup Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick to get Bernier out of L.A., where he was stuck behind Jonathan Quick? Does management have something against Reimer, or does Bernier simply just increase the team’s odds of getting quality goaltending?
“You just have to focus on what you can control and believe in yourself.”
Another question: What has Bernier really proven? He’s only started 54 regular-season games in the NHL. He’s never felt the pressure that number ones feel at the highest level. He’s never started a playoff game. And when it comes to media scrutiny, Toronto is a tad more intense than Los Angeles.
When Bernier was acquired, Leafs general manager Dave Nonis suggested that the starting job was open for competition.
“Nothing is being guaranteed to anybody,” Nonis said, per the Toronto Star. “It’s a situation where we feel we’re deeper. We feel they both have great potential.
“We feel we have two of the top young goaltenders in the league right now. Both we feel have the potential to be solid No. 1s.”
And really, it’s hard to argue with that. Neither Reimer nor Bernier cost much in the way of cap hit; the former’s is $1.8 million next season, the latter’s $2.9 million. If one falters, that’s what the other is there for. If both play well, the Leafs have a nice trade chip to play down the road.
And if both falter? Well, there’s always that possibility. But then, that exists for every team. Goaltending is a tough thing to predict. Just look at the St. Louis Blues -- they got fantastic performances from their netminders in 2011-12 (.929 save percentage); this past season, not so much (.902).
“Overall, I felt I played well this past season,” said Reimer. “I feel like I’ve established myself as a No. 1 goalie in this league.”
But he’ll have to re-establish himself in 2013-14, because there’s another guy now.
“I’ve been waiting for that, to get my chance,” Bernier said. “When you get your chance, you’ve got to take it.”
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