Tuesday, January 11, 2011
James Reimer has been a revelation since taking over for an injured Giguere and an inconsistent Gustavsson. He is 3-1 with a 1.90 GAA and .945 SV%. His wins have come against Ottawa, Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles. Excluding Ottawa, all those teams rank in the top half of the league in goals per game, so it isn’t like his stats are buoyed by poor competition. He has also been aided by a resurgent Leafs team – although it’s hard to decipher whether the Leafs are playing well because they’re getting good goaltending, or whether they're getting good goaltending because the're playing well as a team. It’s likely somewhere in the middle.
Before joining the Leafs, Reimer was 7-3-1 with a 2.73 GAA and .920 SV% for the Marlies. Last year in 25 games with the Marlies, Reimer was 14-8-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .925 SV%. Before that he spent his first season and a half of pro hockey in the ECHL where he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Consequently, people didn't expect much of Reimer, especially considering Justin Pogge was generally regarded as the Leafs’ goalie of the future. Not anymore.
The trickledown effect of Reimer’s ascension has meant that the Leafs recalled Ben Scrivens from the ECHL to get some playing time in the AHL. So far Scrivens is 4-1-3 with a 2.35 GAA and .922 SV%. His AHL teammate, Jussi Rynnas (dubbed as the Finnish Jonas Gustavsson), is 8-11-3, which is misleading considering he has a 2.66 GAA and .915 SV%. Having two promising goalies in the AHL and James Reimer playing well during his brief NHL career means the Leafs have decisions to make.
J.S. Giguere is close to returning from the IR, which means that the Leafs will have to either send Reimer back to the AHL or carry three goaltenders on the roster. Reimer has clearly played well enough to deserve more playing time in the NHL. Giguere has been hurt and inconsistent and Gustavsson didn’t exactly cement his position as a legitimate NHL goalie in his absence.
It’s clear that Giguere won’t be back with the Leafs next season when you factor in his age, injury history, and poor performance this year. If Reimer is able to maintain a relatively high level of play over the remainder of the season (either in the NHL or AHL) it seems reasonable to expect the Leafs to go into next season with Reimer and Gustavsson as their goalies.
So if Giguere is not in the Leafs’ plans for next season then they must do everything they can to trade him before the deadline. The only problem with this plan is that Giguere has been unable to prove himself capable of staying healthy and capable of playing at a competent level. I’m sure the injury is playing a role in Giguere’s poor performance considering he had a .915 SV% last year with the Leafs.
The only way the Leafs can convince a contending team to take a chance on Giguere at the deadline is by playing him a ton down the stretch to prove that he is both healthy and capable. This means that the goalie giving the Leafs the best performance at the moment – Reimer – won’t actually be starting for the Leafs.
Even if Giguere is able to stay healthy and regain his form are there any teams that would be interested in his service? Washington may not be content going into the playoffs with both Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth as their goalies considering their age and inexperience. The San Jose Sharks could have interest in adding a veteran like Giguere because neither Niemi nor Nittymaki have been able to provide them with consistent goaltending. The Bluejackets have an outside shot at the playoffs and neither Mathieu Garon nor Steve Mason have been able to provide even adequate goaltending. It's possible (although a bit of a long shot) that one of these teams may call on the Leafs to inquire about Giguere's availability.
Of course Giguere’s stats are worse than all of the goalies previously listed, so no will desperately try to acquire the former Conn Smythe winner’s services. That’s why it’s essential that once he returns from injury the Leafs play Giguere – and hope he plays well – if they expect to receive anything of value for the veteran. Even so, the return for Giguere would likely be minimal. But, at this point, anything is better than nothing.
Maybe we should all just start hoping for a rash of injuries to plague goalies around the league.