NFL Preseason Picks: Arizona Cardinals

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4, St. Louis Rams 7-9

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Arizona Cardinals have been very disappointing as of late. It seems like a millennia since that fateful 2007 meeting in the Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals in the final minutes. Ever since, the Cardinals have been on a downward wind. They added Carson Palmer to the lineup this offseason, a mighty upgrade from the hapless efforts of Kevin Kolb. In 2012, they placed 4th in the NFC West with a record of 5-11, and hope to improve on that with some new personnel.

Adding Carson Palmer to the offense legitimizes threats like the deadly Larry Fitzgerald and has the ability to bring lesser names into the spotlight like Michael Floyd, a young player from Notre Dame oozing with potential. Rashard Mendenhall has been adequate in the running game, and will help Palmer get the ball downfield with his pass blocking ability. He could potentially take pressure off Palmer by making the offense a little more multi-dimensional. This offense had trouble getting going behind the arm of Kolb and Skelton for most of the season. In fact, the Cardinals actually went through four quarterbacks in the sixteen-game stretch.

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Patrick Peterson and the tepid Arizona secondary may benefit quickly and greatly from Mathieu’s big-play capability.

The defense of Arizona was so-so in 2012, ranking mid-table for all major categories. They added college sensation Tyrann Mathieu to the secondary in the draft. If Mathieu performs to the extent that he is capable of, which has been the case as of late, he will turn a lot of heads in 2013. Don’t expect the defense to make headlines however; they still have a lot of core pieces that need to fit in.

Prediction:

The Cardinals are unimpressive. They will be unimpressive for a while until they figure out some kinks in the personnel. I think that they take a step back and post a record of 4-12. This is because they are working with a new quarterback, and even though he is an upgrade from the previous cluster of lackluster shot callers, he will still need time to acclimate himself into the offense. The defense will probably be the only positive to this team, and even that could use some more tweaking. The Arizona Cardinals will be a lower-tier team in 2013, and will probably settle for such. 

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College Football Preview: the South Eastern Conference

The South Eastern Conference has been, without debate, the big brother to call other collegiate football conferences for the better part of the last decade — a Goliath with no David anywhere to be seen. While everyone outside the Southeastern region will root for that to change in the coming season, it is unlikely to. Six of the top 13 preseason ranked teams hail from the SEC with Alabama holding down their familiar spot at number one. Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida and LSU are the other five. With talent bursting at the seams of at least half the teams in the conference, it’s not hard to imagine that one of these teams – or even two — may end up in Pasadena for the BCS Championship Game. Here’s a primer for what everyone should expect from the SEC in this coming season.

Conference Champion:

This may sound familiar to anyone who has a pulse and has ever seen a football: Alabama is the odds-on favorite to take home the SEC crown yet again. This very well could be the best team Alabama has had since the arrival of Nick Saban, which should be a scary thought to any college football fan. They return eight starters off the nation’s top ranked defense from a year ago as well as an All-American caliber quarterback in A.J McCaron, a stable of impressive receivers and yet another incredible rushing specimen, T.J Yeldon, to run the ball behind Alabama’s mountainous offensive line.

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McCarron has all the right surrounding pieces for a repeat run in 2013.

Alabama, while great, is not without their faults. They do have two possible chinks in their armor. The offensive line cannot be as good as it was a year ago as they lost three players to the NFL draft, two in the top 11 picks. The other possible deficiency is in the secondary. It is a fairly green unit who lost the best cornerback in nation to the NFL draft a year early. Though new, there is no reason to not expect the young players at these positions to play much like the ones they are replacing. After all, they were recruited to Alabama for a reason.

Offensive Players to Watch

  1. Johnny Manziel QB (Texas A&M): As of this writing he is still eligible so until he is declared otherwise he must be considered the top offensive player to watch, not only in the SEC but in the nation. Johnny Football broke every meaningful offensive record in SEC history as a redshirt freshman, knocked off number one Alabama and won the Heisman. What more needs to be said? Watch this young man play football. Like him or hate him for his off the field antics, there’s no one else quite like him.
  2. Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall RBs (Georgia): These two running backs burst on to the scene as true freshmen last season to combine for 2144 yards and 25 touchdowns. Gurley ended up with more yards (1385) than did Marshall (759). Marshall’s average was slightly better (6.5 to 6.2 yards per carry) but the two consider themselves co-starters and credit each other with their success. Either could start for almost any school in the country but happen to play on the same team, making it best tandem in the nation. Think Darren McFadden and Felix Jones for Arkansas in 2007, who both went on to be first round picks in the NFL draft. These two can be that good.
  3. Aaron Murray QB (Georgia): Expect some scoring from Georgia this season. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually stop someone with all their defensive losses, but they will have one of the best offenses around. Murray is a four year starter at quarterback and has passed for over 10,000 career yards. Behind Murray, Georgia was five yards away from beating Alabama and getting into the BCS National Championship game last season and that is what drove Murray to return for his senior season and push off the NFL draft for another year. Well, that and the chance to own every last SEC record a quarterback can claim.

Defensive Players to Watch

  1. Jadeveon Clowney DE (South Carolina): In case anyone has forgotten the play that made Clowney a household name (THE HIT). While he certainly gained national notoriety for that play, he is far more than a one hit wonder. Clowney had 13 sacks last year while being double teamed more often than not. He is the slam-dunk guaranteed number one overall pick in next spring’s NFL draft. He is the single most dominant defensive force in college football and is being viewed as a once in a decade type of a player
  2. CJ Mosley LB (Alabama): Mosley an all SEC player a year ago likely would have been another high round draft pick to come from Nick Saban’s and Kirby Smart’s defense. He elected to return for his senior season and attempt to win an unprecedented third national championship in a row. He is a likely All-American candidate and has been named to the preseason Butkus and Bendnarik Award watch lists.
  3. Dominique Easly DT (Florida): Easly is one of those guys who is as interesting to watch on the field as he is off the field. The senior has played all over the line at Florida but will finish his career at defensive tackle and has been tabbed as a pre-season all SEC pick by several groups, mostly for his disruptive pass rushing ability from the inside. Off the field, he is known to watch cartoons rather than normal TV shows, doesn’t know who Bear Bryant is, and wants to pet the LSU Tiger. Easly is a great player with a lot of personality on and off the field.

Surprise Team:

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Vandy may be considered another program stuck in the old-school tradition, but they’re winning more than you think.

In the flurry of headlines written about the extreme talent in the SEC, a school like Vanderbilt with little football tradition is easily lost in the shuffle. Many will be surprised to find out that ole Vandy won nine games last season and have one of the most popular coaches in college football and who will likely be offered a bigger job in the very near future. James Franklin took Vanderbilt to a bowl game in his first two seasons (records of 6-7 and 9-4), something the school had never done before. While it could be said that they benefitted from an easy schedule compared to most SEC teams, all a team can do is play whoever is on their schedule. Looking ahead to Vanderbilt’s 2013 schedule, it is certainly more difficult, but they should expect another eight or nine win season and a trip to another bowl game. More importantly for Vanderbilt football, they should be competitive against just about every team they play.

College Football Preview: the Big Ten Conference

The story of the Big Ten’s death has been greatly exaggerated. The conference once thought of as slow and unathletic, playing nothing more than “three yards and a cloud of dust” football, is changing the script and eyeing resurgence onto the national scene. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern enter the season ranked in the preseason Top 25 polls. Penn State likely would have nearly cracked the Top 25, were it not for the sanctions forbidding it. The Big Ten welcomes two new coaches to the conference in former Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell at Purdue and former Ohio State and Arkansas assistant Gary Anderson taking the job vacated by Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. So, what should fans expect from the Big Ten this year?

Conference Champion

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Buckeyes kick off the season a no. 2 in the preseason poll. Where will they be in December?

Ohio State enters the season ranked number two in the land and will be favored against every team they play this season. They went undefeated last year, but due to the NCAA sanctions stemming from “Tattoogate” they were banned from postseason play and were not permitted to play in the Big Ten Championship Game or any bowl game. They lose quite a few players on defense, but return their top playmakers in Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. Big things are expected out of Noah Spence, the highly recruited defensive end entering his sophomore season as the full-time starter. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller — who led the team in both passing and rushing — is being touted as a Heisman favorite, but will certainly have to improve his passing numbers if that is to come to fruition; Ohio State finished 105th in the FBS last season in passing yards. Top running back Carlos Hyde returns, as do the top two receivers Corey Brown and speedster Devin Smith. This is not a team without question marks, but they have enough raw talent, as well as impeccable coaching from Urban Meyer, to be the favorite to win the conference championship come December.

Offensive Players to Watch

  1. Braxton Miller QB (Ohio State): As previously alluded to, Braxton Miller is a real Heisman contender this fall. The junior quarterback is an electrifying runner and while not an elite passer, he is good enough that the defense cannot sell out against the run. He passed for over 2,000 yards last season and ran for another 1,200 — but only had a completion rate of 58% and 15 passing scores. He looks to improve on all those numbers this season.
  2. Venric Mark RB (Northwestern): Mark is the top returning rusher in the Big Ten. The diminutive senior running back stands at 5’8” 175lbs but managed 1,366 yards last season and 12 touchdowns. He added a bonus 20 receptions out of the backfield. Last year he also doubled as an impressive return man for the Wildcats and the same should be expected this year.
  3. Allen Robinson WR (Penn State): After having just three receptions his freshman season, Robinson exploded onto the scene in 2012. He led the Big Ten in receptions (77) , yards (1018 and receiving touchdowns (11). Standing at 6’3” 210lbs, Robinson is a load for any defensive back to bring down. That, along with his innate ability to high-point the ball in flight makes him the most dangerous receiver in the Big Ten and a valuable target for whomever will take the reins as the new quarterback at Penn State.

Defensive Players to Watch

  1. Deion Barnes DE (Penn State): After redshirting his true freshman season, Barnes saw the field early and often his redshirt freshman season of 2012. Working as part of a rotation, Barnes tallied six sacks and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The sophomore has added strength and weight during the offseason to become a better every down player and will garner more play time this fall.
  2. Ryan Shazier LB (Ohio State): The Junior linebacker was an all-conference defender last season, accounting for 115 unofficial tackles and six sacks. He is by far the best returning player on Ohio State’s front seven — and probably their whole defense. He will be looked upon as a leader for defense with a lot of big shoes to fill.
  3. Chris Borland LB (Wisconsin): Borland comes into his senior season as a reigning all-conference pick and one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. He accounted for over 100 tackles last season and looks to be a team captain this year. A strong senior defensive presence is just what new head man Gary Anderson needs in his first year on the job.

 

Surprise Team

ImageThis won’t be your father’s Northwestern Wildcats. While a preseason Top-25 team having a successful season wouldn’t usually constitute a surprise, an exception can be made in this case. Northwestern’s football tradition is fairly bare and because of this and other factors — such as their academic requirements — it is not easy to successfully recruit players to and coach at Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald is routinely considered a top coach in the game today and finally has a squad who can compete with every roster in the Big Ten. This is a squad that won ten games in 2012 and returns 15 starters, including their top two offensive playmakers, quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. They won’t be an easy out for anyone and could be poised to have one of the best seasons in Northwestern’s history if games against teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska go their way.

NBA Preview: the new Beasts of the East

The NBA’s Eastern Conference has always been somewhat ambiguous. In the past decade or so, the trend in the east is that it has been overwhelmingly top-heavy. There are always around four teams that are given a realistic chance to even make the finals and in recent years, that number has dwindled to around two or three teams.

The 2013-2014 season could prove to be different. With the big offseason moves in the east and looking at the teams who failed to make any moves whatsoever, it is beginning to look like a much more balanced top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Of course, there are still the teams that are deemed the ‘powerhouses’ of the conference.  In the past few years, the Heat have solely held that title, but with some revamped squads it looks like a few more teams will be joining them and it is no longer realistic to deem just one team the beast in the east.

To start off, the Indiana Pacers are immediate contenders. After a hard-fought seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals just a few months ago, it’s hard not to believe that this young Pacers squad will do anything but dramatically improve. Paul George emerged as one of the leagues newest superstars and proved that he has the ability to be the leader of his team at just 23 years of age. Indiana also possesses another young talent that the Heat continuously failed to match up with: Roy Hibbert. Hibbert, 26, completely dominated Miami’s front court in the conference finals while completely nullifying the work of Chris Bosh and Chris Anderson for the entirety of the series. On top of those two young talents, the Pacers will also see the return of Danny Granger, who once was one of the league’s best young talents and has the ability to help bring this team to an elite level.

Rose's return -- and offensive presence -- will draw attention away from his proven teammates.

Rose’s return — and offensive presence — will draw attention away from his proven teammates.

A team looking to get back to that elite level is the Chicago Bulls, and with the return of former MVP Derrick Rose, their chance at a title rockets. Without Rose, Tom Thibodeau and his ruthless squad were able to secure the fifth seed in the east and pull off a first-round upset over the Nets. The Rose-less Bulls were still one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and were never an easy win on anyone’s schedule.  With the elite defense already locked in, Derrick Rose will be able to restore a lacking offensive attack: he’s the only player in Chicago who demands additional defenders. If he does not get double teamed, then it’s only a matter of time before he makes defenders look silly with his ability get by just about any guard in the league.  With that, players like Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah are going to thrive on the offensive end because they won’t have to create plays for themselves; they’ll be feeding off of the pressure Rose puts on the opposition.

The team in the east that made the biggest offseason moves has to be the Brooklyn Nets.  A starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez is one of — if not — the most complete lineups in the league and will be hard for just about any team to match.  Just this April, the Nets were able to secure the fourth seed in the East through their balanced offensive attack between Williams and Lopez.  The one thing the team lacked was the toughness to hang with other elite teams on the defensive end – a determining factor in their first-round loss to Chicago. Garnett and Pierce fill in any holes the Nets had in their lineups because they are tough and championship-tested players, which exactly what the Nets needed to get on the same contention as the Heat.  Lopez, while a great threat on offense, was easily pushed around on the defense end, but now with the addition of Garnett the Nets gained that aggressive mentality in the front court that they have been missing.  Pierce no longer needs to be the primary scorer he was in Boston for so many years; in fact, he’s now more of a third-or-fourth option as a scorer and will be able to get his shots easier with the Nets’ balanced attack.  On top of the starting lineup, they also managed to put together a quality bench led by former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry, as well as Andrei Kirilenko, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche. With the moves the Nets made in the offseason, look for them to be a serious title contender as the season gets underway.

Anthony may win another scoring title, but his surrounding cast remains incomplete.

Anthony may win another scoring title, but his surrounding cast remains incomplete.

The one team who did not make many moves this offseason is the New York Knicks, who were able to put together an impressive 2012-13 regular season, entering the playoffs as the two-seed and losing to the Pacers in the conference semifinals. A best-case scenario for the Knicks this season is a fifth-seed finish. They failed to make the appropriate moves in order to get to that championship level that the Pacers, Bulls and Nets did to match up with the reigning Miami champions. They’re going to pick up where they left off with Carmelo Anthony averaging about 25 shots a game. When he is on, they have the ability to compete with anyone — but when he is off, they can just as easily lose to a cellar-dwelling team. The Knicks just did not adapt enough in order to contend in this ‘new look’ conference.

The back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture has also changed and I believe three teams that have not seen the playoffs in a few years will be back into the mix.  The Pistons, Cavaliers and Wizards all seem to be ready to make the push back into the playoffs and actually give other top teams in the east some matchup problems, which is different from past years where the bottom three seeds could make the playoffs with losing records and pose no threat to the top three seeds in the playoffs.

It may be fair to say that the Pistons are good enough to pass the Knicks in the playoff standings with their revamped roster.  They made huge moves this offseason to acquire Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, as well as the return of their 20004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups.  If the Pistons can play team basketball, they will be a tough team to beat. But for that to happen, players like Smith and Jennings are going to have to be willing to make some sacrifices to their own games in order to benefit the team. They are both prominently renowned scorers, but both often times have shot their former teams out of games rather than keeping them in it. It will be interesting to see how well the Pistons can harness their talent in order to produce a very solid team.

With the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, the Cavs also greatly improved — but only for as long as Bynum can stay healthy.  One thing that is overlooked in the NBA is how far a dominant point guard-center combination can take a team, and that is exactly what Cleveland has.  Kyrie Irving and Bynum can both be dominant players at their respective positions and it will be fun to watch them play together and give opposing teams problems on the offensive end.

Can Wall and Beal's Isiah Thomas-Joe Dumars impression push them towards a low seed?

Can Wall and Beal’s Isiah Thomas-Joe Dumars impression push them towards a low seed?

Lastly, the Wizards will be hoping to pick up where they left off at the end of last regular season when they finished on 25-25 regular season close. With a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, along with Nene and Emeka Okafor down low, the Wizards will be able to make a genuine push for the playoffs. While they will not be a championship contender, they will certainly give a top team in the east a better first-round matchup than the Bucks could do last season, and that’s all any fan can really ask for.

With the offseason moves that teams in the Eastern Conference have made, look for a much more balanced playoff race and more respectable conference as a whole. It’s been a long time since the East has had an opportunity to match up with all eight seeds in the west. This year could prove to be a new beginning for the once-weak Eastern Conference.

NFL Preseason Picks: St. Louis Rams

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Today we gaze upon St. Louis, where the Rams are working out some long-standing kinks in the preseason to get ready for their 2013 campaign. Last year, St. Louis looked like they were still experiencing some growing pains as they finished off the season at a record of 7-8-1. With a pretty good-looking draft, and the upside of young quarterback Sam Bradford, the once-Greatest Show on Turf hopes to improve on its misfortunes from 2012.

The Rams made waves in the NFL when they drafted Tavon Austin out of West Virginia in April. Austin has incredible speed, quickness and a natural big-playmaking ability. He will be a valuable weapon for Bradford as he tries to make that leap into the upper echelons of NFL signal callers. However, it seems as though Bradford can never catch a break: injuries, coaching changes and lack of surrounding talent has kept him at bay. But now with the addition of Austin, he may finally have his go-to guy. The loss of Steven Jackson is tremendous for this team. With Jackson on the field, the steady running game set the foundation for a dynamic offense. Not taking anything away from new lead man Daryl Richardson, but not many players can fill the shoes of Steven Jackson. It will be interesting to see what Jeff Fisher has up his sleeve to ignite the rebuilt Rams offense.

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A weakened run game and depleted secondary puts more pressure on Laurinaitis and the front seven.

The Rams defense was exceptional in 2012, tied for first with sacks and a strong linebacking core and secondary to boot. Expect a bit of a fall off the throne in 2013, as the Rams lost both of their starting safeties. A solid defense is the perfect preset for a solid team, and the Rams are fortunate enough to have that. In an era where points are abundant, the teams that achieve greatness are the ones that are competent on defense.

Prediction:

I see the Rams staying mediocre in 2013 and posting a record of 7-9, not much of a deviation from 2012. The Rams are a team still in the rebuilding phase. Gone are the days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. They must ditch that old persona and find a new identity. There is no shame in trying to leave one’s past behind, especially when you are trying to reach that steeple once again. Look for St. Louis to be a very good team in 2015. But this season, look for the Rams to be just another one in the herd.

What can Josh Harris do for the Devils?

Over the last several years, Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek has been trying to keep the team from bankruptcy. He bought out his former co-owners and refinanced his team’s debt. Still, payments never came in on time. Speculation is roaming that the team and Vanderbeek are now around $200 million in debt.

Rumors surfaced that the NHL was getting ready to take temporary control of the money-strapped franchise — the way they had with the Phoenix Coyotes. However, Commissioner Gary Bettman shot down any such rumors, leaving the Devils’ future in suspended limbo.

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After missing the playoffs for the second time in five years, the Devils may now have financial stability to look forward to.

Almost simultaneously, new rumors emerged that billionaire Josh Harris, current owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, was ready and willing to buy the team. If Harris buys the team, or at least makes himself a co-owner of the team, he will most certainly get the team out of their financial troubles.

The thought of a man from the Philadelphia area owning the Devils will worry a large part of the Devils fan base, not surprising considering the Devils and Flyers rivalry is one of the most intense in the NHL, but if the Devils fans can look beyond his ties to Philadelphia, they will see how much this will benefit the Devils in the future.

Perhaps the two most important things that will come about if Harris purchases the Devils are, as stated before, that the team will be out of debt and will be ready and willing to spend money to put a consistent contender on the ice. The team will also stay in New Jersey for the foreseeable future.

One other thing that worries Devils fans is the performance of the Sixers under Harris’s tenure. Since purchasing the team in July of 2011, Philadelphia has not managed to win more than 35 games in a regular season and missed the playoffs this last season.

However, the blame most definitely falls on the general manager and coaching staff. Comparing the accomplishments of Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie to those of Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello isn’t even fair. Regardless of who owns the Devils, Lamoriello puts a consistent contender on the ice season in and season out. This will not change if Harris purchases the Devils.

Compared to how long it took him to buy the Sixers, the negotiations with Vanderbeek are speeding along and a deal seems imminent in the near future, which is finally some great news for the Devils and their fans who haven’t had much to celebrate this summer.

Who gets the start in the Maple Leafs’ goal?

It has been no secret that one of the many weaknesses of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last decade has been goaltending. After losing Curtis Joseph back in 2002, the Leafs have never found a consistent starting goaltender.

Since Joseph left, the revolving door in net saw names such as Ed Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Andrew Raycroft, Justin Pogge, Scott Clemmensen, Vesa Toskala, Joey MacDonald and 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere have all come and gone having not been the answer the organization was looking for.

Over the last few seasons, however, the Maple Leafs were starting to find some positives among three young goaltenders in James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Jonas Gustavsson. Before the start of the 2013 season, Gustavsson departed for Detroit, leaving Scrivens and Reimer to battle it out for the number one goaltending spot. Reimer won out and played spectacularly during the regular season and was one of the main reasons why the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Despite losing to the Boston Bruins in a devastating Game Seven collapse, Reimer made a case for him to be the go-to-guy for the Leafs in the future. Yet, in the offseason, the Leafs made a big splash; a trade sent backup Scrivens to Los Angeles in return for the Kings’ backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

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Reimer’s stellar 2013 regular season was drowned out by the Bruins’ Game Seven upset. Does that mean he should lose the starting job to Bernier?

Bernier has been considered the best backup goaltender in the NHL, and if the Kings didn’t have a Conn Smythe Trophy winner of their own in Jonathan Quick, he would most definitely have been the starting goaltender. Opportunities were limited for Bernier in Los Angeles — despite him winning a Stanley Cup — and now he has a chance to take the starting position right out of Reimer’s hands.

The problem for Bernier is that Reimer had arguably the best season of his career despite being injured last season. He set career marks in save percentage (.924) and goals against average (2.46). In 104 regular season appearances over the last three seasons, Reimer sits at 53-32-14 with 10 shutouts. Not spectacular stats, but certainly respectable.

Meanwhile in L.A., Bernier never played in more than 25 games in one season. Having made 62 appearances since 2007, he compiled a record of 29-20-6 with 6 shutouts. He too may have peaked last season when he went 9-3-1. He played a big part in keeping the Kings afloat after a very rough start to the season.

Head coach Randy Carlysle has a tough choice to make. Does he stay with the steadily improving Reimer who has proven that he can be the starter if he stays healthy, or does he take a gamble and lean towards Jonathan Bernier?

The right choice would be to start with the player who helped get the team into the playoffs: Reimer, who should have earned Carlysle’s trust by now. Should he falter — or be outplayed by Bernier — then Bernier should rightfully get the nod over Reimer.

Either way, for the first time in a long time, the Leafs will have a formidable duo in goal. If both goalies play the way they are capable of, then this Maple Leafs team has the chance to not only get back into the playoffs, but to be a contender as well.