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.
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.