He’s back, back again. Yes, James Reimer is back. Tell a friend.
To say that James Reimer’s career with the Maple Leafs has been a whirlwind would be a dis-service to whirlwinds. Reimer, or Optimus, as I prefer to call him – has experienced all the euphoric highs, and devastating lows that playing in the Toronto sports market offers.
However, with back-to-back shutouts over the streaking Penguins on Wednesday, and a five to nothing trouncing of the effeminately haired Senators Saturday night, we at BCP are declaring that the 23 year old net minder is officially “back”.
While his return may lack the drama of Jordan’s triumphant comeback from the obscurity of minor AA baseball, or Lemieux’s return after a 3 year layoff in Pittsburgh, there is cause to celebrate as a Leaf fan. Reimer has had to battle for every second of playing time since being drafted back in 2006. To truly appreciate the journey he’s taken, and what the last 2 games could represent, let’s look back at the history of Reimer as a Leaf:
June 24, 2006The Leafs select Reimer in the 4th round of the entry draft, 99th overall, from the Red Deer Rebels (WHL). James flew almost completely under the radar in his draft class, as the Toronto media focused their reporting on the more highly touted prospects taken earlier through rounds 1 to 3. Jiri Tlusty was taken 13th overall, followed by Nikolai Kulemin (what a steal) at 44. There were 10 goalies taken ahead of Reimer, including Jonathan Bernier, Jonas Enroth, Steve Mason, and Seymon Varlamov.
December 28, 2008Reimer records his first career AHL win for the Toronto Marlies, beating the Manitoba Moose 3-2.
October 13, 2009The first official call up to the big club, as Reimer backs up Joey MacDonald in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. The call up was the result of an injury to starting goalie Vesa Toskala, sadly for Leaf fans, it was not career ending. Reimer didn’t end up seeing any time in the game, and was subsequently sent back to the Marlies.
December 20, 2010In a game against the Atlanta Thrashers Reimer makes his NHL debut, stepping in for the pulled Jonas Gustavsson. At this time Reimer was almost a complete unknown to Leaf fans, having been 5th on the depth chart heading into the 2010-11 season. The initial development plan laid out by team management was to keep him in the AHL for the entire season.
January 1, 2011The first win of his NHL career – 5 to 1 over the Ottawa Senators. Reimer was far from the official number one at this point, battling an aging Jean Sebastien Giguere and an inconsistent Jonas Gustavsson.
March 27, 2011I purchased my Optimus Reim blue T-shirt from a sporting store in the mall. This has nothing to do with Reimers development as a Leaf, or his career arc – it’s just an awesome nickname and an awesome shirt.
April 9, 2011The 2010-11 season drew to a close with a 4 to 1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. By this time Reimer was considered the goalie of the future in Toronto. His numbers to close out the year were consistent, finishing with a 2.60 GAA and a .921 save percentage, however critics wondered how he would fare once NHL shooters were given time to study his tendencies.
June 9, 2011The Leafs sign Reimer to a 3 year, $5.4 million dollar contract, carrying an annual cap hit of $1.8 million.
October 22, 2011In a game against the rival Canadiens, Reimer is clipped in the head by winger Brian Gionta as he cut across the crease. There is no penalty on the play and Reimer is said to have sustained a head/neck injury, and is listed as day-to-day.
November 9, 2011Reimer remains out with what some are calling ‘concussion-like symptoms’ and there is speculation that he has had a number of concussions in the past. Toronto Star reporter Dave Feschuk decides to call Reimer’s Mom for further information, sparking a media frenzy, and allowing Brain Burke to get angry on camera – always entertaining.
December 3, 2011He returns to the crease against the Boston Bruins, allowing 4 goals on 30 shots in the loss. This is the first game in what would be a string of inconsistent outings which resulted in the team turning to Gustavsson through the holidays and into January.
A lot of critics are citing Reimer’s increased confidence as the source of this recent turnaround, and consecutive shutouts. I hate to use the word “confidence” when describing hockey players because I feel like it diminishes the professionalism and talent they possess when we agree that emotional fluctuations in their confidence can have a dramatic impact on their ability on the ice.
One of Reimer's major issues this season has been his performance (or the team's performance) on the penalty kill which had decimated an otherwise perfectly adequate save percentage. With the Leafs' PK now performing admirably, Reimer has achieved the kinds of results that many Leaf fans expected from him.
Something certainly has clicked for Reimer over the past 2 games, but I don’t think it’s psychological. I believe we’re watching the evolution of a goalie who is only 23 years of age, and still developing as a pro. I hope this is the beginning of a second have surge akin to the heroics Reimer displayed to close out last year. If he can return to that form, and steal games in the manner in which he’s capable, maybe, just maybe, we’ll punch our ticket to the big dance this spring.