For the better part of ten years, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Achilles' heel has been their goaltending. Even when the team in front of the goalie was terrible, the goaltending was worse. Not since a 40-year old Ed Belfour have the Leafs had any stability between the pipes and it's probably for that reason that some people haven't been able to fully embrace James Reimer.
It isn't as though we haven't seen the odd flash of competent goaltending. After an abysmal start to his Leafs career, Vesa Toskala was able to finish his first season strong and salvage a .904 save percentage on the season. His strong second-half tricked management into believing that we'd solved our goaltending woes but Toskala would go on to post consecutive seasons of sub-.900 goaltending to close the book on his career as a Maple Leaf.
When Reimer started his NHL career with a .921 save percentage in 37 games, fans were optimistic with an asterisk. It was only half a season -- let's see how he does in a full year.
Well, Reimer started 2011-12 just fine and it looked like we may have finally solved our goaltending problems when a 5'6", 168 lbs ball of fury made an unintentional hit to the head that would have made Scott Stevens proud and de-railed the rest of the young goalie's season. Reimer did return from the injury but he wasn't the same goalie the rest of the year and he struggled in posting a .900 save percentage (partly because of an abysmal penaltykill. but I digress).
Offseason rumours of a deal for Roberto Luongo made a lot of sense. He had to move, we had uncertainty in our crease and a GM who, at the time, looked to be fighting for his job. Gambling on James Reimer returning to form was a roll of the dice that not many thought the Leafs would make.
But they did and they hit the jackpot.
James Reimer has put up a .922 save percentage so far this year to go with a 16-5-5 record. As good as Kadri has been, as many minutes as Phaneuf has played, and as productive as Lupul has been while in the lineup, James Reimer is the single biggest reason why this team sits 5th in the Eastern Conference.
For some inexplicable reason, the Leafs engaged in conversations with the Canucks around Luongo at the deadline despite Reimer's exceptional play and Luongo's trainwreck of a contract, but in the end, logic won the day and the Leafs stood pat in goal.
Reimer candidly admitted that all of the speculation was a distraction and for the first time looked a little frustrated at some of the questions he was being asked in media scrums. After the deadline, however, Reimer has responded to the tacit endorsement from Leafs management by outduelling both Henrik Lunqvist and Carey Price in three games this past week.
I'm a pretty active guy on Twitter and I get exposed to a broad range of opinions on every Leaf-related topic imaginable but one of the most befuddling positions I see regularly is that Reimer isn't an NHL goalie: He is. Not only is he an NHL goalie, he's a very good one, and he's been our MVP this season.
If you want some comparables for just how good Reimer has been, I'll refer you to the company he's keeping on Hockey-Reference. He's one of the good ones and it's time we start appreciating what we've got.