We know hindsight is 20/20. But can foresight ever be 20/20?
It apparently was for Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis, at least in one case. Two weeks ago, backup goaltender James Reimer may or may hot have been on the trading block. He was and still is a restricted free agent to be and he’d gradually lost the starting gig to Jonathan Bernier, who has carried the Leafs of late. Reimer also appeared to have fallen out of favor with coach Randy Carlyle. Remember the staredown after Carlyle yanked Reimer from a game against Detroit Dec. 21? Reimer had started 18 games from October to that point in December. In the three months since, he’s started six.
Considering how many goalies changed teams at the trade deadline last week, there had to be a market for Reimer. Minnesota acquired Ilya Bryzgalov as “insurance,” for Pete’s sake. So Nonis must have been tempted to move Reimer, whose days as the true No. 1 in Toronto are clearly done.
But Nonis didn’t and showed commendable foresight in that moment. The Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders, but they are all but in the playoffs at this point. Over their last five games, they’ve won crucial conference matchups against the Rangers and Flyers and seemingly unwinnable games in Anaheim and Los Angeles. It usually isn’t pretty, but this team finds a way to win and, in a wide open Eastern Conference, there’s no telling what it might do.
If you’re a fringe playoff contender and a young team, it’s not smart to overextend yourself with a major deadline trade designed to help you win now. But it’s equally dumb to deal away important pieces when you know you’re competitive enough to make some noise in the East. The Leafs may lose Reimer this summer, whether they deal his rights before free agency or let him walk, but Nonis wisely retained him for the short term. Now, the Leafs reap the rewards.
Bernier went down with an undisclosed lower-body injury last night. Reimer stepped in and was brilliant, stopping all 31 shots he faced as the Leafs rallied to win 3-2:
An injury isn’t a massive surprise considering Bernier sits at 44 starts on the year, exactly double his previous career high. With such a massive spike in workload, he’s bound to break down here and there. The injury is reportedly not serious, but could be of the nagging variety. That’s why it’s important to have a highly capable backup in place. Reimer is that.
Reimer likely won’t win a Vezina Trophy in his career, but he’s perfectly capable of getting hot for five- or 10-game stretches, which is precisely what Toronto needs him to do now, assuming he feels no lingering effects of his own after taking a shot to the head from Jarret Stoll. He just might save the Leafs’ season if Bernier misses more than a handful of games.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin