Wednesday, March 19, 2014

James Reimer: Just Okay

There's been a lot of talk about the way the Leafs goaltending situation has been handled this season.  That talk was refueled by comments yesterday where Randy Carlyle thought James Reimer was "just okay" in last night's 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, to which James Reimer responded he thought he was "good".  Here's my take on the situation.

I agree with Randy Carlyle fully as far as his comments last night go.  Yesterday, I would simply call James Reimer's performance just okay.  For starters, Reimer had a .903 save percentage last night, stopping 28 of 31 shots.  No matter how you slice it, that is below average.  Now sure, the three goals scored on him were strong chances off the rush, but so what?  That argument is made in spite of the incredible performances that Jonathan Bernier has put forth this season, as well as the game-stealing performances Reimer has accumulated himself over his entire career with the Leafs.  Those performances come largely in spite of porous defense.  I guess what I'm trying to say is, defensive miscues aren't necessarily a good excuse for below average goaltending.  While sure the brunt of the blame on the three goals last night should go to the defense, how can you accept an absence of good goaltending when guys like Bernier and Reimer themselves have set a higher standard?  You can blame the defense all you want, but Bernier this year, Reimer in previous years, and say a guy like Ryan Miller in recent years too have proven that poor defense isn't an excuse for bad goaltending.  While some people will defend Onrej Pavelec saying "it's not his fault, he plays for the Jets", how can that argument stick at all when we've seen what guys like Bernier, Reimer, and Miller can do with arguably even worse defensive play in front of them?

Now ideally, this team would be in a place where you don't have to rely on your goaltender to stand on his head to win hockey games.  And on some nights, that's not the case.  I would point to yesterday as one game where Reimer had to be good, but not necessarily dominant, in order for his team to win the hockey game.  And that's what the case was - if Reimer had stopped 29 shots instead of 28, he would have had a .935 save percentage and the Leafs very may well have left Detroit with at least one point.  Sure you can say its only the difference between one save, but that extra save counts, that absence of a goal counts, they are part of the game, and they often make the difference between winning and losing.  But anyways, back to my main point.  What I'm saying is not that unless the Leafs get elite goaltending from game to game that the goalie is to blame.  Really, the defense truly is to blame for what most would agree is still not a very good hockey team.  What I am saying though is that it is possible to put in great goaltending in spite of poor defense, that Reimer and other goalies are capable of doing that, that just because a goalie allows a goal on a play where the defense made a critical error doesn't automatically mean you can't blame the goalie to some degree, depending on how many times it happens.  After all, even if you are the goalie for an elite defensive team like the Los Angeles Kings or the St. Louis Blues, if you never bailed your team out once and awhile, if you allowed a goal on every scoring chance surrendered, teams would be scoring a lot of goals, maybe even into the double digits.

And so for this reason I have no trouble saying James Reimer was just okay yesterday.  Certainly the defense didn't help him out any, certainly the defense and not the goaltending is the issue that needs to be addressed long-term, but last night, on this particular occasion, Reimer failed to make the extra big save that good goalies are capable of.  Is he entirely to blame for last night?  No.  Is he mostly to blame for last night?  No.  Is he partly to blame for last night?  Yes.  Last night, James Reimer was indeed just okay.  And that's fine.  Even the best of goalies have mediocre performances, even the best of goalies have terrible performances.  Reimer has been solid in place of Bernier, posting a .920 save percentage over his last four games.  And we all know what he's capable of given last year and given his rookie season.  But what I'd also argue is that Jonathan Bernier has plain and simple outplayed him this year.  The difference between a .925 and a .913 save percentage, especially on a team that allows as many shots a game as the Leafs, is not even close to insignificant.  I still like Reimer and I still believe in him, but I can say the same for Jonathan Bernier.  And given the somewhat inconsistent nature of goaltenders, I'm sure we'll see Reimer outplay Bernier in some seasons no matter which two teams those goalies are on.  But for right now, Bernier has proven to be having the better year and has proven to be the better option.  Sure Reimer has maybe been robbed of a handful of starts (especially at the start of the year when both were standing on their head) and sure maybe there is some favoritism or bias from within the organization towards Bernier, but again, right now, Jonathan Bernier gives you the better chance to win hockey games this season.  

Another point I'd like to make is, who cares if Randy Carlyle said that last night James Reimer was "just okay"?  Whether you agree with him or not, its not a harsh comment.  He's not calling Reimer's season "just okay", he's not calling him as a whole "just okay", he's not calling him as a person "just okay".  Even if he was, I can think of a lot worse words to say about someone.  If Reimer is genuinely upset that Carlyle called him that, then Reimer needs to do gives his head a shake.  This is a game and a business where players are the first to point out their shortcomings after a tough game.  Not only is James Reimer not an exception to that, but he's often been a bit of a poster child for it.  Over the years, even in games where Reimer was the last person you would blame for a loss, he would place the blame upon his own shoulders.  Maybe that's the best sign that he's frustrated right now - he's acting out of character.  Whatever the case is, I don't know exactly what goes on behind closed doors and I'm not about to do a character analysis of any of the Leafs players.  All I'm saying is that Carlyle really wasn't out of line at all in what he said yesterday, and Reimer shouldn't perceive it that way either.

While this was a bit of an informal, unstructured post, I feel like I've made my points.  To summarize, I not only have no issue with what Randy Carlyle said last night about James Reimer, but I agree with him.  The reasons why are posted above.  As for if Reimer, the media, or the fans should take issue with what Carlyle said last night, well, I don't believe they should.  All he said was that last night James Reimer was just okay.  Whether you agree with that or not, its far from throwing someone under the bus.  If you are going to point to James Reimer being mistreated by the organization, point to more substantial things like the multitude of starts Bernier was getting in October and November despite Reimer's elite play as well.  Don't point to something as small as a coach calling one performance from one player in one game "just okay".

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