The James Reimer situation reminds me a lot of Felix Potvin situation.
- Felix Potvin and James Reimer have the exact same amount of letters in their first name and their last names.
- Both players were not seen by scouts as good future NHLers.
- Both players hail from small towns.
- Potvin got the Leafs in the playoffs in 1993. Reimer got the Leafs into the playoffs in 2013.
- Both are goalies who catch from the left side.
- Potvin was usurped by Curtis Joseph. Reimer is being usurped by Jonathon Bernier
- Both players have been affected by bad management roster decisions
- Felix Potvin was nicknamed after Felix the Cat. James Reimer is nicknamed after a robot (Optimus Reim). Both nicknames are originally cartoon figures.
- The rise and fall of both players has been affected by both coaching and management changes. Potvin by the firing of Pat Burns, Reimer by the firing of Ron Wilson. Potvin by the firing of Cliff Fletcher, Reimer by the firing of Brian Burke, as well as other roster changes.
Even though they are much different style goaltenders, they both came out no-where and stole the show, almost immediately, and, unexpectedly.
During the early 90's the Leafs were a young team, that, at times flirted with potential success. They finally got their act together, made a couple of trades. The Leafs decided Potvin was the goaltender of the future. Utilized the talents of Grant Fuhr and traded him to help add depth.
"Everything has happened very, very fast."
"I remember none of the scouts in the NHL liked him at first," says Potvin's agent, Gilles Lupien, the former Montreal Canadien defense-man and enforcer. "The first time he was eligible, no one even drafted him. Three rounds, not one team in the league took a chance. I remember thinking, Am I crazy or are they crazy? Don't they see what I see?"
"He did everything anyone could have expected of him," says Wamsley, who saw the inevitable and retired midway through the season and became the goalie coach for the Leafs. "He came in, and two guys had to go down for him to play, and two guys went down [with injuries], and he played and planted the seed about how good he could play. He went from there.
"He's unorthodox, stays back in the net and puts the paddle [stick] on the ice a lot, but it's very effective. All the teachers, all the years, said you never lay the paddle on the ice, that it's too easy for someone to lift the puck and go to the top shelf against you. But Patrick Roy came into the league and did it, and Eddie Belfour does it in Chicago, and now Felix does it, and it works. It might not work so well in practice, when players have time to shoot, but in a game, when there's all that activity and someone's always tugging at a guy, hitting him, it's a lot tougher to put the puck on the top shelf."
"I don't want Felix to change," Lupien says. "I have him on a budget. I want him to live on $700 a week for now, to go through all the problems involved with living on $700 a week. To pay the phone bill, the rent, the heat, like everybody else. It is hard when a young guy makes money fast. So many people come around. The insurance agent—instead of trying to sell the $100,000 policy, he is there with the $2 million policy. The car salesman—instead of the $15,000 car, he is trying to sell the $60,000 car. The real estate agent—instead of the $150,000 house, it's the $800,000 house. Everyone is looking for the commission, see? I tell Felix that we will invest for the future and the other things will come."
The Leafs of course decided to eventually turn their back on Potvin, by turning to Curtis Joesph instead in the 97-98 season. Potvin was tried as a 1B backup, much like Reimer, and struggled to maintain success. The Leafs decided he wasn't good enough to keep around, so they eventually traded him.
The untold story of course, was the Leafs had made a couple of damaging trades that affected the outcome of the club's success. The first was signing RFA Mike Craig from the Dallas Stars. It was an atrocious trade that costed the Leafs valuable depth. They let go of a useful bottom 6 player in Peter Zezel and also gave away another future useful player in Grant Marshall. Craig, never lived up either to his potential or his expectations. Marshall become a complimentary depth player who would help the Stars win a Stanley Cup in 1999. Zezel had stops in St. Louis, NJ and Vancouver.
In 95-96, the Leafs traded their up and coming blueliner, Kenny Jonsson [think present-day evolving Gardiner trade rumors] another useful bottom 6 player in Darby Hendrickson, and a prospect, Sean Haggerty to the NYI to get Mathieu Schneider, DJ Smith, Wendel Clark and err...gave up their 1st(Roberto Luongo). Schneider played a few seasons with the Leafs...Smith was never better than a #7 defenseman, and Clark played limited action continuing to struggle through injuries.
In 94-95, after resounding success in the playoffs as being a key part of theshutdown pairing, the Leafs let defenseman Bob Rouse walk. He wound up in Detroit. They also traded another key part of that team defenseman, Sylvain Lefebvre in 94-95.
All three moves had drastic effects on Potvin's success. The Leafs made a mix of moves, that ultimately didn't take them where they had hoped. Potvin got the blame. Potvin struggled. Potvin was challenged. Potvin was eventually usurped by Curtis Joesph, and ultimately run out of town.
Potvin would eventually leave the NHL, some thought a bit pre-maturely, and retire to live in a small-town in Quebec. Like James Reimer, who hails from Morweena, Manitoba, another small town.
Enter James Reimer:
Reimer, came out of no-where in 2010-2011. Almost single-handedly got the Leafs into the playoffs, twice, before getting the club there in the 2013 playoffs.
James Reimer calls his road to the NHL "a miracle."
"I thought, well, if nothing else, I know a lot of scouts in the WHL and I was just going to tip them off that this kid playing in the middle of nowhere, you've got to keep an eye on him."
The middle of nowhere, in this case, is Morweena, Man., two hours north of Winnipeg and about as off the beaten path as you can get when it comes to the NHL.
When scouts finally saw him, two years later in a tournament, he had had no coaching, little experience and was a long shot to ever play even at the junior level.
"I got scouted playing one game," Reimer said. "We lost 6-0, but they must have had 700 shots. The scouts had no idea who I was, they'd never heard of me before, but one guy saw me play that game and drafted me. Just based on the one game."
That lone scout was Carter Sears, then the director of player personnel for the powerhouse Red Deer Rebels, and he liked what he saw - even if others thought he was nuts.
"I called some of my scouts over and said 'We're taking this kid,' " Sears said. Reimer was a flop at his first Rebels training camp, and general manager and coach Brent Sutter - now the coach of the Calgary Flames - wanted no part of the "unique" prospect his man had dug up 1,300 kilometres away.
However, he took the blame for the Game 7 loss, after the 4-1 led fell to the Bruins.
The Leafs decided Reimer needed to be: 'challenged,' by trading for Jonathon Bernier. Very much like the Leafs in 98-99 thought that Potvin needed to be: 'challenged,' by signing Curtis Joseph.
So why has Reimer regressed?
Just like in the Potvin situation, the Leafs have made a couple of questionable moves that haven't helped Reimer.
Not just the Bernier acquisition. They got rid of Clark MacArthur, and Mikhail Grabovski. Two players, who were key figures in the rise of James Reimer's success, mostly because they were strong-puck possession players.
They were both purged for two players: David Clarkson and Dave Bolland. Clarkson's struggles with the Leafs have been well-documented, and in fact they haven't been much more than anything short of detrimental to the club and may ultimately harm the team long-term.
Bolland was always a risky investment. His on-going injury problems have been a long source of concern. This season hasn't been any different. If the Leafs choose to, like Clarkson make a long-term investment, in a player with on-going injury concerns, it won't just affect Jonathon Bernier, but it could also spell the end of James Reimer.
In the end, the writing seems to be on the wall for an eventual roster adjustment with the Leafs without James Reimer moving forward. Like Potvin, he has not been comfortable with the goaltending challenge. Like Potvin, he needs full-time work. Like Potvin, Reimer is a happy-go-lucky guy. They were both successful when the Leafs had a better mix of team chemistry in front of them.
I would be shocked to see Reimer stay beyond this season. The Leafs have a lot of contracts to sort out. The only way he stays is in a back-up role, on a bargain contract. He does not look comfortable in a back-up role, and he doesn't seem to fit in Randy Carlyle's "show-me-something, when I want you to show me something" mentality.
I believe Reimer's window is closing with the Leafs. That doesn't mean he isn't a legitimate NHL goaltender. It doesn't mean Jon Bernier isn't the #1 goaltender at this point. Only time will sort out if the Bernier for Reimer swap was the right move. Reimer, could very well end up having success somewhere else, like just Potvin eventually did.
Hockey, however, is a team-oriented game. Sometimes it's not just individual efforts that account for team success but also in how you manage team assets that determine the way players will succeed, and the outcomes that happen.