After the Leafs 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, a game in which rookie netminder James Reimer produced another excellent outing, questions about the young player's immediate future were all the talk. Ron Wilson walked out on his post game press conference over it, and several PPPers (myself included) were dreading the eventual departure of Reimer back to the AHL. After a third solid performance in less than a week, the question of demotion has become clouded. Why would the Leafs send a goalie who has made 104 saves on 110 shots in the past week down?
The answer is that they won't. Find out why after the jump.
Coming out of training camp, there were many who questioned some of the late cuts. Luca Caputi, and to a lesser extent Christian Hanson, earned roster spots with their play in the pre-season. Yet it was veterans John Mitchell and Mike Zigomanis who stayed with the parent club while the kids were sent down. Looking back now, it makes sense. Ron Wilson and Brian Burke have given the benefit of the doubt to veteran players on several occasions, including coming out of training camp last year (Carl Gunnarsson had a great camp but was sent down anyways) and the continued effort to get Brett Lebda into the line-up. Burke even stated that previous experience and production had earned Mitchell a respite despite a dreadful training camp. With that established, it's certainly not folly to expect Reimer to be back with the Marlies when Jean-Sebastien Giguere returns from injury.
But should we really expect him to be demoted? If anything, the goaltending position has caused the greatest headache for Wilson and Burke since their arrival in 2008. From Toskala and Raycroft to Giguere and Gustavsson, the Leafs continue to lack even replacement level netminding. Simply put, the production isn't there. Jonas Gustavsson has been brutal since late November, his GAA hovering around 3.60. And while Giguere had a few decent outings in December, the veteran hasn't played in over 3 weeks. He's already battling back from a second stint on IR and there have been multiple reports that his career is in jeopardy.
The other factor working in Reimer's favor is the job security of Ron Wilson. Two things are obvious: the Leafs aren't going to the playoffs and there's no guarantee Wilson will be the coach come October. With 124 losses in 203 games as head coach, the pressure is on Wilson and he knows it. This team needs to show consistent improvement across the board down the stretch to secure his job for next season. With the most glaring issue being in net, it's the logical place to start. A Leafs team that earns 45-50 points in the second half would almost certainly quiet the calls for Wilson's job. That isn't to say Reimer is the long term answer in goal. Chances are he won't maintain a .947 SV% for the remainder of the season, and given his injury history, he probably can't carry the load for another 42 games. But for all his faults, Ron Wilson isn't stupid. Reimer is hot, continuing strong play from the AHL, and his team needs better performance in net His job may very well be on the line. He's not going to send the kid down unless he feels confident in the ability of either Giguere or Gustavsson to produce similar results. And there has been little evidence over the past 6 weeks to suggest that's possible. Reimer is going to get a longer look as the Leafs netminder than any of us originally thought. Here's to hoping he can take the ball and run with it.