James Reimer has always had injury troubles. Going back to his junior and minor league career we can see games missed due to ankle injuries in Red Deer, being banged up with the Marlies, concussion concerns last year with the Leafs as a result of Gionta's head shot, and most recently a leg injury suffered vs. the Flyers.
James Reimer hasn't played over 67 games in a single season of his career. The one season where he did occurred when he was 18 with the Rebels in his first hear as a starter in the WHL, back in 2006-07. That's almost a decade in the rear view, so Reimer's durability definitely should be of concern to Leafs fans.
All of that being said, it should come as no surprise that it's taken Reimer parts of 3 seasons to hit the 80 gp mark as a Leaf. What may surprise long suffering Leafs fans is the fact that Reimer's numbers around all the injuries have been frankly remarkable. Even with a dip in performance prior to his head injury in 2011-12, his even strength save percentage is still cumulatively sitting at .928 after facing 1961 shots on goal. For a comparable string of play from goaltenders I ran two searches on Hockey-Reference.com. First I did a run down on all goalies in the NHL in the past 15 years who were between 20 and 25 in their first 3 seasons and played a combined total between 80 and 120 games. Then I checked out all goalies in the NHL in the past 15 years who were 25 or younger in their first 4 seasons and played a combined total between 70 and 140 games across multiple seasons. The two searches produced an interesting cross section of names, most of whom have been notable goalies in the NHL at some point in time.
Here's who Hockey-Reference.com spit back out as a list of comparables, and I've left in the years they were assessed for to explain:
|Player||From||To||Tm||GP||W||L||T/O||GA||SA||SV||SV% ▾||ES SV%||GAA||SO||MIN|
So what can we garner from this data? Well a few things really. Based on this rough guideline from Gabe Desjardins we can see that randomness becomes less of an issue with a young goalie once they've posted an even strength save percentage around .930 for about 2000 shots. In fact at 2388 shots, where Reimer is at, we can say the probability that he as at least an AVERAGE NHL goalie with about 97.5% certainty. That's about the minimum we should be assuming for him here. The question becomes, long term is he above average? and how far above average is he if he is?
Well based on that list above it looks like he's fairly firmly entrenched in the "above average" category. Problem is, so was Andrew Raycroft - and Leaf fans all know how wonderfully the rest of his NHL career went. It also looks like Craig Anderson was a late bloomer, as he's currently leading the NHL in save percentage this season and has had a number of stellar years since finally getting a starters gig in Colorado.
So basically for every NHL Starter that posts a .930 ES SV% in his first 3 years and bombs out eventually in his career, there's a comparable surprise that struggles early and proves to be a solid number 1 when he gets further along. In the end, I would say a solid way of looking at this is using Bayes Theorem and conditional probability.
If we assume that the probability of Reimer being an average .913 SV% goalie as an NHL starter entering this season were around x = 50% given his first two years in the NHL, we could consider two new pieces of information as "events": He has a .928 Career ES SV% on 1961 shots on goal through 81 gp. Looking at the list of goalies above we can gauge the probability of him being an NHL average goalie for his career, with a .925+ ES SV% through this stage of things as y = 87.5% (7 out of 8 - Raycroft was the one exception). Using Gabe's work we can judge the probability of a .925 ES SV% goalie with 2000 shots NOT being a career average goalie around z = 17% (i.e. the numbers are totally due to luck and not skill).
Bayes Theorem would have us enter those 3 values into the formula below to arrive at a posterior probability:
As a result we get a probability of 83.7% that Reimer is a legit NHL average starter for the remainder of his career. That isn't a 100% guarantee, but it's a lot better than 50/50 at this stage. The main concern going forwards has to be his health, but assuming that he isn't out long term with a serious injury then I'd say the Leafs should be worrying more about improving their puck possession game and overall defense.
It looks like a legitimate case could be made that Reimer may eventually compare favourably to Lehtonen, Quick, Halak, and Varlamov. He is definitely not in the realm of also-rans on that chart. Reimer continues to be the best Leaf developed goalie since Felix Potvin - over 20 years ago now. The Leafs need to foster and fulfill this promise.
Some funny names on this list? Marc-Andre Fleury now has a career .909 SV%, Ondrej Pavelec? Yeah he isn't as great as the Winnipeg Media seems to think he is. Realistically the strangest comparison is at the top of the chart where Rask and Raycroft present the case of Bruins/Leafs goalies that literally went in opposite directions... they were even TRADED FOR EACH OTHER.
On a side note - Vancouver really shouldn't be thinking of moving Luongo just yet - Luongo is DEFINITELY a top starter, Schneider has roughly the same chances as Reimer of being NHL average. He has fewer games played and virtually the same ES SV%. There's no reason for Vancouver to assume he's a future star just yet. Similarly, Washington may have made a mistake moving out Varlamov and keeping Neuvirth at this point.
Anyway - look forward to the discussion and hopefully Reimer's injury is a short lived one, and according to Randy Carlyle they don't expect him to miss a significant period of time. Let's hope the development continues.