Goalies are voodoo. They're inconsistent at best, and completely random at worst. This brings us to the topic du jour, James Reimer and his goaltending struggles. Or should I say, his lack there of when talking about the greater context of "Is it time to cut bait with James Reimer?" I saw that because he's merely doing what goalies do; seeing his sv% fluctuate from year to year.
2013-14: .911 (as of 3-23-2014)
Up and down. Up and down. That's how goalies in the NHL tend to perform. But this evident truth seems to be completely lost on the majority of hockey fans, because the James Reimer boo birds have been out in full force since Bernier went down with a hurt groin sending the Leafs of a 5 game skid. That's not to say that Reimer has played great recently, because he hasn't, but more that this isn't at all abnormal for a goaltender in the NHL.
Last season James Reimer dragged the Maple Leafs kicking and screaming into the playoffs where he single handedly won the Leafs their 3 games of the series posting sv %s of .951, .977, and .967 in the wins. Yet all anyone remembers is that it was 4-1, including the Leafs management who went and traded the best backup goaltender in the league for Jonathan Bernier, instantly bestowing upon him the position of starting goalie by paying him like a starter. People point to Reimer's "struggles" this season as proof that Nonis was right to bring in Bernier and evidence that Reimer needs to be shipped out of town
Are they right? Is Reimer now a broken shell of his former self?
What I did to find out this answer was to compile a list of every goalie from 2000-2013 who put up a .924 sv% or better (Reimer's performance last season and Bernier's performance so far this year), and then see what their sv% was the following year to see just how consistent they were.
On average, of the 46 times a goalie has put up a .924 or better since 2000, the next season has seen their sv% decline 0.013 %. Only 4 out of 46 subsequent seasons saw a repeat or improvement from the season prior, and that honor belongs to Cory Schneider (+.008), Dwayne Roloson (+.006), and Tuuka Rask (even; 2x). The biggest drops belonged to Andrew Raycroft (-.047), Craig Anderson (-.033), Brian Elliott (-.033) and Vesa Dogshit Toskala (-.029).
What about Reimer? Well he's experienced a -.014 change since last season, which is pretty much what you would expect based on the average decrease being -.013. Happened to Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, and Tim Thomas and they're all fantastic starting goalies. In fact, nearly every goalie on the list save for a few would be classified as upper echelon goaltenders during their time in the NHL. Why? Because you've got to be a good goaltender to even put up a .924 sv%. Just look at the goalies on that list, nothing but legit starters from top to bottom with only a few anomalies among them.
What a lot of people don't understand is that it's incredibly unlikely for a goalie to repeat a .924 sv% season. This is along the same lines as Kadri leading the league in on-ice sh% last season; lots of people said it wouldn't last and it didn't and now people are poo pooing on Kadri trying to run him out of town despite the fact that he's on pace for 55 pts which is a fantastic total and the second best season for a Leafs center since Sundin left, only behind Grabovski's 58 in 2010-11.
Goalies fluctuate year to year. As JP showed us Saturday, when a goalie reaches ~100 games played, their career number at that point is what you're going to get on average from that goalie for the rest of their career. Right now, James Reimer is a career .914 goalie which puts him in the same company as Corey Crawford, Kari Lehtonen, Ryan Miller, Carey Price, and Jonathan Quick; all goalies who have seen large fluctuations in their year to year sv %s. These are not goalies that get run out town because of one bad season. (Jonathan Quick put up a .902 last year and the Kings were so concerned that they traded away their prized backup goaltender.) These are franchise cornerstone players, and the Leafs and their fanbase are trying their damndest to run one of theirs out of town.
As Cam Charron wrote last week,yes these have been the worst 20 (now 23) games of James Reimer's career, but they were preceeded by the best 20 (23) games of his career. Dangle said it best in his LFR7 for Game 72"Reimer's probably isn't this bad, and probably wasn't that good."
Right now, Jonathan Bernier has a .924 sv% going on the season. Looking at the performances of other goalies, it doesn't seem likely that he'll repeat this feat next season. Especially not if Reimer is gone and Bernier takes on an even bigger work load. If I were a betting man, I'd wager Bernier putting up a .910-.912 next season for the Leafs and Reimer around a .918 wherever he ends up.
Right now the Leafs' team goaltending stands at a .920 sv%. If it dips to a .910 next season (.912 Bernier plus some random backup like MacIntyre), then the Leafs goals against would skyrocket. Right now they're on pace for 239 goals against (with on pace for 2,967 shots against). With .910 goaltending, it would be 267 goals against taking their projected goal differential from -8 to -36. Using the pythagorean expectation, the Leafs go from their current 91 pt pace, to an abysmal 76 pt pace and a date with Connor McDavid simply because Leafs management doesn't understand the volatility of goaltenders in the NHL.
Remember when Ron Wilson was the coach of this team and we all said that all the Leafs needed was league average goaltending to be a playoff team? Well the Leafs are getting league average goaltending out of James Reimer right now and are going to burn him at the stake for it.