Who is the starter? Reimer? Bernier? Neither? Does it matter?
Monday night Reimer put on a goaltending clinic versus the offensive minded Dallas Stars, stopping 43 of their 44 shots on goal, including one penalty shot. Yesterday we found out that Bernier is injured, severely enough to have a backup called in from the Marlies for today's game.
Leafs recall Bibeau. Bernier must be really hurting.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 3, 2015
Brace yourselves, we are about to start round 5 of the Bernier/Reimer "goaltending controversy", assuming the last round really ever even ended.
This inane controversy has now carried on since 2013, when Jonathan Bernier was parachuted onto the team. Tim Leiweke and the management group's thought process was: "if James Reimer had stopped one more goal in that third period the Leafs could possibly have won the Stanley Cup.", conveniently disregarding the now very well documented ways even making the first round of the 2013 playoffs was a fluke, and that the coaching and management of the team was disastrous.
Nonetheless the media ran with the "fight to be the starter" narrative and a goaltending controversy was born. It didn't help that Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis seemed to play along, alternately throwing Reimer or Bernier under the bus for kicks as the season progressed off a cliff.
After Bernier's stumbles in this past weekend's back to back games, and Reimer's stellar performance in Monday's game, the Leafs goaltending situation is once again the talk of the town. Some wonder why Reimer wasn't given the second game of the weekend. Frankly, he was terrible in the four starts he had this season before Monday, and there was no reason to expect he would suddenly put up what could be the best performance of any Leafs goalie for the whole season.
The reality the Leafs are facing is simple: Reimer is about to turn 28 years old and his contract is up at the end of the season. That means he is eligible for Unrestricted Free Agent status. The decision that must be made soon is to sign him, or trade him, and today we heard it may already be in the works from Elliotte Friedman:
8. James Reimer beat back Dallas after an injury cost Jonathan Bernier the start, but word is Toronto is checking out goalie options. Tough to tell exactly what they are looking for — something short to get some wins or a more long-term solution.
When Bernier arrived it was with an expectation that he would be a starting goalie, and a hope he could be more. As of now he's looking slightly below average in the league. You could replay this scenario over and over trading for promising young goalies. Alternatively you could wade through draft picks and unsigned prospects and hope to find a diamond in the rough like The Leafs did with Reimer.
So what should The Leafs do now? It depends on the Shanaplan; specifically when they are planning to "go for it" and move to the next stage; assembling a Cup contender roster. When that happens is anybody's guess.
Will they pull the trigger on a trade for a promising young goalie now, hoping in a few years to hit the jackpot; or will they wait a few seasons and try to time a big trade for a proven league-average-plus goalie exactly when William Nylander and Mitchell Marner hit their prime?
The later option will cost far more assets and cap-space, but it also eliminates risk. Goalie development is voodoo (see Gustavsson, Jonas).
Whatever path they take the Leafs need certainty on the goalies they have today, especially James Reimer. This November is the perfect time to obtain it. The Leafs play 11 more games this month, including two back to backs. I suggest they play Reimer for all of them, except the second half of the back to backs. There will be no surprises, and no guessing. Babcock can tell Reimer today he will make all those starts, even if Bernier comes back.
If Reimer succeeds then give him the contract extension he deserves. If he doesn't, trade him for anything you can get. Who cares if 'anything' is a 3rd round pick? There's no time left to stall or negotiate. At some point before the trade deadline the Leafs will still need to give a long run of starts to Bernier for the same reasons they have to give one to Reimer now.
At this pace the Leafs have almost no chance of making the playoffs anyway so why sit around and wait? Give James Reimer November to prove he's a starter. If he's not, then at least it's finally settled and the controversy baloon will be permanently popped.