Derek Harmsworth returns with his 12 Burning Questions series for Maple Leafs Hot Stove. Â In part one, he asks if James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson can make for a competent goaltending duo for Toronto.
Felix Potvin. Â Curtis Joseph. Â Ed Belfour.
Three names that certainly jump off the page to any Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Â Three names synonymous with some of the glory days of yesteryear for Leafs Nation. Â They all have differences, in style and career accolades. Â But they all have similarities as well.
They all played for the Maple Leafs. Â They all achieved great acclaim from fans of the blue and white for their playoff heroics.
And they almost always provided reliable, game stealing goaltending that became the backbone of some of the Maple Leafs‘ most competitive teams of the last two decades.
In the time since Belfour moved on, the franchise has seen a seemingly endless revolving door of a below average goaltending; a mix of past their prime, never reached their prime, and never had a prime netminders. Â Andrew Raycroft, Mikael Tellqvist, Vesa Toskala, Justin Pogge, Scott Clemmensen, Martin Gerber, Joey MacDonald and J.S. Giguere all tried their hands at stemming the Leafs hemorrhaging Â goaltending situation, and while there were some competent, hard working people in the group, none could give the Maple Leafs the type of goaltending that could be relied upon night in and night out, or steal games as consistently as Potvin, Joseph, and Belfour before them.
So with the Maple Leafs in continuous search of a goalie who could give them the type of goaltending teams need to make deep runs into the Stanley Cup playoffs, or merely contend for a playoff spot, it’s somewhat safe to say most were caught off guard when it came in the form of someone who was in the middle of the depth chart, and almost an afterthought to some.
James Reimer, who started the season behind Giguere and Gustavsson, and was at some points almost forgotten among the hype of signing Jussi Rynnas, was recalled to the Maple Leafs on January 23rd.
Neither he, or the team ever looked back.
Reimer took the crease with calmness, confidence, and a competitive fire that would help him win a lot of games, as well as capture the imagination of Leafs Nation. Â That the season of the Maple Leafs took a turn for the better following Reimer being installed as starting goalie was no coincidence.
He won 20 games, and finished the season with a sparkling .921 save percentage.
Reimer enters the 2011-2012 season at a crucial time in his career, as well as the rebuild of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Â There will be questions as to whether he can duplicate the performance of one year ago and stretch it out over a complete season. Â There are certainly those who feel he simply got on a good run late, and will still need this season to prove himself in the eyes of those doubters.
There are those who feel that had the Maple Leafs had goaltending of that calibre all season long, they may have snuck into a bottom seed in what is always an up for grabs bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
For Reimer, the task will be simple.
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has already stated the club will go with him as a starter this season. Â Certainly a confidence boost, although to see Reimer tend the nets you wouldn’t think he is short on it to begin with.
And what of Gustavsson? Â There are many pundits, including the one writing this piece, who feels that Gustavsson still has a tremendous amount of potential, and has the ability to push Reimer throughout the season.
A healthy stretch of play will certainly go a long way in establishing confidence in Gustavsson among his coaches and teammates, as well as in himself.
Gustavsson, with his imposing frame in net, has proven- if only for brief stretches- that he is capable of delivering game stealing goaltending. Â Seeing his good runs constantly derailed by injury or medical conditions has been frustrating to Gustavsson, coaches, and fans alike.
For Gustavsson, he must go into camp knowing full well that Reimer has the edge, but this shouldn’t deter him. Â If anything it should motivate the Monster further. Â Knowing Reimer only has a half season under his belt, if Gustavsson can come out of training camp playing sharp, the competition could become wide open.
Although the competition is fierce, the formula for creating a winning NHL team is actually quite simple. Â It’s knowing exactly how much of each ingredients to put in that can be the difficult part.
Maple Leafs fans and management are hoping that going forward, they’ve finally got a winning recipe between the pipes.