Speaking with ESPN.com (and it’s hockey, so whether or not they were listening is up for debate), Brian Burke suggested Wednesday – and for the first time publicly, I believe – that the Leafs are prepared to enter the 2012-2013 lockout season with a goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens if the price of upgrading the position doesn’t make sense. According to Pierre LeBrun, Burke‘s faith in James Reimer as a potential frontline NHL goaltender remains unchanged by the events of this past season. Though Burke doesn’t address Scrivens’ eligibility directly, we’re left to believe Ben’s impressive Calder Cup playoff run with the Marlies has more than convinced the Leafs’ brass he’s ready for the challenge of an extended NHL look.
As far as prudent rebuilds are concerned, a Reimer-Scrivens tandem may be the best thing to do. Unfortunately, the deafening sound of 91% of you disagreeing with that may well be what prevents it from happening. (Links after the jump).
Prudent, I guess, would be the key word there. Don’t get me wrong, the upgrading idea…well, it’s hard to hate. I’m not really arguing against it, so much as pointing out that the reasons for doing it may be misplaced. It really comes down to what stage in the ‘contention lifecycle’ this rebuilding Leaf team is.
Test case: Luongo vs. LuongNo.
We are an instantly improved team with a Luongo/Reimer platoon. Lou is still in the relatively prime-ish phase of his career, an evaluation he backs up with statistical consistency. He will be one of the top goaltenders selected for many-a-fantasy team this September. He’s won an Olympic Gold medal for his country. He’s been to the Stanley Cup finals, though maligned – I guess – for not singlehandedly winning the trophy for his barely-showed-up-for-Game-7 skaters?
Luongo’s an established goaltending star that would play 4-5 years of decent-to-great hockey for Toronto before retiring and nullifying his hilarious albatross of a contract. And his acquisition would quiet the masses demanding the proven and consistent netminding required to satisfy their immediate playoff desires.
The positives are easy. But beyond the money, no one talks about the negatives.
A Luongo-Reimer tandem essentially forces Ben Scrivens from the organization, due to his loss of waiver exemption for the upcoming season – meaning he can’t be moved freely between the NHL/AHL clubs without being exposed to potential claims by other teams. Reimer in a backup role also limits the number of appearances you want your ‘goaltender of the future’ to be seeing at this crucially formative age. And if Reimer somehow does break out and re-establish himself as a bonafide starter ready for the spotlight, we’ve only adopted the very problem from which Vancouver is desperately – and with zero leverage, mind you – trying to wriggle away from.
But to me, this is not about Luongo vs. LuongNo. The real question? Is what Luongo would give us in the form of (potential) short term playoffless-relief worth compromising the rebuild model, and what is driving that decision?
“Making the playoffs” is, in my opinion, a completely arbitrary and very out-of-context metric by which the success of a rebuilding team can be measured – especially during the early years of the process. I won’t call it totally irrelevant, because it’s a useful barometer of improvement in certain areas and the experience is a worthwhile one for young players.
But my beliefs don’t matter, because public sentiment may be about to override the hockey logic.
What happened this past season – and Burke can divert blame all he wants, but the 2011-2012 failure began solely on the shoulders of subpar (albeit youthful) goaltending – was a public relations disaster. Goodwill for the Leafs’ approach of youth and patience for mistakes evaporated almost completely. Had the Leafs fought valiantly all season and missed the playoffs on a lack of overall merit, I daresay the fans would have reacted with less vitriol than they did. Sniffing the promised postseason land as late as mid-February only to have it whisked away as fast as the team could possibly plummet down the standings was, for this rebuild in this market, a memory we can file under worst case scenarios.
The goaltending was unequivocally bad, and the fans demand better. What happened then cannot happen again. Some suggest Burke’s job security depends on a playoff appearance, and a lack of one condemns his tenure as a failure.
Ridiculous. Disappointingly slow, maybe. But a failure?
The prudence I mentioned earlier refers to the fact that the Leafs have two promising young netminders in Reimer and Scrivens, and not enough of a sample on either one to know – reliably – who their future is. Were the Leafs on the doorstep of contention and needing to know now what the answer to that question was, I’d say, by all means – go go gadget Roberto. But they’re not.
Really, they’re not. We’ll get excited in the next few weeks, and I’m sure Brian will make at least one transaction that forces me to second guess my own post. But, at the end of the day, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not yet even close to Cup contention and simply aren’t under pressure to rush a goaltending decision that could greatly benefit from an extended look.
If the Leafs believe James Reimer is a guaranteed #1 NHL goaltender and that Luongo can help a non-Cup team at least grab some playoff runs in advance of true contention (and, if he’s still playing, maybe even in a deep run or two in a few years’ time), then by all means, they should acquire him.
But that decision holds hidden consequences for the organization’s longterm health if they’re wrong, and it cannot – cannot – be purely a reactionary measure to public sentiment. Maybe the public’s right. But if Burke and his team go that way, it needs to be because their own opinions, scouts, and research support the approach.
Thursday Morning Links!
-The NHL Awards were last night. What I saw was flashy and painfully unfunny. And Lundqvist dropped an F-bomb! It was largely Leaf-unrelated, except for Jake Gardiner making the All-Rookie team. He seems good.
-Related to the above, Ben Scrivens apparently saw a double rainbow – so I guess no matter what happens, ‘eternal wealth and happiness’ (according to a Google search) are coming his way.
-Chris Johnston offers a summary of Burke’s post-BOG meeting scrum yesterday, in which the Leafs’ GM concedes that the player they presumably will draft at #5 probably won’t help the team immediately.
-The Columbus Blue Jackets have named Craig Hartsburg an associate coach, and are taking on formerly-of-the-Leafs-bench Keith Action as an assistant, too.
-Ian Mendes grabs a front row seat – alongside me – on the “DGB is awesome, let’s imitate him!” train, and provided the Ottawa Citizen with a Viewers’ Guide to the NHL Awards. Kinda redundant now, but also sorta funny enough that it’s worth mentioning.
-Damien Cox believes Luongo-to-Toronto is the only logical conclusion, and I’d love to be able to tell him I agree and that I find his point well argued, but he’s blocked me on Twitter and I legitimately cannot recall any potential reason why.
-With one single headline that will quickly be forgotten, the NHL’s Board of Governors have approved the sale of MLSE to Bell and Rogers. We are the complete antithesis of the Phoenix Coyotes.
-”Is Ondrej Pavelec serious?” is both a) the title of this Ryan Lambert post via The Score and b) my opinion of the story itself.
-Via The Leafs Nation, Cam Charron breaks down Joe Colborne’s season, and JP Nikota looks at the known options for Top 6 wingers Burke might potentially pursue, not that it’s really a priority when you still lack someone studly to play between them.