Leafs not in uncharted territory with young goalie tandem

Leafs not in uncharted territory with young goalie tandem

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CHRISTINNE MUSCHI /REUTERS

Despite the Roberto Luongo to Toronto trade rumours, the Leafs have begun the season with a pair of young netminders manning their crease. The duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens came into this year with a combined 83 starts between them. In a hockey-crazed town that hasn’t seen playoff action since 2004, all of these factors haven’t stopped management from holding firm in their beliefs in their talents while not giving up good assets for an established goalie.

You would think an experienced management team, such as the one overseeing the Leafs, would like to solidify their goaltending as soon as possible when you consider the young team they are icing, yet they have not to this point. This isn’t the first time an NHL team has gone down the path of running with two inexperienced goalies, and it surely won’t be the last. To give you an idea of how young goalie tandems have turned out, I looked up every team’s starting tandem since 1997, and recorded every goalie duo I found where both starters had less than three years of experience, just like Reimer and Scrivens.

[table “82” not found /]

Other than the Islanders and 2005-2006 Kings, along with a jury still out on Toronto, San Jose, and possibly Washington, all of the teams emerged with a bonafide number one for some period of time. From Tim Thomas and Jonathon Quick, to Patrick Lalime, Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeny Nabokov, these are just some of the goalies that emerged from young duos to become successful goalies in this league.

Further to the point, not all of these goalies were exactly dripping in pedigree and upside when they first began here. Tim Thomas was basically taking one last kick at the can after failing to stick in the NHL and going off to Europe during his first go-around, Lundqvist was a 7th round pick who worked his way to New York (sound familiar?), Quick, after quickly showing he was too good for the AHL, actually staved off a guy in Jonathon Bernier, who the Kings had drafted to be their guy in the first round.

Goaltending is by far the hardest position to predict, especially when it comes to drafting kids to be your starter five years down the road. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

That’s partly an endorsement on Luongo, but that’s also partly an endorsement on Reimer and Scrivens. Everybody knows Luongo is, at the very least, an above average goalie on a contract with an absurd term. The pros and cons of Luongo have already been covered by the masses, so there’s nothing really to add anymore.

But what the Leafs currently have, however, aren’t exactly bums. This isn’t the Islanders running a tandem of Yan Danis and Joey MacDonald. Dave Nonis actually summed it up best when he said, “The only issue I would have with our goaltending would be experience. It’s not that they’re not quality goalies.”

James Reimer, albeit in a limited amount of games, showed he could play in the NHL at a high level in his 37 game stint during the 2010-2011 season. Before then, he was good in the AHL, ECHL and in the WHL even before that. He didn’t just come out of nowhere to play 37 good games, causing Toronto to make a rash decision. He’s been a good goalie at every level he’s played at, has good size for position, and an even better mentality.

Meanwhile, Ben Scrivens has been one of the best goalies in the AHL for the last season and a half. Prior to being signed by the Leafs, he absolutely dominated the college circuit. He too has shown flashes at the NHL level of being able to compete at a high level.

So what does this all mean? That if the Leafs run with Scrivens and Reimer, eventually one will step up and become a star? Not necessarily. However, in my estimation, it means enough to me that I’d be willing to run with the two in a 48 game season to see if one emerges as the clear front runner between the two. Clearly Scrivens has the advantage because he’s in midseason form, but Reimer is in the same boat as most NHL goalies at the moment (having not played actual games during the lockout), and hopefully, for his sake, he will be able to get his game going and subsequently create an environment in which both goalies challenge each other for starts nightly.

James Reimer ($1.8M) and Ben Scrivens (612k) are both under contract for next year at extremely cheap deals for goalies. If both play well, the Leafs can just keep both again and go from there. If only one plays well, they can easily cut bait with the other and look to bring in a more experienced guy to support the one who wins the gig (Backstrom, Thomas, Theodore and Garon are all UFAs and solid goalies). And if they both struggle? I’m sure Luongo will still be available. Nobody else seems to want him anyway.

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