As I'm sure everyone is well aware by now, on Sunday afternoon the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, and a second round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for their back-up goalie, Jonathan Bernier.
There are two ways we can look at this trade: we can see it as a trade for a back-up goaltender, in which case the price paid by the Leafs is far too high, or we can see it for what it more likely is: a trade for a goalie who is going to compete with James Reimer for (or perhaps just be handed) the starting role in net for the 2013-2014 season.
If the latter is true (and it seems like it is), this is a senseless trade that will improve the team marginally or not at all.
James Reimer has been one of the best things to happen to the Leafs in a long time. The team has a long history of failure at the goaltending position since the 2004-05 lockout, with names like Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft, and Jonas Gustavsson leading them away from the playoffs for seven years (and all that while Tuukka Rask was developing into a promising young starter for the Boston Bruins). The last time a goaltender the Leafs drafted actually played a game for the team was in 2009, when Justin Pogge (drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft) played seven games for the Leafs before being sent down to the Marlies and then traded to Anaheim for a conditional draft pick in 2011.
Reimer joined the Leafs in 2011, after Jonas Gustavsson hit the injured reserve. He started off as a back-up for J.S. Giguere, but when he was given a chance to start he left Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson with no choice but to keep giving him playing time. Reimer had a .921 save percentage in 37 games that season, inspiring this classic
, along with general optimism among Leafs fans about the future of the Leafs’ net for the first time in years.
Unfortunately, Reimer sustained a concussion early in the 2011-12 season and missed a few months recovering. He struggled upon his return, posting a save percentage of only .900 throughout the season. Concerns about his future began to surface again, and the Leafs went into the lockout with a question mark in net. Trading for Luongo was an option, but Burke, Nonis, and the rest of Leafs management decided to stick with what they had. And it paid off.
2013 was the season we had all been waiting for. This year the Leafs finally had the above average goaltending they’d been lacking for so long. Reimer posted a .924 save percentage in 33 games, which put him just outside the top ten in the league. He also had the best save percentage of any goalie that faced 30 shots or more per night on average.
Reimer (and the now departed Ben Scrivens, who played well when Reimer was out with a knee injury for a few weeks) dragged the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the team likely would not have made it to game seven against the Bruins without him.
I’m not sure what more Leafs’ management could want from James Reimer. He has proven himself as an NHL starting goalie, and he now has the playoff experience that they seem to value so highly. While Bernier has the potential to become much more than a backup, it doesn’t make sense for the Leafs (who were already set at the goaltending position) to give up valuable assets to acquire him when those assets could have been used to bring in a much needed defenceman or centre.