Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
March 04 2014 12:16PM
After yesterday's loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets, there was maybe one thing that everybody could agree on; James Reimer had a very solid outing. In his first start since January 25th, Reimer made 30 saves on 32 shots, and neither goal against was particularly "weak". It was a start that the 1B of the Leafs' Goaltending Operation absolutely needed to have for the sake of getting more opportunities to play.
But what if I said that those opportunities could come from another team? What if I said the organization has, maybe unintentionally, a setup in place that has them prepared in case of a goalie trade tomorrow? It's a crazy thought, but run with me here.
While the Leafs don't seem to feel a pressing need to pull off a blockbuster move, they at least seem interested in exploring all options. The fact that Mike Gillis got to the "ask the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Sun, Moon, and a draft pick" stage in his shopping of Ryan Kesler implies that Dave Nonis is at least working the phones, as does the speculation that the Leafs are looking at acquiring a minute eating defenceman. Depending on the cost involved, that could be the move the Leafs have so badly needed since last season.
But just like you have to spend money to make money, one has to have money to spend it. The Leafs have an abundance of physical dollars, but their cap dollars are low. The Leafs have already demoted Frazer McLaren and Trevor Smith this week in order to free up room. So, despite his very solid cap hit of $1.8 million, lowering the cost of a position that you are only using in one of every three games may be seen as a viable option by management, if they trust Jonathan Bernier.
In such a move, the Leafs would have to call up Toronto Marlies starter Drew MacIntyre, a goalie who has made a case for earning the "best goaltender outside the NHL" label over the past two seasons. He essentially carried a gutted Marlies roster into the playoffs last year (13-5-3 / 1.83 / 0.931), losing only to the eventual Calder Cup champions from Grand Rapids, and is continuing to stand on his head this season. It seems like a risky proposition, especially for a guy who can count his NHL appearances on his hands, but hey, everybody starts somewhere. Having MacIntyre as the backup over Reimer would save the Leafs $1.2 million in cap space.
I asked Steve Spott if he felt MacIntyre was capable of succeeding in the NHL if the opportunity suddenly arose, and he feels that he's absolutely able to step up to the task. "I think that he can go in, if he needs to get into the net. He's a good number three right now for the organization. Extremely confident, quick, and has experience in the NHL. I think he's a goaltender that if needed to be counted upon, he'll be there."
This would leave Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson in net for the AHL affiliate. Here's where the speculation begins.
The Marlies have been managing their two goaltending prospects in a rotation of sorts, keeping one up in Toronto to be around the staff and get a feel for what it's like to play here, and having the other get more frequent starts with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. This week, the swap is happening for the third time this year, seeing Sparks go down for Gibson.
But wait! Here's where I put two and two together and it got a bit interesting. According to Spott on Saturday, Gibson is set to be called up tomorrow. I talked to Sparks today, and it turns out that his flight to Orlando is scheduled for Thursday morning. Just my speculation, but theoretically, if the Leafs make a deadline day move that subtracts a goaltender, Sparks is still in the city and doesn't have to get on the plane.
As for why it would be Reimer that goes? Well, neither of the prospects have a massive value attached to them (Sparks ultimately being a still developing recent 7th round pick, and Gibson being signed as a UFA in the summer). MacIntyre, while I think he would be a quality pickup for an NHL team looking for a goalie without spending much in terms of assets, wouldn't net the Leafs enough to risk letting a team filled with prospects get less competitive just for the sake of a low draft pick. If they feel they could improve their NHL team, though? It's worth a shot.
With his starts being so few and far between at this point, the potential cap space that could be freed, his RFA status, and the potential value that he could have in a deal, it wouldn't be a massive shock if the Leafs tried to cash in Reimer this week. Or not.
Honestly, it could go either way, and I could just be making something out of nothing, but the fact of the matter is that the Leafs will have five goaltenders in the Toronto area on Wednesday, and four on Thursday.
As for whether it's just a coincidence? It's possible. Hell, it might even be likely. But only time will tell, and for now, it's an interesting thought. Plus, in a market where Ilya Bryzgalov and what remains of Martin Brodeur are heavily coveted, you never know what could happen.