Coming into this season, I don’t really fault Brian Burke for wanting to get a full year out of James Reimer. After all, his rookie season was very promising with a .933 save percentage off of 939 shots against at even strength. His overall save percentage dropped (.921) because the Leafs’ penalty kill was so poor, but there were certainly good things to be seen with Reimer in control.
However, Burke never got a good backup for him, a move that may have cost the Toronto Maple Leafs a playoff spot this season. Jonas Gustavsson had a .910 save percentage at evens in 2011 and another .910 in 2010. The evidence was pretty overwhelming against ‘The Monster’ yet Burke went with Gustavsson as Reimer’s backup.
Flash forward to the spring, with the Leafs losing or tanking, and the media all up in arms about where it went wrong. Reimer, of course, dipped to a .918 this season at even strength and Gustavsson to a .904. Ben Scrivens, in limited capacity, fared no better and the team’s three goaltenders, in that order, posted a .900, .902 and .904 overall.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, stuck in a rebuild after years in the tank thanks to the mess John Ferguson Jr. left, bad goaltending isn’t good enough. For this season’s Toronto Maple Leafs, however, merely “averaged” would have sufficed. The team is 10th in the league in goal-scoring at 2.76 a game, and while that is elevated due to career shooting percentage years, the goals still count. When Reimer faltered, had the Maple Leafs plugged the hole with average goaltending, we’re talking about a team in the playoff race today, not one that has leadership and character issues.
I looked at win threshold, a stat created by Brodeur is a Fraud, which compares a team’s shots against rate by its scoring rate to come up with the save percentage necessary to achieve a .500 record, which would equal 41 wins, which should be enough for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
At 10th in scoring and 19th in shots against, Toronto’s win threshold is .910, which is about league average (NOTE: That’s overall, not at even strength). Earlier in the year, I calculated replacement-level goaltenders, mostly AHL-level backups, to have a save percentage of .910. Instead of grabbing any of these goaltenders to play for his National Hockey League team, Burke let go of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and replaced him with nobody who had ever shown an ability to play at an NHL-level even close to league-avearge.
Mike Smith, Brian Elliott and Jose Theodore, along with Giguere, were all goaltenders who were picked up for near free in the offseason (this list doesn’t include Tomas Vokoun, who chose to go to Washington) all of whom posted a number equal to or greater than that. Perhaps nobody could have predicted that Smith and Elliott would have the seasons they’ve had, but there were teams that weren’t Toronto that reaped the rewards. Besides, Toronto weren’t looking for a starter, they just needed a backup, preferably a veteran who could have stepped in when Reimer experienced his sophomore slump slash egress ion to the mean.
Will .910 be the number for Toronto next season? Doubtful, as their shooting percentage will probably drop. Scary thought here: if the Leafs’ shot percentage, at 9.7% this year, drops to a league average 9.1% next season and they give up the same amount of shots per game, the Leafs’ win threshold climbs all the way up to .917 next season, where you’re getting into star goalie quality.
This is a team that is full of holes and is several key players away from winning, but for just a year, the fates were willing to throw Toronto a bone.