Ben Scrivens and James Reimer: Platoon possibility?

Part of the problem with such limited goaltender blood on the open market is that the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the best goaltenders in the minor leagues who, if he were in any other organization, may be anticipating his entrance to the NHL next season in a backup capacity.

But that isn’t the case for Ben Scrivens, the 25-year old (26 in September) out of Spruce Grove, Alberta. Scrivens, who is a restricted free agent, faces an odd situation.

The Leafs need a goaltender. They need a starting goaltender who can provide them above average production, preferably young, and preferably cheap. Paying for goaltending is just a big no-no in my eyes, and the most popular man on the trade block, Roberto Luongo, and on free agency, Josh Harding, will probably cost the team a pretty penny, far more than they should.

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Last offseason, the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche looked for a change in goal. Philly went the expensive route, opening their wallets for Ilya Bryzgalov, whose rough first year in Philly became somewhat of a running joke. The Avalanche, too, traded a pair of picks, including a first rounder, for Semyon Varlamov while the Coyotes, Panthers and Capitals all found success with cheap alternatives.

Unfortunately, Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun aren’t on the market this year.

(As an aside, the Vokoun situation is delicate. He wanted to play for a winner and took a pay cut last offseason. This year, Brian Burke was criticized for not giving Vokoun a second season on a contract, but he’s 36 in July. You can’t guarantee one productive season out of any goalie, and your odds are significantly reduced trying to get two productive years out of a goalie on the wrong side of 35.)

The UFA goalie pool among goalies under 35 is quite slim: Antero Niittymaki, Michael Leighton, Dan Ellis, Alex Auld, you get the idea.

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What’s wrong with the idea of the Leafs re-signing Scrivens and platooning him with James Reimer to patrol the Leafs’ net, giving each around 40 starts? I don’t buy into the notion that you need a clear-cut number one, particularly when you’d have to pay through the nose to get one, either in salary or via trade.

There’s some concern with James Reimer’s ability post-concussion, but I think that the slip Reimer had last season was due to a poor penalty kill and simple regression to the mean. Here:

James Reimer rolling 10-game save percentage, pre-and-post concussion – 

Reimer still ran into a save percentage high a few weeks after coming back from concussion, so I still think there’s some legitimate talent there. His even strength save percentages, .933 and .918, show that maybe that Reimer’s true value lies in the .920 range, which would be acceptable for the Leafs, who just need an average season out of their goaltending.

Back to Scrivens, part of the reason you can’t go to the AHL to find a different goalie is because you can’t guarantee any of them are better than Scrivens. Here are the combined stats of goalies who have faced 1500 shots in the AHL over the last two seasons:

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Name Save% SA
Richard Bachman 0.927 1595
Iiro Tarkki 0.925 1530
Eddie Lack 0.925 2979
Ben Scrivens 0.925 2039
Barry Brust 0.925 1675
Ben Bishop 0.923 2320
Jeremy Smith 0.922 1525
Martin Jones 0.921 2234
Michael Leighton 0.921 2593
Matt Hackett 0.917 2424
Jacob Markstrom 0.916 2138
Jake Allen 0.916 2660
Anton Khudobin 0.916 2743
Matt Climie 0.916 2494
Jeff Zatkoff 0.915 2516
David Leggio 0.915 2769
Mike Murphy 0.914 2129
Kevin Poulin 0.912 1560
Braden Holtby 0.912 1921
Chad Johnson 0.911 2453
Leland Irving 0.909 2509
Dustin Tokarski 0.907 2316
David LeNeveu 0.905 2031
Brad Thiessen 0.905 2026
Jeff Frazee 0.904 1872
Mike McKenna 0.904 2419
Justin Pogge 0.901 2383

I’m afraid a familiar face makes an appearance here…

Anyway, Scrivens is tied for the second best AHL save percentage over the last two seasons with fellow restricted free agents Iiro Tarkki and Eddie Lack, behind Dallas Stars’ backup Richard Bachman.

Pros to platooning:

  1. It’s cheap. Scrivens, by all indications, loves Toronto, and would re-sign for a fair price that wouldn’t cost the Leafs, who have a tight salary situation, in either the short-term or the long-term.
  2. It’s easy. As an opening night starter, you have a goalie who is a .926 EV SV% in the NHL, and your backup would be one of the minor league’s best over the last two years.
  3. It’s a long-term solution. Scrivens will be 26 and Reimer 24 on opening night. If either show an ability to maintain a good NHL performance over 40 or so games, you’ve found your guy for the future.
  4. Why not them? Mike Smith and Brian Elliott, two guys who had little going for them in their career, turned in amazing seasons and were big parts in their NHL teams’ success. We know how random goaltending is from year-to-year, so one of these two catching fire like Reimer did in the second half of 2011 isn’t out of the question.

Cons to platooning:

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  1. It’s easy. There’s no quick fix to this problem, but you’d hope that an NHL general manager is a little more creative than pulling a “wait-and-see” approach to goaltending when fans are anxious for a playoff spot.
  2. You aren’t really solving a problem. If the Leafs’ have a serious issue in goal, going with a similar cast of players the next year isn’t a solution.
  3. No backup plan. No goaltender moved teams last season and it’s becoming less of a thing to move goalies mid-season. If you can’t find a guy in the offseason, what’s the betting that teams will make you pay a premium to trade for a guy after the regular season starts and you have no goaltenders?
  4. Who will tend for the Marlies? It’s probably worth having a guy who will fill in at Ricoh.

So, in the eternal question of “who will tend goal for the Leafs?” is the correct answer ‘they already have the guy?’ Reimer and Scrivens are both too good for the AHL but are hardly proven at the NHL level.

Also worth noting that Ben Scrivens apparently wouldn’t be exempt from waivers, but since he will be an RFA this summer, I’m sure these details will be sorted out.

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  • Danny Gray

    This is something Leafs fans have been debating since March, it got even more difficult when Scrivens had the spring he did with the Marlies.
    The biggest risk is that both fall flat on their face. Then Burke gets fired and we draft McKinnon. I’m okay with this.

  • Danny Gray

    I don’t think Con #4 even needs to be considered. The Leafs organization already has a replacement waiting for the Marlies; Mark Owuya.

    Consider: in Scrivens’ first season with the Leafs’ organization, he split time between the Marlies and the ECHL affiliate in Reading. At the age of 24, he played 13 games in the ECHL with a .938 SV% and 33 in the AHL with a .924 SV%.

    Owuya just finished his first season with Leafs organization. At 22 years old, he played 25 games in the ECHL with a .930 SV% and 19 in the AHL with a .929 SV%.

    Owuya earned himself a spot with the Marlies next season, and I’d say he’s leapfrogged Jussi Rynnas on the depth chart. If one of the concerns in attempting a Reimer/Scrivens tandem is who is in net for the Marlies, first off, that’s not a significant issue because ultimately the success or failure of the AHL level team is irrelevant, but Owuya can and should be the AHL starter so it’s moot.

  • Danny Gray

    This sounds all too familiar. You forgot to mention the Leafs decision with their goaltending situation last season… and look how that turned out. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to disagree. Although you make valid points, the Leafs NEED stable goaltending. Otherwise, we risk the rest of our young roster not developing on schedule by leaving them in a losing environment for year after year. We need a goalie who can instill confidence, and help give guys like Schenn, Franson, Kadri, etc. some playoff experience. We’d be rolling the dice to go with a young goaltending tandem after more than 5 years of horrible goaltenders so the reason I would lean towards making a pitch for Luongo is his NMC. If he fails, we can bury him in the minors for no money against the cap. Hey, I’m not paying for him, are you? By doing this we can also buy some time with Reimer and Scrivens, possibly using one as a trade chip. We have a lot of great goalies in the system who play well at the AHL level. Owuya and Rynnas have put up great numbers so far, other than a blip on the radar for Rynnas this past season. Let’s develop our goalies properly and turn them into assets instead of rolling the dice, putting them into a losing, hostile environment and letting them walk every July 1st.