It’s the summer of 2011. July 9th, specifically.
I was basically unemployed after working what you could call my "rookie season" in hockey at Leafs TV. I had done some really cool things up until that point; going to the World Juniors in both Saskatoon and Buffalo, the Vancouver Olympics, but this was my first hockey season after graduating, and first with consistent work. Once the season ended, that work was gone.
While most of my friends were working at their jobs, I did what most unemployed losers do and went to the local coffee shop by myself. Mr. Beans in East Scarborough off of Port Union road.
I ordered a vanilla hazelnut coffee, and sat down at a table with a Toronto Star newspaper somebody had left behind. I read an article on James Reimer called "The saviour" by a writer I had never heard of at the time named Dan Robson.
After reading it, I remember thinking one thing: "If this isn’t the guy, I’m gonna be pissed."
We’re all aware of the basic James Reimer story by now. Farm boy from lil’ old Morweena, Manitoba. Devout Christian. Friendly, "gosh gee-willickers" demeanor. Drafted by the Leafs in 2006. Play junior hockey with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Moved up the Leafs’ system from the ECHL, to the AHL, to becoming the NHL backup out of necessity, to becoming the starter based on his excellent performance.
He comes into last season, the 2011-12 campaign, as the undisputed number one. He begins the season well. Not amazingly, but well. Brian Gionta runs him over, he sustains a serious injury, the Leafs mismanaged it as they have most injuries in recent years, head injuries in particular, and the era of Optimus Reim appeared to be all but over.
Enter Ben Scrivens.
While Reimer’s meteroic rise in 2010-11 dominated headlines, Ben Scrivens quietly took a similar path through the Leafs’ system.
After his rookie season, Scrivens never had a save percentage lower than .930 in his final three seasons at Cornell. Brian Burke and company swooped in and signed him. Like Reimer, Scrivens began in the ECHL. When it was obvious he was above that, he fought for a job on the Marlies, and eventually became the starter. Then, much like Reimer, Scrivens became a Leafs goaltender from a combination of earning it and necessity.
There isn’t some great, grand ol’ thesis I’ve developed based on these points, by the way. I’m letting you know that’s where this team is.
Many fans desperately want the Leafs to trade for a Roberto Luongo. They want to take a chance on a Jonathan Bernier. They want somebody who can steal games in the way Curtis Joseph did. Can you get that type of goaltending in today’s NHL when your two goaltenders have a combined cap hit of just over $2.4 million for this season and the next? It’s a tall order.
What I will say however, with absolutely no analysis or numbers mind you, is that I hope it’s Reimer and Scrivens who get the job done in Toronto. I really do, and I’ve thought that since I read Dan Robson’s story.
The Leafs go out and get Andrew Raycroft. He wasn’t the best, and he wasn’t the worst. Regardless, they go out and pay a high price for Vesa Toskala anyway. He works out for a bit, his play decreases, he gets hurt, he gets surgery, and becomes even worse. The Justin Pogge experiment failed. J.S. Giguere left for free agency as the Leafs tried to go young. The "Monster" had his moments, but was ultimately booed out of town.
Now in the shortended 2012-13 season, it’s James "Optimus Reim" Reimer, and Ben "Scribbles" Scrivens. Any Luongo trade you think there is, until it happens, is a fantasy.
Through six games so far this shortened season, goaltending has been solid. Scrivens was strong in a win over Montreal, and then a loss to Buffalo. Reimer was fantastic in a surprise win over Pittsburgh in his season debut. After a strong first half from Scrivens against the Islanders, he got shelled, although the defence was pretty damn unacceptable on most of the goals. Reimer did what he could as the Rangers completely outclassed the Leafs, and then he gave the Leafs a chance to beat Buffalo the next game, and they did.
While goaltending continues to be the main concern of most fans, it has not been the thing costing the Leafs games. In fact, it has been winning the Leafs games, or at least giving the Leafs a chance to win, more often than it hasn’t.
I remember when Reimer and Scrivens were the goaltending tandem on the Marlies. They split the net well together. I remember being a cameraman for a quick little interview with Reimer and Scrivens at the One 4 One event at Real Sports a couple years ago. Reimer was wearing a Leafs scarf, and Scrivens was wearing a Marlies scarf. As Reimer walked off camera, Scrivens jokingly yelled "Call me!"
I’ve talked to both of these guys. When they say in interviews that they’re rooting for each other, I genuinely believe them. After watching Andrew Raycroft fall asleep on the bench and Toskala leave town moping that he wanted to "wash the blue and white out of his pads," this is a welcomed improvement.
It makes sense that Leafs fans want and expect the world out of these guys. The team has been terrible for about a decade now. They want results. They want the playoffs. They want a damn Cup. And they want it from a goaltending tandem making, combined, $2.4 million. That’s $400,000 less than what Nikolai Kulemin makes. That’s $800,000 less than what Clarke MacArthur makes. Hell, they’re still paying Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong $1 million each to not play for them. Armstrong’s on the Habs now, for crying out loud.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is I don’t want another tandem in there for the Leafs. I want this one to succeed. I want it to succeed because this town not only needs a winner, but it deserves an unrealistic, wild Cinderella story that actually works out. How many times have the Leafs been on the short end of that stick?
Listen to Reimer and Scrivens in interviews. The two things each of them repeat almost every time is that it’s their job to stop pucks, and it’s their job to give the team a chance to win. So far this season, they have done that. Can they continue to?
I hope so. I don’t know so. But I hope so. That’s all.