James Reimer and rebounds

It starts with a few ill-timed comments on CBC, and it ends with snarky words from Chris Selley in the National Post:

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“For $2,200 in total, you can buy James Reimer’s pads, catcher and blocker. Any goalies out there looking for fatter rebounds? Get in line early.”

(I actually like Selley and get that it’s snark, but there are some people that perhaps take Selley’s writing a tad too seriously.)

It’s not exactly a secret that people out there don’t exactly trust James Reimer’s glove hand and his rebound control. The simple truth is that most goalies are weak when it comes to the glove hand and rebounds, and Reimer is just under a lot more scrutiny than a goaltender like, say, Jonathan Bernier, because he’s been the most successful goaltender the Maple Leafs have had since Ed Belfour.

Yet most of the local press expressed a dissatisfaction with the idea that the Maple Leafs goaltending solution came in house, and Dave Nonis didn’t otherwise have to go find a starting goaltender in Vancouver or Los Angeles. Reimer, when healthy, has been one of the best even strength goaltenders in hockey for three years now, but that wasn’t enough.

No, rebounds are the thing now. It wasn’t just Selley. Maple Leafs Hot Stove had to ask Justin Goldman, better known as @TheGoalieGuild, about Reimer’s rebound control vis-a-vis Jonathan Bernier’s. Google “James Reimer rebound control” and you’ll find a litany of HF Boards threads like this one, and old news reports like this one from Mike Zeisberger. To Zeisberger’s credit, he at least toys with the idea that the perception of Reimer’s rebounding issues is just perception:

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Sure, the Reimer bashers out there will still point out his problems with rebound control and his supposed weakness on the glove side. Still, given James Reimer’s track record, don’t bet against this kid — even if you think he might be an underdog in this race.

Even once you factor in Bernier’s expected regression to the mean, Reimer should still wind up with a higher save rate than him over the next three years. Kelly Friesen, a co-worker of mine at Yahoo, wrote up a defence of Reimer while mentioning rebound control as an issue. He does however state that Reimer’s “outstanding play against Boston in the playoffs… should have earned Reimer enough respect from Leafs management for them to put faith in him as their No. 1 puck stopper”.

I agree with that sentiment, which is mostly why I’m taking issue with the Leafs spending $3.4-million in cap space, Matt Frattin and a 2nd round pick to “upgrade” Reimer. As if the Leafs’ moves weren’t already telegraphed through the press this offseason, the Leafs have been looking for a goaltender for years. It began with Andrew Raycroft, then Vesa Toskala, then Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. Finally James Reimer, a third fourth round pick from 2006, found himself in line and he played spectacular in 2011. Lost in all the kerfuffle about how great Randy Carlyle has been for Reimer is that Reimer played at a 95.4-point pace under Ron Wilson. It’s a tad higher under Carlyle, but the Leafs forwards shot better, leading to more wins, the PK improved, and there’s a smaller sample of games.

Point is, over 61 decisions under Wilson, Reimer was 31-21-9. (After Carlyle came in 2011-2012, Reimer went 3-3-0.)

So what about rebounds? As much as they’re joked about around these parts, Rob Pettapiece ran the numbers and found that controlling rebounds isn’t exactly a sustainable talent, for one, and for two, Reimer is actually second behind Pekka Rinne in the last three seasons at controlling rebounds at 5-on-5:

I could tell you that Reimer had a 2.3% rebound rate one year, then 4.0% the next, then 6.0% in the next, but is that really telling you he got worse? (League average is around 5.2%.) Pekka Rinne was at 3.0% in 2011-12, but 4.7% the year before and 3.6% the year after. How much of those changes are due to the goaltenders themselves? [NHL Numbers]

Maybe his style looks a little hectic, or maybe fans don’t like the fact that Reimer doesn’t make many “great saves”, merely a lot of good ones. But that’s the thing—viewers only notice the flashy glove hand or the lightning-quick pad, and it’s more difficult to see the set up to a shot that puts a goaltender in a better position to make the save.

Give me a goaltender that’s able to stop a higher percentage of pucks. Goals against average, wins and shutouts are much more dependent on the team than save percentage. Vic Ferrari found years ago that deviations in save percentage as goaltenders change teams and teams change coaches and coaches change philosophies can pretty much be attributed to random chance.

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As an example, the gap between Mike Smith’s 2012 season under Dave Tippett in Phoenix (.936 even strength save percentage) and Mike Smith’s 2013 season under Dave Tippett in Phoenix (.924) is larger than the cap between James Reimer’s 2011 under Ron Wilson (.933) and his 2013 under Randy Carlyle (.924).

Held to a standard in Los Angeles, or Colorado, or Dallas, one might think that Reimer is the next big young goaltender, and maybe even a Team Canada candidate. In Toronto, Philadelphia and Vancouver, three markets that love to eviscerate goaltenders out of boredom, Reimer is a guy worth upgrading.

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  • You should take a look at what the Sharks stat guys have done to analysis goalie (fear the fin).

    They look at the persistence of std dev in SV% above league average. That is, does the goalie SV% have wide or small year to year variation (and what they did is look at game to game variation). And second, does the goalie have persistent SV% that is higher then league average.

  • There is one point I agree with in the article. Reimer is an underdog. He has always been an underdog, and he has always pulled through. He was behind Pogge, then Gustavsson, and Giguere. He has pulled ahead of them all.
    He has that crazy work ethic and the desire to improve himself. Just like this past season he came and held the fort. He will continue to do that this season, and improve upon his deficiencies.

    • I don’t question that Reimer will win back the starting job. What concerns me is the question “how much of the season will the Leafs waste finding out that the goalie they had was better than the goalie they bought”? The learning process will cost games–because, come on now, Bernier will start the season as #1.

      What kind of cushion do you think the Leafs have on the likes of BOS, DET, MT, or OTT? Can the Leafs afford to throw away points to find out that Reimer is their better option?

  • I am a Boston fan so I am a bit biased here. I’m not the biggest Reimer fan but something that does not get factored into some of the rebound stats is the defensive system (something out of his control) that surrounds him. There is no doubt in my mind that Rasks numbers are a bit inflated by the help of the defensive system the Bruins play. It will be interesting to compare the stats of Reimer vs. Bernier when you start with the same base line of identical defensive systems.

  • Too many goalies have it in their head to make big saves every night. As a goalie I was taught to just stop the puck. If you have to make a flashy save then you were either out of position or you aren’t reading the play properly. Reimer is in position more often than not so his saves usually aren’t on the highlight reel unless he’s battling after a rebound

  • Also it also matters a lot on how the team plays in front of a certain goalie.

    Remember when gustuvvson and Reimer were in net a couple of seasons ago. They both had similar stats but Reimer had more wins just because the offense fired in front of him and not gustuvvson. Right now the players love Reimer and he definitely has an edge over Bernier.

    *plz excuse my spelling of gustuvvson,

  • Great read.

    I personally have never had any doubts about Reimers game. Being a goalie is more about the mental toughness then it is how you play.

    Reimer has made only a few highlight reel saves and thats because he is in position 99% of the time. This year will be interesting but leafs nation finally has no question marks in goal.

  • I don’t like how they are treating him. It shows they don’t have faith in him IMO. He has a lot of class and so far hasn’t done anything that warranted all this goalie speculation. First the talk of Luongo, then Kipprosoff, and now this. Bernier makes more than Reimer does and now he has to battle for the #1, when it should be he’s #1 and if something happens down the pipes give Bernier a shot.

    Not that I don’t want to see Bernier do well here, it just seems shi**y to me.

  • I like both guys.. and don’t think having two is necessarily a bad thing. In 2-4 years pick one… and the other will be a good trade chip.

    At 24/25 it’s impossible to say who’s going to be the better guy. Let them figure it out themselves.