With the trade deadline a little over a month away, it’s time for the Leafs to make some major decisions about their roster moving forward. There might not be a bigger decision they have to make in the coming weeks than the one surrounding their goaltending – namely James Reimer, who’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Let’s take a look at the reasons for and against keeping Reimer beyond the deadline (and perhaps beyond the season).
THE CASE FOR KEEPING REIMER
1. He’s been the best goalie in the NHL this season.
Whatever goalie stat you like to use, Reimer’s probably at the top of the list for that stat this season. All-situations save percentage? Reimer leads the league with a .937. Even-strength save percentage? Reimer leads the league with a .955. Shot quality save percentage? Reimer leads the league with a .954. High-danger save percentage? Reimer leads the league with a .930.
2. He’s done it before.
Before this season, Reimer had two turbulent years under Randy Carlyle. But let’s not forget the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season when Reimer led the Leafs to their only playoff berth since 2004 when he posted a .924 save percentage through 33 games played. He wasn’t too shabby in his rookie season either, putting up a .921 save percentage in 37 games in 2010-2011.
THE CASE FOR TRADING REIMER
1. If you were ever going to trade him, now would be the time.
He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He’s leading the league in a myriad of goaltending categories and he’s 27 going on 28, meaning he’s basically in his prime. It’s time to either commit to Reimer long-term or get what you can for him while you can still get it.
2. The Leafs are still rebuilding.
Let’s be real here: the Leafs still suck, and they’re still in the early stages of a (hopefully) proper rebuild. Yeah they have some good young pieces in their system, but they’re still at a stage where they should be stockpiling more. And based on his play this season, Reimer is potentially the sort of player you could trade to net another draft pick or prospect.
Keep the long-term in mind here too. How far away are the Leafs from really being contenders? I’d say maybe 5 years, 3 years if you’re being really optimistic. By then Reimer is 32 going on 33, and I can all but guarantee you he won’t be as good then as he is now.
3. The contract (plus other options).
Darren Dreger polled a bunch of “NHL management types” and the consensus is that Reimer is likely looking at a 5-7 year deal worth between $4.5 and $5.5 million. I think I could stomach the weaker end of that (5 years at $4.5-$5.0M), but much more would make me feel uneasy. Even then, it’s all relative – why pay Reimer $5M when you can go bargain bin shopping and get a goalie that’s just as good? We’ve seen it time and time again, good goalies are easy to find on the cheap. Hell, Jonathan Bernier is still under contract for another season, and I still believe he can bounce back and regain his form to become a legitimate #1 goalie. But regardless of who the Leafs choose to experiment with, they have time before they really need to settle in with someone, because they probably won’t be competing for a Stanley Cup anytime soon.
I’ve always been a James Reimer fan and I’ll continue to be one whether he’s with the Leafs next year or somewhere else. And based on his career up until this point, I’d be more than willing to commit to Reimer for a few more seasons. But based on the fact that he’s in his prime right now, that the Leafs need more young assets, and that the Leafs are still a long ways away from being legitimately good, I think it makes more sense to trade him than to keep him at this point. Yes there’s an uncertainty in goal if you move on from him, but there’s going to be lots of other options that present themselves over the years before the Leafs can actually ice a competent team in front of their goalie. In other words, if we’re keeping the long-term in mind, trading Reimer probably makes more sense than keeping him.