The last few weeks have been great for the Leafs’ tanking effort, sinking them to dead last in the league and heavily increasing their chances of drafting one of the ‘big three’ in June. And if they look to hold on to their current starting goaltender for the next couple years, this slide, which will likely continue, might make things easier on their wallets as well.
Just a month or so ago, James Reimer was operating atop the league in terms of save-percentage, floating around the .935-.937 range, ahead of the likes of the league’s best like Holtby, Schneider, and Lundqvist. His workload was lighter in comparison due to some time missed to injury, but he still looked capable of turning in a season that would have his numbers up in the top five or so, and as such, give the Leafs a lot to think about at the trade deadline and/or this summer. They still have those decisions to make, of course, but what a difference a couple weeks makes.
As it stands today, Reimer’s save-percentage has fallen to .920, just a few ticks up from the league average (.916), which places him 15th in the league for goalies who’ve played 18 games or more. [Getting blown up by the Hawks for seven goals on Monday night certainly helped that along.]
So, where does this leave Reimer in terms of his next contract?
There’s still a lot of hockey to be played (unfortunately), but if his numbers don’t climb back up again, or start to fall even further, it could take away plenty of bargaining power when he goes to the Leafs’ front office or the open market. There’s obviously much more to evaluate a goaltender on than simple save-percentage (and we should note Reimer still ranks sixth in this regard at even-strength), but turning in a season near the league’s leaders would have been a major negotiating point for Reimer and his agent.
The thinking over the last few months while Reimer was red hot was that he could possibly shoot for a deal similar to that of Devan Dubnyk, which rings in at $4.33-million over six years. I don’t think the Leafs, or anyone really, would have ever ponied up that kind of term for Reimer regardless, but now with his return to earth, that dollar value will probably raise a lot of eyebrows as well.
Going back to Dubnyk, his career numbers were comparable to Reimer’s, but his deal was signed coming off a ridiculous 2014-15 season where he played in 58 games and posted a .929 save-percentage. Reimer likely won’t come close in games played unless he starts basically every single game on the schedule from here on, and I’ll be surprised if he climbs the leader boards again.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a knock on James Reimer. He’s been having a great season, and I’d be fine with the Leafs keeping him, to be honest. It’s just worth noting that when it comes to his free agent status and pending contract negotiations, the game has changed and it’s changed quickly. Instead of going to the table and presenting his case with numbers that are tops in the league, he’s now going to the table as a guy who’s slightly above-average. Whether that’s worth paying north of $4-million for is up to Lamoriello and his crew, but given where the organization is in rebuilding, it’s fair to have doubts.
Again, save percentage isn’t the be-all-end-all, and as James Mirtle from the Globe noted a little while ago, the Leafs and their analytics team are well aware of where Reimer sits in terms of other metrics, such as those related to shot location and “high danger” areas, and how it all fits in with Babcock’s coaching systems. But there’s no denying that what seemed like a slam dunk to at least nab a contract with somewhere between Bernier and Dubnyk money between now and the summer doesn’t appear to be such a sure thing for Reimer anymore. And as the deadline comes and goes, and this season winds to its end, perhaps things become even more uncertain.