James Reimer: When Will the Recognition Come?

 

No one really knew who James Reimer was when the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. As far as the majority of Toronto fans and media knew, Reimer was just another goalie who had made it that much closer to making it to the big leagues.

Fast forward seven years from the draft and Reimer is a Toronto celebrity; everyone knows who he is. But it wasn't easy for Reimer to get to this point. He had to pay his dues in the minor leagues before making his way up. Once he made it to the NHL, the real adversity began.

It was the 2010-2011 NHL season. Reimer had gotten the call from the Toronto Marlies up to the Toronto Maple Leafs for his first stint in the big leagues. He made his first start on New Year's Day 2011, a 32-save victory over the Ottawa Senators in which he allowed only a single goal against. That season was a huge one for Reimer; he was quickly (and wrongly) labelled as a saint in Toronto, setting the pressure he would face when the puck dropped on the following hockey season.

Then it all came crashing down.

Backup Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson then caused a bit of a stir at the morning skate Thursday when he called Reimer’s injury "a concussion," but Leafs coach Ron Wilson was quick to refute that terminology.

"Well the doctors haven’t said that to me,” Wilson said when asked if Reimer’s injury was a concussion. “Last time I checked, I don’t have a medical degree and I don’t think The Monster does either. Until we’re told something like that, this is a day-to-day thing. He felt fine yesterday."

James Mirtle, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 27/11

That injury killed Reimer's season. Everyone including myself is still pretty sure it was a concussion that caused Reimer's save percentage to drop to .900 from .921 the season before. Although likely caused by injury, it was that wonky play that had many of those same "Reimer lovers" turning on him and calling for then GM Brian Burke to swing a deal for a proven goaltender.

Although Reimer's play has rebound from a season ago, his reputation somehow has not. Fans and media still pick on Reimer for his lack of ability to stop shots aimed for the high glove and fail to see what he has done for the Maple Leafs organization.

The 25-year-old Reimer played very well during the shortened 2013 regular season posting a record of 19-8-5, a goals against average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .924. Those are the basics and if the basics are good enough for you, why hasn't he regained the recognition he deserves when the numbers he just posted are an improvement upon those of his rookie season when he was heralded as one of the best goalies the Maple Leafs have ever had? As we dive a little deeper, that is a question you might find yourself asking repeatedly.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Reimer is a valuable asset to the Maple Leafs. Not one to be used in a trade to bring in Roberto Luongo or some other ─ get ready for it ─ veteran goalie, but one to be used as the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.

As mentioned here, time and time again Reimer was the reason the Maple Leafs came away victorious in many of their games during the regular season. The Maple Leafs played the odd game as a complete team but it was Reimer pulling out all of the stops for the most part. Nothing has changed in the playoffs.

Reimer hasn't quite stole games in the playoffs like he did during the regular season but that doesn't mean he isn't one of the biggest reasons why the Leafs have been proving people wrong in the post-season. His save percentage of .928 is only slightly off from Tuukka Rask's .933 but it's no secret that Reimer has faced quite a few more shots than the Bruins' goalie ─ 27 in fact.

Not only does his strong play benefit the team but it also shows that he is able to withstand the pressures of playing in both the regular season and playoffs in Toronto, one of if not the toughest hockey market to play in.

At what point do those who don't believe in Reimer begin to recognize him as a key piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs? When will he be seen as a large reason ─ perhaps the reason ─ why the team is playing hockey into May.

It's truly a shame that one injury-riddled season killed the Manitobian's reputation. Only time will tell how long it will take for him to rebuild that reputation and show the hockey world once again that he is making his way to becoming one of the best netminders in the NHL.

Follow Lukas on Twitter (@LukasHardonk) for Maple Leafs news, opinion and analysis.