For many it came as a surprise that the Toronto Maple Leafs traded for goaltender Jonathan Bernier, after James Reimer helped propel the team back to the playoffs and nearly upset Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins. But it's really not that surprising that the Leafs were still looking to upgrade their goaltending after they were rumored to be looking at both Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff during the season.
James Reimer proved himself to be a solid goaltender, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Leafs crease. What happens if, and based on the past, when Reimer goes down with an injury? In the two seasons Reimer has been the Leafs starter, he's been injured for periods of time in both. Can Reimer continue to shine when the Leafs don't? And most importantly can he perform in the playoffs? Reimer is a young goaltender trying to find his way in the NHL. He doesn't play many back-to-back games and can't really be counted on to start more than 50 games. The Leafs needed a better, more reliable and proven second goaltender other than Ben Scrivens, to help when Reimer needs a break.
Whether Reimer or the Toronto fans like it or not, the Leafs needed an update behind Reimer. Sure they didn't have to go and acquire another young goalie looking to become a bonafide number 1, when they had Reimer, but they did. While it may seem like acquiring Bernier was a deterrent for Reimer's confidence, it was actually a brilliant move by the Leafs.
When you look at the goaltending situations around the league you start to notice a trend; goalie tandems. Last season saw teams such as the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, use both their goaltenders throughout the season. All five of the teams listed above not only operated with a 1A, 1B goaltending system- they also all made it to the postseason.
But let's focus on the Chicago Blackhawks use of the goalie tandem. After two rocky seasons with Corey Crawford at the helm and two first round playoff exits, the Blackhawks decided to bring in another goaltender to not only mentor Crawford but to also give him a break. The plan worked perfectly as Crawford led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup Championship.
Obviously the Leafs didn't go with the veteran back-up route, but they got a young goalie who will help push Reimer to perform his best. If you're looking for someone to compare Reimer to you can look across to Crawford. Both are fairly young, in-experienced goaltenders with just 3 NHL seasons under their belts, have very similar career numbers, and both still have a lot to prove. It helped Corey Crawford to have another goaltender behind him, and it wouldn't hurt to give Reimer some motivation.
Is Jonathan Bernier an immediate upgrade over Reimer? No. It's too early to tell just how good Bernier
is. He's only played in 62 NHL games and while he's shown flashes of greatness during those games, the sample size is too small. Any half-decent goaltender can post solid numbers through 15 games, but until a goalie starts 30 games in a season their numbers don't say much.
With Bernier the Leafs don't know what they have yet, with Reimer on the other hand they know exactly what they have. A solid goaltender that is capable of bailing the team out and backstopping a team to the postseason. Based on experience and Reimer's play last season he should get the key to the crease to start off the year, but with Bernier bitting at his heals Reimer will be forced to play his best hockey. Besides, what's so bad about a little competition for the starting job?
Having both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer battling for the right to claim the crease is a win-win for the Leafs. Both are solid young goaltenders, which want a starting role in the NHL and will have to play their best to get between the pipes. The Leafs now have two capable goalies that can step up to the plate anytime they're called upon. If Reimer get's hurt, goes through a rough patch of games or needs a rest, they can throw Bernier in without any worries and vice versa.
Having two capable starting goaltenders is a great move by the Leafs and a great strategy to capitalize on the latest NHL trend. If the season starts and both goaltenders are playing well it will also give the Leafs the edge over their competition by not having to ride just one goaltender all the time. If Randy Carlyle plays his cards right and allows both goaltenders time to prove themselves and keeps the media circus away from the goaltenders, the Leafs could ride their goaltending tandem back to the playoffs once again.