By all accounts, James Reimer enjoyed an outstanding rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010-11. The Manitoba native made his first NHL start on New Year’s Day and never relinquished the role of number one goaltender, nearly helping the Maple Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. As Damien Cox of the Toronto Star first reported, Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs have rewarded the 23-year old for his performance by signing him to a three-year $5.4 million contract.
Reimer hopped over a couple of young goaltenders in Toronto’s system thanks to mostly excellent play in just 44 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Even early on, Reimer’s eye-popping numbers were hard to ignore – and his poise and performance on the ice had Leafs Nation believing pretty much from the onset of his NHL career. Reimer played his way to a 20-10-5 record to go along with an impressive .921 Sv% and 2.60 GAA. Burke and co. had seen enough from Reimer in 37 appearances to anoint him their number one goalie moving forward.
Reimer’s emergence was all the more surprising given the fact that he didn’t necessarily possess a great pedigree. Ten goaltenders were selected ahead of Reimer in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft before the Leafs took him in the 4th round (99th overall), including such heralded former junior stars like Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason as well as Washington’s Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. While Reimer’s rookie season coming out party drew comparisons to the likes of greats like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, but he also had some wondering if his play was more aberration than actuality.
His quick rise and instant splash would also evoke memories for 90s nostalgia junkies of a former Boston Bruins goaltender who burst onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, during the lockout shortened 1994-95 season. Yes, we’re talking about the mostly forgotten Blaine Lacher. As an unheard of rookie, Lacher wrestled the Bruins number one netminder job away from Vincent Riendeau (difficult task, we know) and finished the mini-season with 19-11-2 record, 2.41 GAA and .902 Sv% in 35 games. Lacher was mostly decent in five playoff games, despite the Bruins only managing one win in losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winning New Jersey Devils. It appeared as though Boston had found their goaltender, boy were they wrong. Lacher would play just 12 more games in the NHL before making a fool himself for two seasons in the IHL, he would retire from hockey altogether following the 1996-97 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Unfair comparisons to a lousy/lucky goaltender of yesteryear aside, we’re not expecting James Reimer’s career to go the way of Blaine Lacher’s. The young Leafs goaltender’s rookie season accomplishments are considerably understated given the inconsistency of the team in front of him. The Maple Leafs will have some work to do this off-season if they intend to improve upon their 10th place finish in the East, but today’s gesture of faith in young Reimer is a great start for a team on the cusp of competing.
For what’s it’s worth, Blaine Lacher never inspired anyone to sing an infectiously annoying song about him quite like this: